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New Jersey Supreme Court Holds Presumed Damages Available In Certain Defamation Suits

Per NJ Law Journal:

W.J.A. v. D.A., A-77 September Term 2010; Supreme Court; per curiam opinion; decided May 16, 2012. On certification to the Appellate Division, 416 N.J. Super. 380 (App. Div. 2010). [Sat below: Judges Axelrad. Fisher and Sapp-Peterson in the Appellate Division; Judge Perskie in the Law Division.] DDS No. 36-1-6304 [30 pp.]

At issue in this appeal is the vitality of the doctrine of presumed damages, which encompasses the losses "which are normal and usual and are to be anticipated when a person's reputation is impaired."

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Held: The doctrine of presumed damages applies in private-plaintiff cases that do not involve matters of public concern.

New Jersey expanded application of the requirement of proof of actual malice established by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York Times v. Sullivan to statements regarding private citizens in matters of public concern. In Senna v. Florimont, the New Jersey Supreme Court refined the paradigm for making such a judgment in a private defamation case. Under Senna, the first question is whether Adams is a media defendant. Clearly, he is not. As to content, Adams' speech accuses Anderson of engaging in serious criminal conduct, thus qualifying for per se treatment. But that allegation, in itself, does not vault the public-concern threshold. An analysis of the context of the speech, including examination of the speaker's status, ability to exercise due care, and targeted audience, likewise suggests that there is no matter of public concern. The malice standard of New York Times v. Sullivan does not apply here and is no bar to the application of presumed damages.

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Text of the decision after the jump.