The Absence of Proof Defendants Disclosed Slanderous Statements Included in Letters to Plaintiff Precluded a “Name-Clearing” Hearing/The Jury Should Not Have Been Allowed to Consider “Ostracism and Rejection” Damages Absent Proof Defendants Were Responsible for Republication of the Slanderous Remarks by Third Persons
In a lawsuit stemming from allegedly slanderous remarks made by defendants in connection with plaintiff’s termination from employment by the defendant school district, the Third Department determined plaintiff’s petition for a name-clearing hearing should have been dismissed, because there was no evidence defendants disclosed the relevant letters to anyone, and the jury should not have been allowed to consider rumor-related “ostracism and rejection” damages, because there was no evidence defendants were responsible for the alleged repetition of the slander by third persons. A new trial on damages was ordered:
Proof of “ostracism and rejection” to establish damages for defamation is only admissible if the proof is “‘the direct and well-connected result'” of a defamatory statement at issue … . Further, even when a defendant’s slanderous statement is connected by proof to that statement’s republication, “‘one who utters a slander . . . is not responsible for its voluntary and unjustifiable repetition, without his [or her] authority or request, by others over whom he [or she] has no control and who thereby make themselves liable to the person injured'” … . This is because “each person who repeats the defamatory statement is responsible for the resulting damages” … .
Plaintiff’s proof regarding rumors and ostracism fail these tests. Plaintiff and her witnesses offered no proof that directly connected [defendants’] slanderous statements to the ostracism that plaintiff allegedly suffered … . Further, even assuming that the content of the rumors allegedly spread by community members allowed for a reasonable inference that said community members were aware of [defendants’] slanderous statements, proof of republication was nonetheless improper given the absence of evidence that defendants had any knowledge of or played any role in such republication … . Compounding the effect of the error, Supreme Court did not instruct the jury that plaintiff had the burden of proving that the ostracism harms that plaintiff allegedly suffered were actually connected to [defendants’] statements, despite defendants’ request that it do so. Wilcox v Newark Val. Cent. School Dist., 2015 NY Slip Op 04890, 3rd Dept 6-11-15