Saturday, December 19, 2009

Case of First Impression in Defamation Context

Just in time for the Holiday Season, Judge Terrence R. Nealon of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas has issued his opinion on what appears to be a case of first impression in a defamation case involving the heartwarming facts of the defendant getting into an argument with the plaintiff and calling the plaintiff "a big dumb f*cking Polack" and "a son-of-a-bitch liar."

In Koldjeski v. Colombo, PICS Case No 09-2117 (C.P. Lackawanna Dec. 4, 2009 Nealon, J. ), Judge Nealon noted that there were no prior opinions on-point on the issue of whether the ethnic slur at issue was defamatory under Pennsylvania law.

Apparently, there are other cases over the years that have ruled, in general, that racial epithets, while offensive, were not capable of defamatory meaning. Judge Nealon noted in his opinion that "[n]o Pennsylvania decisional precedent has recognized an ethnic slur as a basis for a valid defamation claim." He also researched and found the same conclusion in other jurisdictions.

So, while Judge Nealon slammed the defendant for making the first remark noted, he ruled that the slur could not be actionable as defamation or slander under Pennsylvania law. The court did allow the defamation case to move ahead with regards to the second remark in which the defendant called the plaintiff a "liar" as such a public accusation that could harm the plaintiff's position in his employment and in the local government position that he held.

The plaintiff in this matter was represented by Brigid Carey, Esquire and the defendant is represented by P. Timothy Kelly, Esquire of Matisse & Kelley.

A copy of the court's opinion can be secured for a small fee by contacting the Pennsylvania Law Weekly's Instant Case Service at 1-800-276-7427 and giving the PICS Case No. noted above.

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