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Trump Libel Decision Highlights Important Issues in Defamation Law — Best Chicago Defamation Slander and Libel Lawyers

The recent decision by a New York appeals court to affirm the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit filed against President Donald Trump highlights two important defenses to charges of defamation or libel.

In Jacobus v. Trump, public relations consultant Cheryl Jacobus alleged that President Trump defamed her in a series of tweets made during his presidential campaign. In these tweets, Trump repeatedly claimed that Jacobus had “begged” him for a job and “went hostile” after he turned her down. He also interspersed several other insults in the tweets calling Jacobus “A real dummy” and a “Major loser” with “zero credibility.” Jacobus alleged that these tweets harmed her career and disparaged her in the way of her profession, trade, or business.

Days before President Trump took office, the trial court dismissed the lawsuit. The trial court held that the term “begged” was merely an example “loose, figurative, and hyperbolic” language that is generally nonactionable. While acknowledging that the insults were “clearly intended to belittle and demean” Jacobus, the court found that the context of the tweets made it clear to any reader that they were statements of opinion and not fact. Consequently, they were too vague and subjective to be “susceptible to objective verification.” The appeals court affirmed the dismissal in a short order.

The recent decision by a New York appeals court to affirm the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit filed against President Donald Trump highlights two important defenses to charges of defamation or libel.

In Jacobus v. Trump, public relations consultant Cheryl Jacobus alleged that President Trump defamed her in a series of tweets made during his presidential campaign. In these tweets, Trump repeatedly claimed that Jacobus had “begged” him for a job and “went hostile” after he turned her down. He also interspersed several other insults in the tweets calling Jacobus “A real dummy” and a “Major loser” with “zero credibility.” Jacobus alleged that these tweets harmed her career and disparaged her in the way of her profession, trade, or business.

Days before President Trump took office, the trial court dismissed the lawsuit. The trial court held that the term “begged” was merely an example “loose, figurative, and hyperbolic” language that is generally nonactionable. While acknowledging that the insults were “clearly intended to belittle and demean” Jacobus, the court found that the context of the tweets made it clear to any reader that they were statements of opinion and not fact. Consequently, they were too vague and subjective to be “susceptible to objective verification.” The appeals court affirmed the dismissal in a short order.

The case highlights two important defenses to defendants being accused of defamation: (1) that the statements are nonactionable hyperbole or rhetorical flourish and (2) that the statements are expressions of pure opinion and not facts (i.e. are not capable of being objectively proven or disproven).

As the trial court in Jacobus acknowledged, insults and other invective are, by definition, negative. But that alone does not make them actionable. Courts have long acknowledged that the First Amendment permits speakers latitude to add rhetorical flourish to speech to get a point across. This includes using loose and figurative language as well as hyperbole. An example would be accusing a politician of “robbing the electorate blind.” While it is generally defamatory to accuse someone of a crime, use of the phrase “robbing. . .blind” is not meant to be taken literally but rather to emphasize a point.

Similarly, statements of pure opinion are generally considered to be nonactionable. The reason for this is that pure opinion is generally subjective and not capable of objective proof. For instance, the statement that someone is a “major loser” cannot be proven or disproven. A word of warning though. Not all statements that appear to be opinion are nonactionable. A statement that can objectively be proven or disproven is actionable even if couched in terms of opinion.

For this reason, it is imperative to have an experienced defamation attorney represent you against claims of defamation. An experienced defamation attorney will be able to examine the content and context of the allegedly defamatory statements to determine whether either of these defenses or any other defenses may shield the statements from liability.

Our Schaumburg IL libel and slander lawyers concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases including cases representing a high profile athlete against a well known radio shock jock, a consumer sued by a large car dealer in federal court for negative internet reviews and videos, one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired, a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois.

Our Chicago defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. Our Chicago Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Lake Forest and Kenilworth who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.

Super Lawyers named Chicago and Oak Brook business trial attorneys Peter Lubin and Vincent DiTommaso Super Lawyers in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation, and Consumer Rights Litigation. DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle’s Oak Brook and Chicago business trial lawyers have over thirty years of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business lawsuits involving injunctions, and TROS, defamation, libel, and covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud or defamatory attacks on their business and reputations.

DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle’s DuPage and Kane Counties County defamation and slander lawyers near Geneva and Aurora have more than three decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Oak Brook, near Elmhurst and Burr Ridge, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.

If you are the victim of a defamatory attack on your business or a consumer who has been sued to stop you from posting criticism of a business online at Yelp or anywhere else, contact one of our Oak Brook and Chicago defamation lawyers for a free consultation at (877) 990-4990 or online by filling out our contact us form.