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Public Figure Must Provide Evidence that Alleged Defamers Acted with Actual Malice

In the case of Jenkins v. Sullivan Twp. Trustees, 2023-Ohio-2345, an appellate court held that several township trustees did not defame a public figure when the trustees made several statements that the public figure had improperly requested the disposal of public records.

In this case, the public figure argued that (1) the trustees acted with actual malice when the trustees made statements that the public figure was a criminal when the trustees knew or should have known that the public figure did not commit a crime because the public figure was never charged with any crime and denies committing one and (2) the question of whether the statements made by the trustees were of fact or opinion was a matter for the jury to decide and therefore the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was inappropriate. In response, the trustees argued that the public figure did not provide sufficient evidence to show the trustees acted with actual malice or whether the trustees’ statements were of fact rather than opinion. The appellate court agreed with the trustees.

In support of its decision in favor of trustees, the appellate court explained that the trustees either believed that the public figure had asked the trustees to commit a crime when requesting the destruction of public records or, at the very least, the trustees did not know for certain whether the public figure had or had not committed a crime. The appellate court further explained that the public figure failed to show with any evidence that the trustees entertained serious doubts as to the truth of their actions and, in fact, the public figure himself provided video evidence of the public figure improperly asking for public records to be destroyed, therefore the public figure failed to establish that the trustees made these statements with a reckless disregard as to their falsity.

To read this case, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always-changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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