Defamation and False Light Invasion of Privacy Claim Denied Since Statement Was Not "Of" and "Concerning" the Plaintiffs

Law Updates -Torts: Defamation & False Light Invasion of Privacy Reynolds v. Reynolds, 653 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 30 (App. Div. I, January 31, 2013) (J. Hall) CLAIM OF DEFAMATION AND FALSE LIGHT MUST BE BASED UPON A STATEMENT "OF" AND "CONCERNING" THE PLAINTIFFS

Plaintiffs, brother and sister, sued their sister and her husband for defamation and false light invasion of privacy. The defendant sister published an article in the online magazine phoenixWomen describing the aging of her mother, claiming mom had no plan for her end of life care, that mom refused to prepare one and implied the plaintiffs were ignoring defendant's pleas for help to deal with mom's deteriorating state. Plaintiffs alleged mom in fact had a professionally prepared end of life plan and that the average reader would think less of plaintiffs' for ignoring their sister's pleas for help with mom. Defendants moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure arguing the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The trial court granted the motion and the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed.

The court of appeals recognized that it is for the court and not the jury to decide, as a matter of law, whether or not a communication is capable of bearing a particular meaning and if so whether it is defamatory. Here the only statement in the article the plaintiffs claim to be false is the statement that mom has no plan. On its face this statement is not "of" and "concerning" the plaintiffs and is not capable of bearing the meaning that the lack of a plan was the fault of the plaintiffs. Further, while the article implied a disagreement between siblings as to how to deal with mom's end of life issues it did not specifically or generally lead one to believe the absence of an end of life plan was the plaintiffs' fault. Similarly, the article did not put the plaintiffs' in a false light or lead a reader to believe they were responsible for their mother not having an end of life plan. Quite simply, as a matter of law, the article did not connect plaintiffs with the absence of an end of life plan, put plaintiffs' in a false light nor bring them "into disrepute, contempt, or ridicule . . . or . . .impeach [their] honesty, integrity, virtue or reputation."

Defendants' request for attorneys' fees under ARS sec, 12-349(A)(1) based upon the claim the appeal was "without substantial justification . . . [and] constitutes harassment, is groundless and is not made in good faith" was denied.

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