New Jersey follows the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75 (1966), in determining who is a public official for purposes of defamation law. Under this test, the public official designation applies to "those among the hierarchy of government employees who have, or appear to the public to have, substantial responsibility for or control over the conduct of governmental affairs.” Costello v. Ocean County Observer, 643 A.2d 1012, 1021 (N.J. 1994) (quoting Baer). Reading this test expansively, New Jersey courts have consistently held that police officers are public officials. Other examples of public officials include a former school district athletic director, a tax assessor, a building inspector, an incumbent mayor.
New Jersey courts have a two-part test for deciding who is a limited-purpose public figure. First, the defamatory statement must involve a public controversy, namely a real dispute with an outcome that “affects the general public or some segment of it.” See McDowell v. Paiewonsky, 769 F.2d 942, 948 (3d Cir. 1985). Second, the court must consider “the nature and extent of plaintiff's involvement in that controversy.” See McDowell, 769 F.2d at 948. The following individuals, among others, have been held to be limited-purpose public figures in New Jersey:
A candidate for a condominium board of directors, because his candidacy thrust him into the public eye, see Gulrajaney v. Petricha, 885 A.2d 496, 505 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2005);
A lawyer representing the New Jersey School Boards Association, at a time when the association's insurance problems generated widespread and justifiable media attention, see Schwartz v. Worrall Publ'ns, 610 A.2d 425, 428-29 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1992); and
Land use applicants, because their construction project were fairly and reasonably the subject of public interest, see LoBiondo v. Schwartz, 733 A.2d 516, 526 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1999).