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Legal Memorandum: Prima Facie Claim of Defamation

Issue: When does a party effectively make a prima facie claim of defamation?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Defamation; Pleading requirements
Jurisdiction: Federal, Pennsylvania
Cited Cases: 507 U.S. 163; 295 F. Supp. 2d 480
Cited Statutes: Fed. R. Civ. P. 8
Date: 05/01/2007

If a party relies on the federal district court case of Ersek v. Township of Springfield, 822 F. Supp. 218 (E.D. Pa. 1993), the claim would not be properly raised.  The Ersek case has been criticized as “provid[ing] little guidance” on the issue of the particularity of pleading a defamation claim.  In Joyce v. Alti America, Inc., No. CIV. A. 00-5420 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 27, 2001), another judge of the same court rejected the defendant’s reliance on Ersek, which in turn relied on state cases that preceded the Supreme Court’s decision in Leatherman v. Tarrant County, 507 U.S. 163 (1993).  In Joyce, the defendant argued that the plaintiff “failed to plead the content of the alleged defamatory publication and the identity of both the declarant and the recipient.”  elying upon Supreme Court precedent in Leatherman, the Joyce court concluded that Fed. R. Civ. P. 8, not Pennsylvania state law, provided the appropriate “‘standard of sufficiency.'”  Id. (citation omitted).  See also Roskos v. Sugarloaf Twp., 295 F. Supp. 2d 480, 492 (M.D. Pa. 2003) (finding the defendants’ reliance on Ersek misplaced because it relied on Pennsylvania pleading requirements, instead of the notice pleading requirement of the Federal Rules).  “[F]or a defamation claim brought in federal court, the plaintiff does not have to plead the precise defamatory statements as long as the count provides sufficient notice to the defendant.”  Id. at 492 (denying motion to dismiss).

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