New York Appeals Court Dismisses Defamation Lawsuit Against President Trump

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A lawsuit filed against President Donald J. Trump was dismissed by the Appellate Division, First Department. This decision affirms the dismissal of the lawsuit by a lower court. The lawsuit was filed in 2016 by Cheryl Jacobus, a public relations consultant.

Jacobus Alleged President Trump Defamed Her

Jacobus alleged that President Trump tweeted about her in 2016 after she appeared on television. During her appearance, she questioned President Trump’s reasoning on why he threatened to forgo attending a debate. Jacobus remarked during her appearance that the President a “bad debater” who “comes off like a third grader faking his way through an oral report on current affairs.”

Trump responded to her criticism using Twitter and said that Jacobus had “begged” for a job and that Jacobus was told no on two occasions. He said that made Jacobus “hostile,” a “[m]ajor loser” who had “zero credibility[.]”

Cheryl Jacobus, who formerly appeared on Apprentice, had her initial lawsuit dismissed by the trial court. The presiding judge, Barbara Jaffe, ruled that Trump’s tweets “are rife and vague and simplistic insults” that most people don’t take seriously.

Jacobus initially asked the court for $4 million in damages.

New York Appeals Court Upholds Initial Dismissal of Defamation Lawsuit

Although Cheryl Jacobus’ appeals brief argued that the lower court’s decision “comes dangerously close to declaring Twitter a ‘defamation free-fire zone…’” the Appellate Division, First Department upheld the lower court’s decision. The ruling read, in part, “The alleged defamatory statements are too vague, subjective, and lacking in precise meaning (i.e., unable to be proven true or false) to be actionable. The immediate context in which the statements were made would signal to the reasonable reader or listener that they were opinion and not fact.”

The Elements of Defamation

Because the terms “slander,” “libel,” and “defamation” are used frequently by private citizens and by public figures, it’s important to understand the basics of what they are.

The purpose of defamation laws is to protect the reputation of people and businesses from damaging statements. When the statement is made in writing, it is libel. Slander occurs when the statement is made orally or is audible in some way.

According to FindLaw, a defamation lawsuit can only be successful if the plaintiff can:

  1. Prove the defendant made a false and defamatory statement about the plaintiff. Both the trial court and the appeals court found that President Trump’s remarks were opinions without a “precise meaning.”
  2. Prove the defendant made an unprivileged publication to a third party. It appears that Trump was responding to what Jacobus said about him during a television appearance.
  3. Prove that the publisher acted negligently in publishing the information.
  4. May have to prove that they suffered some sort of monetary damage because of what was said.