Jacobus v Trump, 64 N.Y.S.3d 889, (1st Dep’t 2017)

On appeal, the trial court’s decision dismissing a defamation case against President Donald Trump was upheld. Cheryl Jacobus, a political strategist, filed a defamation action against Mr. Trump after he called her, during his political campaign, “A real dummy” on Twitter and claimed she “begged for job.”

In 2015, Trump’s campaign reached out to Ms. Jacobus soliciting her interest about becoming the communication’s director for the campaign. After meetings with Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Ms. Jacobus decided that she could not work for the campaign. Throughout Mr. Trump’s campaign, Ms. Jacobus made comments criticizing Mr. Trump on Twitter and national television. Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, while on a telephone call with MSNBC, claimed that Ms. Jacobus was making these accusations simply because she was upset about not being hired.

To prove defamation, a party must establish that a defendant (a) intentionally made a false statement of fact, (b) published the statements to a third party, and (c) that the statement was not privileged and intended to cause harm. The context in which the words are used and whether those statements are fact or opinion is important. Expressions of opinion no matter how offensive are not actionable, whereas, statements of fact are actionable. A statement of fact is one that can be proven true or false. A reader is more likely to determine statements of fact or opinion based on the forum, where the statements are published. An article published in a newspaper like the Sun-Sentinel or New York Times, would lead one to believe that the information provided in the article was checked for accuracy and is therefore factual. Statements in magazines like the Enquirer are known more for gossip. Forums on the internet have become places where people can freely express their ideas and opinions. People tweet, write blogs, post on Facebook and write reviews all the time. Most of those ideas expressed are merely opinions. Many courts have ruled that comments made in an online forum are statements of opinion not fact.

The trial court determined that Mr. Trump’s tweets were merely an exaggerated reference to Ms. Jacobus’ state of mind. Additionally, the comments being made on a social media platform like Twitter, following Ms. Jacobus making negative comments about Mr. Trump, would almost certainly lead readers to believe that it was a petty quarrel between the two. The appellate court affirmed the determination that the comments were opinion and not actionable.

Defamation cases can be stressful, especially since someone’s reputation is on the line. Having the right counsel to guide you through the legal process helps alleviate that stress while, at the same time making sure your rights are protected. If you or someone you know has a defamation claim, please contact the lawyers at Kahn & Resnik, P.L. Our lawyers proudly serve all of Florida and will guide you through every step of the legal process. Call us now at 954-321-0176 to set up a consultation.