Legal Memorandum: Elements of Defamation in MN

Issue: What are the necessary elements to prove defamation in Minnesota?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Defamation; Elements; False statement
Jurisdiction: Minnesota
Cited Cases: 867 F. Supp. 2d 1050; 532 N.W.2d 235; 267 Minn. 181; 80 N.W. 1128; 126 N.W.2d 154
Cited Statutes: Restatement (Second) of Torts §§ 559—570 (1977)
Date: 12/01/2012

To prove defamation, the plaintiff must establish the following elements: (1) a false statement, (2) communicated to someone other than plaintiff, (3) that tends to harm the plaintiff’s reputation or lower his esteem in the community.  Walker v. Wanner Eng’g, Inc., 867 F. Supp. 2d 1050, 1054 (D. Minn. 2012) (citing Stuempges v. Parke, Davis & Co., 297 N.W.2d 252, 255 (Minn. 1980)). 

In Minnesota, defamation claims must be pleaded with specificity, including who made the defamatory statements, to whom were they made, and where.  Id. at 1056 (citing Pinto v. Internationale Set, Inc., 650 F. Supp. 306, 309 (D. Minn.1986); Asay v. Hallmark Cards, 594 F.2d 692, 698–99 (8th Cir.1979); Schibursky v. Int’l Bus. Mach. Corp., 820 F. Supp. 1169, 1181 (D. Minn. 1993)).  The fact that the plaintiff failed to recite the exact language spoken is not fatal to a defamation claim.  Id. 

The purpose of the specificity requirement is to provide enough detail to evaluate whether a privilege applies, as well as to put defendants on notice of the scope of the defamation claim against them.  Id. (citing Asay, 594 F.2d at 699; Schibursky, 820 F.Supp. at 1181).  A maker of a defamatory statement is not liable if the statement was communicated under circumstances that make it qualifiedly privileged, as long as that privileged is not abused.  Id. at 1054 (citing Bol v. Cole, 561 N.W.2d 143, 149 (Minn. 1997) (citations omitted)).  A defamatory statement is covered by a qualified privilege if […]

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