24 Frank Lloyd Wright Drive, Suite D2000
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105
One of the most common type of calls we receive comes from people who believe they’ve been defamed. Almost without exception we have to turn them away, informing them that, unfortunately, even if someone said something hurtful, it’s not defamatory. This may leave clients confused, wondering why that’s the case. Going back to the roots of the United States, the protections afforded speech are enshrined in the Constitution.
Under Michigan law, a statement must assert facts that are “provable as false” to be considered defamatory. This is, in part, nothing more than a different way of saying that truth is an absolute defense against libel – you cannot be defamed if what’s being said about you is true. It’s more than that, however, as a statement must allege something “provable” – the person publishing the allegedly defamatory statements must be alleging something is a fact, not simply their opinion. The First Amendment protects statements that cannot be interpreted as stating actual facts about an individual against serving as the basis for a defamation action. Protected statements include rhetorical hyperbole and imaginative expression often found in satires, parodies, and cartoons, even when the statements are intended to be highly offensive to the person criticized, and even if, when read literally, the statements can be interpreted as accusations of criminal activity. In addition, context matters. The context of the statements also affect whether a reasonable reader would interpret the statements as asserting provable facts, or simply an opinion, hyperbole, or of something similar.
Finally, the statements have to cause damage to your reputation. This means the statement has to “lower [you] in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with [you].” Additionally, you have to prove economic damage or some special damage. Most often, people cannot show how their reputation has been harmed, or that people have been deterred from associating with them.
Defamation cases, at least successful ones, are rare. The First Amendment protects a wide range of speech, and anything that can reasonably be considered opinion will be protected. Even if the defamer is claiming something factual, proving how it damaged you is difficult. Unless you have actual testimony from someone that they’re cancelling a contract with you, or refusing to associate with you specifically because of the defamation, your damages are speculative and likely to lead to your case being dismissed.
If you would like to learn more about defamation and civil litigation services at PSED Law, contact us today! Attorneys at Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels, P.C., can help assist you with civil litigation in Ann Arbor and everything in between. Consult your attorney for details.