San Diego, California is considered by many to be a small town in many regards even though many people live in San Diego and the surrounding count. The local paper is the San Diego Union Tribune and this has many articles of a small town nature as well as a large town nature. Many articles are of interesting legal significance.
Another recent case involved a claim of defamation that was brought against the writer of a letter to the editor in a small-town newspaper. A news article in the paper reported on the upcoming closing of a downtown grocery that had been in business for 50 years. Three days later, the newspaper printed a letter to the editor that blamed the closing of the grocery store on the store’s landlord. Calling him a “ruthless speculator,” among other things, the writer accused the landlord of forcing the store out of business by charging “exorbitant rent.” The letter stated that the landlord’s “self-centered greed” caused the demise of the grocery. In any legal matter, it is important to obtain competent legal advice. The law firm of Law Office of Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation can help you with many matters. Please feel free to e mail us for a complimentary consultation.
The landlord responded to the letter to the editor with a defamation action against its author. The lawsuit was dismissed because the state constitution’s free expression clause shielded the letter writer from liability. To distinguish between statements of opinion, which are protected, and assertions of fact, which are not, the court looked at all the surrounding circumstances. In each instance, the offending parts of the letter were found to be opinions. The context of the letter as a whole showed it to be an exercise in venting frustrations and opinions about the loss of a valued downtown business. Finally, the fact that the letter was an expression of protected opinion was confirmed by its very location in the newspaper’s opinion pages, a traditional forum for the robust exchange of viewpoints.