In an unusual case, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal has found that a member of a county Board of Supervisors may at least theoretically be liable for defamation and related claims for false statements of fact made in the context of public criticisms of business conduct.  In particular, a San Diego County, California Board of Supervisors member wrote letters and spoke to journalists, reportedly stating that plaintiff is a “bad company”, driven by “corporate greed”, and may have violated rent control laws, and that the supervisor had spoken to law enforcement officials about the matter.  Under traditional libel and defamation analysis, it is by no means clear whether the actual statements, even if accurately reported, are actionable false statements of defamatory fact, or instead are non-actionable as being true facts, opinion, or otherwise privileged.  The Ninth Circuit reviewed the claims only for purposes of the trial court’s grant of an anti-SLAPP motion, and found oddly enough that one or more of the statements may be “reasonably susceptible of an interpretation which implies a provably false assertion of fact,” thus raising a sufficient basis to at least get to trial and let a jury decide.  (Manufactured Home Communities Inc. v. Dianne Jacob, County of San Diego, 9th Cir. No. 05-56401, reported March 7, 2008)

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