Brief Fact Summary.
Van-Go Transport Company, Inc., Sterling Coach, and Celebrity Transit (Companies) after New York City Board of Education placed information into the data files that the Companies availed themselves.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A defendant cannot survive a defamation action on the basis of consent if the plaintiffs were compelled to publish the defamatory action.
Van-Go Transport Company, Inc. (Van-Go), Sterling Coach, and Celebrity Transit were public transportation companies. Sterling Coach and Celebrity proposed a contract with the New York City Board of Education but their contract was denied because of information regarding Sterling Coach and Celebrity Transit being involved in criminal activity. In New York City, when companies placed a bid to contract with the city, the companies had to go through an electronic system called Vendex where they answered a questionnaire. One of the questions in the question asked whether the companies were subject to any legal investigations and both Sterling Coach and Celebrity transit answered that they have been investigated for paying gratuities to government officials. The information obtained from Vendex was put in the public files for Van-Go, Sterling Coach, and Celebrity Transit. Van-Go, Sterling Coach, and Celebrity Transit sued New York City Board of Education (Board) for defamation. The Board moved for summary judgment on the basis that Van-Go, Sterling Coach, and Celebrity Transit put that information into Vendex on their own accord.
Can a defendant survive a defamation action on the basis of consent if the plaintiffs were compelled to publish the defamatory information?
No. Summary judgment denied.
Compelled self-publication on the part of the plaintiff makes a defendant liable for defamation. Compelled self-publication occurs when a defendant would be compelled to repeat a statement that is defamatory and likely occurs in situations where an employee is terminated. In compelled self-publication cases, the plaintiff is required to show both foreseeability and compulsion. In the case of Van-Go, Sterling Coach, and Celebrity Transport, it was foreseeable that the Companies would be required to input the information into the Vendex system when applying for a new job. Similarly, the Companies were required to share the defamatory information to explain their failure to in obtaining the earlier bid.