The Superior Court of Pennsylvania denied a plaintiff’s claim for damages when he was unable to prove that the false statements caused actual injury. Shaffer v. Ambrosini, No. 653 WDA 2017, 2018 Pa. Super. (March 28, 2018). Pennsylvania law requires a plaintiff satisfy a seven-factor test to succeed in a defamation claim. This test includes: 1. The defamatory character of the communication; 2. Its publication by the defendant; 3. Its application to the plaintiff; 4. Understanding by the recipient of its defamatory meaning; 5. The understanding by the recipient of it as intended to be applied to the plaintiff; 6. Special harm resulting to the plaintiff from its publication; and 7. Abuse of a conditionally privileged occasion. In this matter, the plaintiff was unable to demonstrate any special harm resulting from the defamatory remark.
Under Pennsylvania law, “for purposes of a Pennsylvania defamation case, proof of actual injury to a private plaintiff’s reputation is a prerequisite to the recovery of damages for other actual injuries, including mental and emotional injuries.” Under this standard, the plaintiff must demonstrate how the statement harmed them, or how the statement “grievously fractured” their reputation in the community. The court has been clear, it is not enough to be simply embarrassed or annoyed by these statements.
The plaintiff in this case was a part-time public defender who was originally suspended with pay following an incident at his workplace. Plaintiff was referred to an employee assistance program, but never enrolled in anger management courses. Once returning to work, plaintiff was involved in another incident. During the investigation regarding the second incident, the plaintiff’s employer stated that he believed plaintiff to be enrolled in anger management courses. Although this statement was false, the Court determined that the plaintiff had not suffered any harm that “grievously fractured” his standing in the community and affirmed the dismissal of his claim.
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