Public Figure

Defenses to Defamation

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The burden of proof is higher if the party claiming defamation is a public figure and therefore has to prove defamatory statements were made with actual malice. Harte-Hanks Communications v. Connaughton (1989) 491 U.S. 657, 666-668.

The “public figure” designation does not apply to everyone who appears on TV on occasion, for example. A significant amount of public activity is necessary to elevate a person to public figure status. See Brown v. Kelly Broadcasting Co. (1989) 48 Cal.3d 711, 745. Further, concerning those who are not pervasively involved in public affairs, they must have “thrust themselves to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved” to be considered a “limited purpose” public figure. Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. (1974) 418 U.S. 323, 345.

Thus, the courts make a particularized determination” to determine whether a person is a limited purpose public figure. See Bruno & Stillman, Inc. v. Globe Newspaper Co. (1st Cir. 1980) 633 F.2d 583, 589. Here, according to this standard, reasonable minds may differ on this subject and this the issue would go to the fact finder (a judge or jury deciding the case).

Advertisements. Posting an advertisement is not usually sufficient to transform you into a public figure, for purposes of your legal classification. A person in the business world advertising his wares does not necessarily become part of an existing public controversy. An individual in the stream of commerce advertising her goods or services does not necessarily become part of an existing public controversy as to be considered a “public figure.” See Vegod Corp. v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (1979) 25 Cal.3d 763. The courts also look at whether you are thrusting yourself into the vortex of a dispute or controversy in society. 770 Rancho La Costa, Inc. v. Superior Court (1980) 106 Cal.App.3d 646, 661.

You should speak to licensed attorney in Pennsylvania to get an up-to-date description of the law and to know how it applies to the facts in your case. Call or email us to learn more about how the standards would apply in your particular case.

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