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Can I sue for defamation and/ or slander in smal claims court?

Chico, CA |

My wife refused to babysit for the neighbor and her reaction was to threaten to "cave" her head in. she has told other neighbors I am a baby rapist ( I am nurse BTW) made many false claims to the landlord unbeknownst to us and today we received a 60 day notice to move. We have her behavior on tape, the landlord refuses to look at it as he has become "intimate" (his words) with this woman over the last couple months. We have lived her 3 years without complaint she has been here 4 months. We must now relocate (expense) pay 1st and last on a new place and it all goes back to her defamation campaign. Do my wife and I have recourse? CPS is involved with her and her children as she is suspected of abuse, her 12 yearold son punched her in the face and as a nurse-mandatory reporter.

Attorney Answers 3

  1. Can you sue for defamation in small claims court in California? Yes. Will you win monetary damages? Not likely. If you are a month to month tenant, a landlord has the right to serve a 60 day notice of termination of the tenancy. No reason or explanation is required by law. Therefore, a lawsuit based upon defamation as the proximate cause for your expenses to relocate would be tenuous.

    Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult with your own attorney.

  2. I would not dismiss your concerns quite so quickly. It sounds as if you may have some significant emotional distress. Even if the landlord could give sixty-days notice, he would not necessarily have done so without this woman's comments. On the other hand, you can never tell what someone who has become intimate with a crazy person will do.

    Small claims court may actually be a good place to sue for slander. Generally I advise clients not to sue for slander because it only causes more accusations and insults to fly and they end up looking and feeling worse. For more, read about Jeffrey Masson on Wikipedia. That may not happen in small claims court. You should discuss the matter with an attorney to see if you really want to take on the risk.

  3. The previous attorney is correct. While there appears to be no doubt that the statements made about you are defamatory, the problem is in proving damage, which is an essential element of the claim. Arguably, allegations that someone is a "baby racist" qualifies as defamation "per se," meaning that damages can be assumed. (5 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, § 542, p. 795.) However, such "assumed" damages would be nominal, and so pursuit of this claim would probably not be financially worth while.

    This answer is a general interpretation of the law and is not fact specific to your case. Likewise it does not create an attorney-client relationship. You should seek an attorney for a review of your specific facts and documents.