New York courts rely heavily on the "vortex" notion of a limited-purpose public figure. See James v. Gannett Co., Inc., 40 N.Y.2d 415 (N.Y. 1976) ("The essential element underlying the category of public figures is that the publicized person has taken an affirmative step to attract public attention."). The definition of a limited-purpose public figure is covered in the general Actual Malice and Negligence section of this guide under the limited-purpose public figures discussion (scroll down to the topic heading "limited-purpose public figures"). The guide states a person becomes a limited-purpose public figure only if he voluntarily "draw[s] attention to himself" or uses his position in the controversy "as a fulcrum to create public discussion." Wolston v. Reader's Digest Association, 443 U.S. 157, 168 (1979). He must, therefore, "thrust himself into the vortex of [the] public issue [and] engage the public's attention in an attempt to influence its outcome." See Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 352 (1974). In New York, such figures have included candidates for public office, restaurants (for the purpose of food reviews), and religious groups.
Actual Malice and Negligence
When the plaintiff in a defamation lawsuit is a private figure and the allegedly defamatory statements relate to a matter of legitimate public concern, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted "in a grossly irresponsible manner without due consideration for the standards of information gathering and dissemination ordinarily followed by responsible parties." Chapadeau v. Utica Observer-Dispatch, 38 N.Y.S.2d 196, 199 (N.Y. 1975). This standard, which is a higher bar than negligence but lower than actual malice, focuses on an objective evaluation of the defendant's actions rather than looking at the defendant's state of mind at the time of publication.