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3.11-11  Defenses - Public Figure

New March 1, 2009 

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 broadcast.>  

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 truth.  

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 figure. 

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 individualís participation in the particular controversy giving rise to the defamation.  Miles v. Perry, 11 Conn. App. 584, 591, 529 A.2d 199 (1987).


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