October 13, 2009

Staples Nails Verdict

The National Law Journal reports that last week a jury sitting in the Noonan v. Staples case in federal court in Boston found that when Staples sent a mass email about a former employee's violation of company travel and expense policies it did not do so with actual malice.

Earlier this year the First Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a dismissal of the case against Staples, holding that the plaintiff could seek to establish a libel claim based on the publication of truthful facts if they were published with "actual malevolent intent or ill will." In so doing, the Court relied on an old Massachusetts law, G. L. c. 231, sec. 92, which provides that truth is a justification for a publication alleged to be libellous, unless it was published with actual malice.

The jury in the Staples case evidently found that there was no such "actual malice" on the part of Staples.

It is important to note that the use of the term "actual malice" in the 1902 Massachusetts statute long-predates, and should not be confused with, the the term "actual malice" used by the Supreme Court of the United States in the seminal 1963 case of New York Times v. Sullivan. In that case, the Court laid out constitutional standards to protect the press from defamation claims brought by public officials. holding that a public official could not recover for libel unless the plaintiff could show that the defamatory statement was made with "actual malice," which the Court defined as making the defamatory statement with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.

The Noonan case, of course, involved a private plaintiff and defendant.

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