an unprivileged publication to a third party;
fault amounting at least to negligence on the part of the publisher; and
either actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm (defamation per se) or the existence of actual harm caused by the publication.
These elements of a defamation claim in Michigan are similar to the elements listed in the general Defamation section, with the following exceptions:
Defamation Per Se
Defamation per se exists if the communication is false and imputes a criminal offense or lack of chastity. Unlike in many other states, defamation regarding one's business or profession is not defamation per se in Michigan. See George v. Senate Democratic Fund, 2005 WL 102717 (Mich. Ct. App. 2005); Pierson v. Ahern, 2005 WL 1685103 (Mich. Ct. App. 2005).
Public Figures and Officials
Under Michigan law, a public official is a person whose position is of such apparent importance that the public has an independent interest in his qualifications or performance "beyond the general public interest in the qualification and performance of government employees." Peterfish v. Frantz, 168 Mich. App. 43, 52 (1988). A plaintiff must prove actual malice to recover for any subject matter that touches upon the official's fitness for office. A public figure is "a person who by his accomplishments, fame or mode of living, or by adopting a calling which gives the public a legitimate interest in his activities, affairs, and character, has become a public personage." Arber v. Sahlin, 382 Mich. 300, 305 n.4 (1969).
In Michigan, the following persons have been considered public officials or figures:
Law enforcement officials including a sheriff, a deputy sheriff, a university police officer, a bailiff, chief probation officer, the chief of the criminal section of the city law department;