3.11-11 Defenses - Public Figure
The legal status of a
person who asserts a claim of defamation determines what (he/she) must prove and
by what standard (he/she) must prove it to prevail on (his/her) claim. Under
our law, more particularly, there are separate rules and standards for deciding
defamation claims brought by public figures and by private individuals. As the
judge, it is my responsibility to decide, based upon the evidence presented at
trial, if the plaintiff is a public figure or a private individual, and to
instruct you accordingly. After considering the evidence in this case, I have
determined that the plaintiff is a public figure.
A public figure is entitled
to recover damages for defamation if (he/she) can prove by a fair preponderance
of the evidence that the defendant published or broadcast defamatory information
about (him/her), and can further prove by clear and convincing evidence that the
defendant made (his/her) defamatory publication or broadcast with actual malice.
<Here instruct on the
elements of defamation, defining the terms defamatory information, publish and
A defendant publishes or
broadcasts a defamatory statement with actual malice when (he/she) acts either
with actual knowledge that the statement is false or with reckless disregard of
whether it is false. The making of a negligent misstatement is not enough to
establish defamation. Instead, the evidence must show that the defendant, by
(his/her) intentional or reckless conduct, engaged in purposeful avoidance of
The plaintiff must prove
that the defendant acted with actual malice by the heightened standard of clear
and convincing evidence.
<Insert instruction on
Clear and Convincing Evidence, Instruction 3.2-2.>
Thus, as a public figure,
(he/she) can only recover if you find, by clear and convincing evidence, that
the defamatory statement was made with actual malice.
New York Times Co. v.
Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S. Ct.
710, 11 L. Ed. 2d 686 (1964); Miles v. Perry, 11 Conn. App. 584,
591, 529 A.2d 199 (1987); Abdelsayed v. Narumanchi, 39 Conn. App. 778,
668 A.2d 378 (1995), cert. denied, 237 Conn. 915, 676 A.2d 397, cert. denied,
519 U.S. 868, 117 S. Ct. 180, 136 L. Ed. 2d 120 (1996).
The defendant should raise,
by special defense, the fact that (he/she) claims the plaintiff to be a public
The court determines, as a
matter of law, whether a plaintiff is a public figure. Someone may be a public
figure in one context, but not in another. The determination of whether a
plaintiff is a public figure should be made with reference to a limited and more
meaningful context than the context used by society, in general. It is
preferable to reduce the public figure question to a more meaningful context by
looking to the nature and extent of an individual’s participation in the
particular controversy giving rise to the defamation. Miles v. Perry,
11 Conn. App. 584, 591, 529 A.2d 199 (1987).