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Current Developments in the Commercial Divisions of the
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Posted: May 6, 2014

Defamation Claim Dismissed Because Not Pled With Particularity

On April 23, 2014, Justice Schweitzer of the New York County Commercial Division issued a decision in Patterson v. Wilhelmina Intl., Ltd., 2014 NY Slip Op. 31092(U), dismissing a defamation claim because it was not pled with particularity.

In Patterson, the defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s defamation claim. The court granted the motion because the claim was not sufficiently specific, explaining:

CPLR 3016 (a) requires: In an action for libel or slander, the particular words complained of shall be set forth in the complaint, but their application to the plaintiff may be stated generally. Well-established case law has consistently interpreted this section to require that the alleged defamatory words be set forth in haec verba. This requirement is strictly enforced and the exact words must be set forth. Paraphrasing and other descriptions or summaries of the alleged defamatory words, without stating the words themselves, have been held insufficient to satisfy the particularity requirement of CPLR 3016(a).

Here, there is no doubt that [the plaintiff] did not meet the level of specificity required by CPLR 3016(a) as the complaint contains no in haec verba recitation of the challenged statements. The complaint includes various references to the defamatory statements, but never sets the words forth verbatim. . . . The complaint also fails to state the time, manner, and to whom the alleged defamatory statements were made, which is a further requirement to withstand a motion to dismiss. The complaint’s allegations that [the defendant] made unidentified comments to employees of Wilhelmina is plainly insufficient.

(Internal quotations and citation omitted) (emphasis added). However, the court went on to grant the plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to add the required specificity.

This decision is a reminder that it is not just fraud claims that must be pleaded with particularity.  Indeed, as the court noted, a defamation claim must contain the exact defamatory words said.

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