Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
Closed Contracts Expression
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Defamation can stem from statements that are not directly defamatory but which imply defamation of the plaintiff. The Supreme Court of New South Wales allowed the imputations at issue and ruled that based on the material in the book, it could be inferred that Brown was corrupt for associating with a corrupt politician, for example.
This case arises out of the publication of a book, “He who must be Obeid, the untold story” by Kate McClymont and Linton Besser. Brown brought this case against Random House, claiming the book was defamatory. Random House agreed that the publication was defamatory, but stated that the defamatory statement referred to another person with the same name as Brown.
Random House argued that some of the defamatory meanings as alleged by Brown are incapable of being conveyed — that they are insufficient to support a defamation claim — because they are only defamatory by imputation. Random House still apologized and withdrew the book. Brown initiated proceedings against Random House nevertheless.
McCallum, J., delivered the opinion of the Court. The Supreme Court of New South Wales ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Brown. The Court ruled that the book was clearly capable of conveying imputation for purposes of defamation. Brown argued that the following imputations could be made based on the statements contained in the book: Brown associated with a corrupt politician which could imply that Brown knew of the corruption; Brown was a corrupt person; Brown was involved in corrupt behavior by lobbying the National Parks Service to obtain favorable treatment; Brown was the director of a company that was engaging in corrupt conduct.
The Court ruled that all of these imputations were plausible from the information contained in the book and could therefore be considered defamatory. However, the last imputation (“That the plaintiff, as a director of Scobde, knew that one of the companies’ owners had employed a prominent member of the mafia, Franco Labozzetta, to heavy the National Parks and Wildlife Service to obtain an increase in the amount of accommodation at the Perisher Ski Resort.”), the Court ruled may be too far removed to be plausible but granted Brown leave to amend.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case contracts expression because it finds that one can be accused of defamation without directly defamatory statements if defamatory meaning can be inferred through context.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The Supreme Court of New South Wales is the highest court in New South Wales, and its decisions are binding on lower courts within the jurisdiction.
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