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Watt v. Longsdon

Law Dictionary

Law Dictionary

Featuring Black's Law Dictionary 2nd Ed.
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Torts Keyed to Epstein

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Bloomberg Law

Citation. [1930] 1 K.B. 130.

Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant showed a letter to the Plaintiff’s wife that accused the Plaintiff of several unflattering things. The Plaintiff sued the Defendant for defamation. The Defendant claimed that he was under a duty to show the Plaintiff’s wife the letter.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. A speaker is privileged to make defamatory statements about another when the speaker had either a duty or an interest to publish the statements. The privilege may be lost if: (1) they go beyond the limits of the duty of interest; or, (2) they may be published with express malice, so that the occasion is not being legitimately used, but abused.

Facts. The Plaintiff, the Defendant and Browne worked for the same oil company. Browne wrote a letter to the Defendant. Browne’s letter claimed that the Plaintiff had an unpaid liquor bill, which Browne doubted would ever get paid, that the Plaintiff’s maid was his mistress, even though she was an old woman and stone deaf, almost blind and had dyed hair, that the Plaintiff had had orgies with dancing girls, that the Plaintiff had designs on Browne’s wife, and that the Plaintiff was a blackguard, a thief, a liar and lives exclusively to satisfy his own passions and lust. Browne suggested that the chairman of the board of the company be shown the letter, but not the Plaintiff’s wife until sworn statements could be taken. The Defendant then wrote Browne a letter, which stated that the Defendant shared the same views that bribes should be paid to get sworn statements and that the Defendant would inform the Plaintiff’s wife, but not without the sworn statements in hand. A few days later b
efore the Defendant even got a reply to his letter to Browne, the Defendant showed the letter Browne wrote to the Plaintiff’s wife. She filed for divorce. The Plaintiff sued for libel. The trial court ruled the letters privileged. The court of appeals reversed.

Issue. Was the Defendant’s communications privileged?
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