Massachusetts has abolished the separate category of defamation per se at least in part. Under state common law, any libel is actionable per se. Sharratt v. Housing Innovations, Inc., 365 Mass. 141 (Mass. 1974). This means that plaintiffs do not need to plead or prove economic losses in order to prevail on libel claims.

However, Massachusetts courts have continued to discuss defamation per se. It appears the state might still recognize libel per se when determining whether a statement "could damage the plaintiff's reputation in the community" -- which is part of the consideration of whether the statement is defamatory. Albright v. Morton, 321 F. Supp. 2d 130 (D.Mass. 2004); Stone v. Essex County Newspapers, Inc., 367 Mass. 849 (Mass. 1975). Libel per se in this context seems to encompass statements that charge the plaintiff with a crime, that allege the plaintiff has certain diseases, or that may prejudice the plaintiff's profession or business. Morton, 321 F. Supp. at note 3.

It also appears that Massachusetts still recognizes defamation per se in cases involving slander rather than libel. Ravnikar v. Bogojavlensky, 438 Mass. 627 (Mass. 2003). However, this is unlikely to arise in an Internet-based defamation action because online defamation almost always involves libel law.

Public Officials

In Massachusetts, any elected official holding public office is considered a public official for the purposes of defamation. Lane v. MPG Newspapers, 438 Mass. 476, 482-484 (Mass. 2003. This means that any elected official in public office -- no matter how small the scope of her duties -- must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice in order to prevail on a defamation claim. The Lane court found that an elected town representative was a public official though the representative's duties were limited to meeting with the rest of a 104-member committee once a year to vote on various town issues.

Criminal Libel

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