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MSZL&M Secures Summary Judgment in Pennsylvania Defamation Case

Jan 1, 1991 - Recent Verdicts by

Mintzer Sarowitz Zeris Ledva & Meyers LLP recently secured a summary dismissal of a retail defendant in a defamation case filed in Pennsylvania by arguing that the plaintiff failed to establish in the record a prima facie case of defamation. 

The store manager previously banned the plaintiff from the store for threatening employees.  Plaintiff entered the store, despite the ban, and created a scene.  The store manager called the police and reported the plaintiff’s threatening behavior.  The plaintiff denied threatening employees and claimed to law enforcement that the store manager falsely reported a crime, damaging his reputation.

By arguing that the plaintiff had failed to meet his burden of establishing defamation, MSZL&M succeeded in its Motion for Summary Judgment.  Specifically, counsel argued that the plaintiff failed to:

  1. Prove the store manager’s statements to the police were not privileged; and
  2. Prove the store manager abused this privilege.

The judge agreed.

In Pennsylvania, a plaintiff must prove all of the following statutory elements for defamation:

  1. the defamatory character of the communication;
  2. its publication by the defendant;
  3. its application to the plaintiff;
  4. the 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. 

See, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8343(a).  

Under Pennsylvania case authority, a defendant’s statement to law enforcement officials for the purpose of reporting a crime are absolutely privileged and cannot constitute actionable defamation, unless the defendant abuses the privilege.  SeePawlowski v. Smorto, 403 Pa. Super. 71, 588 A.2d 36 (1991).  Abuse occurs when a defendant make these statements to individuals outside of law enforcement.

The plaintiff failed to articulate at any point in the record that the store manager’s statements were not made to law enforcement officials for the purpose of reporting a crime. Further, the judge found that the store manager did not abuse this privilege and granted summary judgment.