*As a matter of law, in cases involving public figures or matters of public concern, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove falsity in a defamation action. Nizam-Aldine v. City of Oakland, 47 Cal. App. 4th 364 (Cal. Ct. App. 1996). In cases involving matters of purely private concern, the burden of proving truth is on the defendant. Smith v. Maldonado, 72 Cal.App.4th 637, 646 & n.5 (Cal. Ct. App. 1999). A reader further points out that, even when the burden is technically on the plaintiff to prove falsity, the plaintiff can easily shift the burden to the defendant simply by testifying that the statements at issue are false.
Defamation Per Se
A plaintiff need not show special damages (e.g., damages to the plaintiff's property, business, trade, profession or occupation, including expenditures that resulted from the defamation) if the statement is defamation per se. A statement is defamation per se if it defames the plaintiff on its face, that is, without the need for extrinsic evidence to explain the statement's defamatory nature. See Cal. Civ. Code § 45a; Yow v. National Enquirer, Inc. 550 F.Supp.2d 1179, 1183 (E.D. Cal. 2008).
For example, an allegation that the plaintiff is guilty of a crime is defamatory on its face pursuant to Cal. Civil Code § 45a. In one case, a non-profit organization (NPO) that advocates for the rights of low-income migrant workers posted flyers claiming a national retailer of women's clothing engaged in illegal business practices by contracting with manufacturers that did not pay minimum wage or overtime. The retailer brought a defamation suit against the NPO. Although the statements would have qualified as defamation per se, the court concluded the retailer failed to establish the statements in the flyers were false, and therefore the statements could not be considered defamatory. See Fashion 21 v. Coal. for Humane Immigrant Rights of L.A., 12 Cal.Rptr.3d 493 (Cal. Ct. App. 2004).