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Defamation Statutes - Internet Defamation BlogInternet Defamation Blog

Defamation Statutes

Civil Code § 44 [Definition of defamation]

Defamation is effected by either of the following:

(a)Libel.

(b)Slander.

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Civil Code § 45 [Definition and elements of Libel]

Libel is a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his occupation.

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Civil Code § 45a [Distinction between Libel Per Se and Libel Per Quod]

A libel which is defamatory of the plaintiff without the necessity of explanatory matter, such as an inducement, innuendo or other extrinsic fact, is said to be a libel on its face. Defamatory language not libelous on its face is not actionable unless the plaintiff alleges and proves that he has suffered special damage as a proximate result thereof. Special damage is defined in Section 48a of this code.

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Civil Code § 46 [Definition and elements of Slander]

Slander is a false and unprivileged publication, orally uttered, and also communications by radio or any mechanical or other means which:

1.Charges any person with crime, or with having been indicted, convicted, or punished for crime;

2.Imputes in him the present existence of an infectious, contagious, or loathsome disease;

3.Tends directly to injure him in respect to his office, profession, trade or business, either by imputing to him general disqualification in those respects which the office or other occupation peculiarly requires, or by imputing something with reference to his office, profession, trade, or business that has a natural tendency to lessen its profits;

4.Imputes to him impotence or a want of chastity; or

5.Which, by natural consequence, causes actual damage.

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Civil Code § 47 [Privileged statements that do not constitute defamation]

A privileged publication or broadcast is one made:

(a)In the proper discharge of an official duty.

(b)In any (1) legislative proceeding, (2) judicial proceeding, (3) in any other official proceeding authorized by law, or (4) in the initiation or course of any other proceeding authorized by law and reviewable pursuant to Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 1084) of Title 1 of Part 3 of the Code of Civil Procedure, except as follows:

(1)An allegation or averment contained in any pleading or affidavit filed in an action for marital dissolution or legal separation made of or concerning a person by or against whom no affirmative relief is prayed in the action shall not be a privileged publication or broadcast as to the person making the allegation or averment within the meaning of this section unless the pleading is verified or affidavit sworn to, and is made without malice, by one having reasonable and probable cause for believing the truth of the allegation or averment and unless the allegation or averment is material and relevant to the issues in the action.

(2)This subdivision does not make privileged any communication made in furtherance of an act of intentional destruction or alteration of physical evidence undertaken for the purpose of depriving a party to litigation of the use of that evidence, whether or not the content of the communication is the subject of a subsequent publication or broadcast which is privileged pursuant to this section. As used in this paragraph, “physical evidence” means evidence specified in Section 250 of the Evidence Code or evidence that is property of any type specified in Chapter 14 (commencing with Section 2031.010) of Title 4 of Part 4 of the Code of Civil Procedure.

(3)This subdivision does not make privileged any communication made in a judicial proceeding knowingly concealing the existence of an insurance policy or policies.

(4)A recorded lis pendens is not a privileged publication unless it identifies an action previously filed with a court of competent jurisdiction which affects the title or right of possession of real property, as authorized or required by law.

(c)In a communication, without malice, to a person interested therein, (1) by one who is also interested, or (2) by one who stands in such a relation to the person interested as to afford a reasonable ground for supposing the motive for the communication to be innocent, or (3) who is requested by the person interested to give the information. This subdivision applies to and includes a communication concerning the job performance or qualifications of an applicant for employment, based upon credible evidence, made without malice, by a current or former employer of the applicant to, and upon request of, one whom the employer reasonably believes is a prospective employer of the applicant. This subdivision authorizes a current or former employer, or the employer’s agent, to answer whether or not the employer would rehire a current or former employee. This subdivision shall not apply to a communication concerning the speech or activities of an applicant for employment if the speech or activities are constitutionally protected, or otherwise protected by Section 527.3 of the Code of Civil Procedure or any other provision of law.

(d)(1)By a fair and true report in, or a communication to, a public journal, of (A) a judicial, (B) legislative, or (C) other public official proceeding, or (D) of anything said in the course thereof, or (E) of a verified charge or complaint made by any person to a public official, upon which complaint a warrant has been issued.

(2)Nothing in paragraph (1) shall make privileged any communication to a public journal that does any of the following:

(A)Violates Rule 5-120 of the State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct.

(B)Breaches a court order.

(C)Violates any requirement of confidentiality imposed by law.

(e)By a fair and true report of (1) the proceedings of a public meeting, if the meeting was lawfully convened for a lawful purpose and open to the public, or (2) the publication of the matter complained of was for the public benefit.

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Civil Code § 47.5 [Special rules for Peace Officers]

Notwithstanding Section 47, a peace officer may bring an action for defamation against an individual who has filed a complaint with that officer’s employing agency alleging misconduct, criminal conduct, or incompetence, if that complaint is false, the complaint was made with knowledge that it was false and that it was made with spite, hatred, or ill will. Knowledge that the complaint was false may be proved by a showing that the complainant had no reasonable grounds to believe the statement was true and that the complainant exhibited a reckless disregard for ascertaining the truth.

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Civil Code § 48 [Section 47(c) malice cannot be inferred from statement]

In the case provided for in subdivision (c) of Section 47, malice is not inferred from the communication.

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Civil Code § 48a [Special rules for newspapers and radio stations]

1.In any action for damages for the publication of a libel in a newspaper, or of a slander by radio broadcast, plaintiff shall recover no more than special damages unless a correction be demanded and be not published or broadcast, as hereinafter provided. Plaintiff shall serve upon the publisher, at the place of publication or broadcaster at the place of broadcast, a written notice specifying the statements claimed to be libelous and demanding that the same be corrected. Said notice and demand must be served within 20 days after knowledge of the publication or broadcast of the statements claimed to be libelous.

2.If a correction be demanded within said period and be not published or broadcast in substantially as conspicuous a manner in said newspaper or on said broadcasting station as were the statements claimed to be libelous, in a regular issue thereof published or broadcast within three weeks after such service, plaintiff, if he pleads and proves such notice, demand and failure to correct, and if his cause of action be maintained, may recover general, special and exemplary damages; provided that no exemplary damages may be recovered unless the plaintiff shall prove that defendant made the publication or broadcast with actual malice and then only in the discretion of the court or jury, and actual malice shall not be inferred or presumed from the publication or broadcast.

3.A correction published or broadcast in substantially as conspicuous a manner in said newspaper or on said broadcasting station as the statements claimed in the complaint to be libelous, prior to receipt of a demand therefor, shall be of the same force and effect as though such correction had been published or broadcast within three weeks after a demand therefor.

4.As used herein, the terms “general damages,” “special damages,” “exemplary damages” and “actual malice,” are defined as follows:

(a)”General damages” are damages for loss of reputation, shame, mortification and hurt feelings;

(b)”Special damages” are all damages which plaintiff alleges and proves that he has suffered in respect to his property, business, trade, profession or occupation, including such amounts of money as the plaintiff alleges and proves he has expended as a result of the alleged libel, and no other;

(c)”Exemplary damages” are damages which may in the discretion of the court or jury be recovered in addition to general and special damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing a defendant who has made the publication or broadcast with actual malice;

(d)”Actual malice” is that state of mind arising from hatred or ill will toward the plaintiff; provided, however, that such a state of mind occasioned by a good faith belief on the part of the defendant in the truth of the libelous publication or broadcast at the time it is published or broadcast shall not constitute actual malice.

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Civil Code § 48.5 [Special rules for radio and television broadcasters]

(1)The owner, licensee or operator of a visual or sound radio broadcasting station or network of stations, and the agents or employees of any such owner, licensee or operator, shall not be liable for any damages for any defamatory statement or matter published or uttered in or as a part of a visual or sound radio broadcast by one other than such owner, licensee or operator, or agent or employee thereof, if it shall be alleged and proved by such owner, licensee or operator, or agent or employee thereof, that such owner, licensee or operator, or such agent or employee, has exercised due care to prevent the publication or utterance of such statement or matter in such broadcast.

(2)If any defamatory statement or matter is published or uttered in or as a part of a broadcast over the facilities of a network of visual or sound radio broadcasting stations, the owner, licensee or operator of any such station, or network of stations, and the agents or employees thereof, other than the owner, licensee or operator of the station, or network of stations, originating such broadcast, and the agents or employees thereof, shall in no event be liable for any damages for any such defamatory statement or matter.

(3)In no event, however, shall any owner, licensee or operator of such station or network of stations, or the agents or employees thereof, be liable for any damages for any defamatory statement or matter published or uttered, by one other than such owner, licensee or operator, or agent or employee thereof, in or as a part of a visual or sound radio broadcast by or on behalf of any candidate for public office, which broadcast cannot be censored by reason of the provisions of federal statute or regulation of the Federal Communications Commission.

(4)As used in this Part 2, the terms “radio,” “radio broadcast,” and “broadcast,” are defined to include both visual and sound radio broadcasting.

(5)Nothing in this section contained shall deprive any such owner, licensee or operator, or the agent or employee thereof, of any rights under any other section of this Part 2.

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Civil Code § 48.7 [Special rules for reports of child abuse]

(a)No person charged by indictment, information, or other accusatory pleading of child abuse may bring a civil libel or slander action against the minor, the parent or guardian of the minor, or any witness, based upon any statements made by the minor, parent or guardian, or witness which are reasonably believed to be in furtherance of the prosecution of the criminal charges while the charges are pending before a trial court. The charges are not pending within the meaning of this section after dismissal, after pronouncement of judgment, or during an appeal from a judgment.

Any applicable statute of limitations shall be tolled during the period that such charges are pending before a trial court.

(b)Whenever any complaint for libel or slander is filed which is subject to the provisions of this section, no responsive pleading shall be required to be filed until 30 days after the end of the period set forth in subdivision (a).

(c)Every complaint for libel or slander based on a statement that the plaintiff committed an act of child abuse shall state that the complaint is not barred by subdivision (a). A failure to include that statement shall be grounds for a demurrer.

(d)Whenever a demurrer against a complaint for libel or slander is sustained on the basis that the complaint was filed in violation of this section, attorney’s fees and costs shall be awarded to the prevailing party.

(e)Whenever a prosecutor is informed by a minor, parent, guardian, or witness that a complaint against one of those persons has been filed which may be subject to the provisions of this section, the prosecutor shall provide that person with a copy of this section.

(f)As used in this section, child abuse has the meaning set forth in Section 11165 of the Penal Code.

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Civil Code § 48.8 [Special rules for school personnel]

(a)A communication by any person to a school principal, or a communication by a student attending the school to the student’s teacher or to a school counselor or school nurse and any report of that communication to the school principal, stating that a specific student or other specified person has made a threat to commit violence or potential violence on the school grounds involving the use of a firearm or other deadly or dangerous weapon, is a communication on a matter of public concern and is subject to liability in defamation only upon a showing by clear and convincing evidence that the communication or report was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of the communication. Where punitive damages are alleged, the provisions of Section 3294 shall also apply.

(b)As used in this section, “school” means a public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or grades 1 to 12, inclusive.

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Civil Code § 48.9 [Special rules for anonymous witness programs]

(a)An organization which sponsors or conducts an anonymous witness program, and its employees and agents, shall not be liable in a civil action for damages resulting from its receipt of information regarding possible criminal activity or from dissemination of that information to a law enforcement agency.

(b)The immunity provided by this section shall apply to any civil action for damages, including, but not limited to, a defamation action or an action for damages resulting from retaliation against a person who provided information.

(c)The immunity provided by this section shall not apply in any of the following instances:

(1)The information was disseminated with actual knowledge that it was false.

(2)The name of the provider of the information was disseminated without that person’s authorization and the dissemination was not required by law.

(3)The name of the provider of information was obtained and the provider was not informed by the organization that the disclosure of his or her name may be required by law.

(d)As used in this section, an “anonymous witness program” means a program whereby information relating to alleged criminal activity is received from persons, whose names are not released without their authorization unless required by law, and disseminated to law enforcement agencies.

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Aaron Morris

Morris & Stone, LLP

Tustin Financial Plaza
17852 17th St., Suite 201
Tustin, CA 92780

(714) 954-0700

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View Aaron Morris, Trial Attorney and Partner at Morris & Stone, with emphasis on Free Speech and Defamation Law.

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