Defendants published an article in a newspaper that implied that plaintiff lied under oath in a judicial proceeding. Plaintiff sued both the author of the article and the owner of the newspaper for libel.
An opinion may be actionable for defamation if it is sufficiently factual.
Michael Milkovich (plaintiff) was a wrestling coach at an Ohio high school. At a home wrestling match, his team was involved in an altercation with a team from another high school. Several people were injured. The local athletic association held a judicial proceeding in response to the incident. Milkovich testified in the proceeding and was ultimately censored for his involvement in the altercation. J. Theodore Diadiun (co-defendant) authored an article in an Ohio newspaper implying that Milkovich lied under oath in the proceeding. Milkovich sued both Diadiun and Lorain Journal Company (co-defendant), the owner of the newspaper, for libel.
Whether an opinion may be actionable for defamation?
Yes, Ohio libel laws are applicable to the defamatory statements contained within the opinion. The judgment of the Ohio Court of Appeals is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
At common law, defamatory communications were actionable regardless of whether they were statements of fact or opinion. The privilege, or affirmative defense, of “fair comment” was later incorporated into common law. Under the principle of fair comment, a person was afforded immunity from suit for his or her opinion on a matter of public concern based upon a true or privileged statement of fact. The Court recognizes that the statement “In my opinion Jones is a liar,” may cause just as much damage as the assertion, “Jones is a liar.” Even at common law, the fair comment defense did not extend to false statements of fact, irrespective of whether it was stated or implied from an expression of opinion. Here, the Diadiun’s opinion is not protected from Ohio’s libel laws. The jury could have found that the Diadiun’s statements implied factual assertions that Milkovich lied under oath.