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What Constitutes Libel in California?
To be libelous under California Civil Code Section 45, the defamatory statement must constitute a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or disgrace, or which causes a person to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to inure a person in his or her occupation. Although not indicated in the statute, case law in California also requires a plaintiff to plead and prove the requisite degree of fault.
If not defamatory on its face, a plaintiff is required to plead and prove special damages. If the statement is libelous per se, the court will presume general damages and special damages need not be shown. The test for libel per se is whether a defamatory meaning appears from the language itself without the necessity of explanation or the pleading of extrinsic facts.
Libel per quod issues may exist (a reader is able to recognize a defamatory meaning only by virtue of his or her knowledge of specific facts and circumstances extrinsic to the publication, which are not common knowledge).
Related causes of action might include slander, trade libel, slander of title, false light, publication of private facts, intrusion, fraud, deceit emotional distress. In California, the statute of limitations is one year from the date the defamatory matter is published. (Civil Code 340(3). Governmental claims must be properly presented without six months after the accrual of the cause of action per Gov Code Section 911.2. The public entity then has 45 days to respond.
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Jon Mitchell "Mitch" Jackson
Jackson & Wilson, Inc.
An "AV" rated firm listed in Martindale-Hubbell's Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers
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