PORTLAND, Maine (CN) – A federal appeals judge has upheld the dismissal of case brought by a former Democratic Senate candidate who claimed the Republican State Leadership Committee repeatedly defamed him in flyers, brochures, and in radio and television ads days before Maine’s 2010 elections.
Jim Schatz claimed the RSLC opposed his candidacy and supported his opponent’s, distributing the materials and airing advertisements that conjured up imaginary “wrongs” he had committed while a selectman for the town of Blue Hill.
The RSLC attributed its information to two newspaper articles, one from the Bangor Daily news and the other from the Kennebec Journal. Schatz claims several co-defendants connected to the RSLC should have taken extra care to verify information from those articles.
In her opinion, Circuit Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson said Schatz claimed that “given what the newspapers had reported, which, according to the complaint, were the RSLC’s sole source of information, the RSLC knew the offending statements were false or made them recklessly without any regard for the truth.”
“He also points out that his complaint alleged that the RSLC did not launch ‘any additional investigation’ to determine whether what it said was true. And, reaching the ultimate crescendo, he contends that the complaint’s allegations plausibly show that the RSLC acted with actual malice,” she wrote.
But Thompson disagreed, writing that while it is true that “recklessness amounting to actual malice may be found where the defendant relies on a source when there is an obvious reason to doubt its veracity, or deliberately ignores evidence that calls into question his published statements,” Schatz’s complaint did not “allege enough to meet that standard.”
“The bottom line,” Thompson wrote, “is that he has not nudged his actual malice claim across the line from conceivable to plausible.”
The First Amendment bars public figures from collecting damages under state defamation laws unless they can successfully prove someone acted with actual malice, meaning with ill will or motives.