The Fourth Department determined the defendant county Department of Health was entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff’s defamation cause of action. The Department of Health had linked eight cases of infection to a particular tatoo artist. The tatoo artist told the Department he worked for plaintiff Tatoos by Design, Inc., doing business as Hardcore Tatoo. The Department issued a press release warning of the infections and noted that the tatoo artist in question reported to them he had worked for Hardcore. The Fourth Department held the Department of Health had a qualified privilege to issue the health warning and plaintiff was unable to demonstrate the press release was motivated solely by malice:
Generally, a statement is subject to a qualified privilege when it is fairly made by a person in the discharge of some public or private duty, legal or moral, or in the conduct of his own affairs, in a matter where his interest is concerned’ ” … . Defendants, as public health officials, had a public duty to inform the public about the hazards of potential exposure to the subject tattoo artist’s work (see Public Health Law § 2100…), and it was within the scope of that duty that the press release containing the allegedly defamatory statements was issued … .
Once defendants established that the statements in the press release were protected by a qualified privilege, the burden shifted to plaintiffs to raise a triable issue of fact “whether the statements were motivated solely by malice” … , meaning “spite or a knowing or reckless disregard of a statement’s falsity”… . Tattoos By Design, Inc. v Kowalski, 2016 NY Slip Op 01091, 4th Dept 2-11-16
DEFAMATION (QUALIFIED PRIVILEGE FOR PRESS RELEASE ISSUED BY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH)/PRIVILEGE (DEFAMATION, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH ENTITLED TO QUALIFIED PRIVILEGE RE: PRESS RELEASE)/PUBLIC HEALTH LAW (DEFAMATION, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH ENTITLED TO QUALIFIED PRIVILEGE RE: PRESS RELEASE)/MUNICIPAL LAW (DEFAMATION, COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH ENTITLED TO QUALIFIED PRIVILEGE RE: PRESS RELEASE)