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Legal Memorandum: Heightened Standard for Defamation Claims

Issue: Is there a heightened pleading standard for defamation claims?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Heightened pleadings standard; Defamation claims
Jurisdiction: Federal, Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: Rule 8(a) (2)
Date: 01/01/2009

There is no “heightened standard” applied to defamation claims under Virgin Islands law.  VECC, Inc. v. Bank of Nova Scotia, 296 F. Supp. 2d 617, 621 (D.V.I. 2003).  “Nothing in the federal rules requires that a court more closely scrutinize allegations of defamation.”  Id. at 621.  And, “nothing in the federal rules requires a plaintiff to set forth detailed pleadings regarding the precise circumstances under which a defendant’s allegedly defamatory statements were made.”  Id. at 621-22 n.2.

Although in VECC, the Appellate Division acknowledged that a single Virgin Islands District Court decision, Manns v. Leather Shop, Inc., 960 F. Supp. 925 (D.V.I. 1997) (Moore, J.) had apparently required more specificity than seems to be required by Rule 8, the Appellate Division itself refused to adopt that position.  “This court is not convinced that it is appropriate to apply a more stringent pleading standard to claims for defamation.”  VECC, 296 F.2d at 621 n.2.  The court noted that while some cases, applying state pleading law, impose heightened pleading standards to defamation claims, such cases are inapposite when, as here, the federal rules are applicable.  Id.  In the latter case, the ordinary Rule 8 standard applies to defamation claims, merely requiring the pleader to make a “short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief.”  Id.; see also Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993) (“We think it is impossible to square the ‘heightened pleading standard’ applied […]

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