TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – Employees of a boardwalk game are not protected from a defamation lawsuit accusing them of broadcasting over a loudspeaker that a competitor was “dishonest” and “a crook,” the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled.
Walter Florimont, who operated a boardwalk game, was less than thrilled when rival Randy Senna relocated his Flipper’s Fascination game to the boardwalk in Wildwood, N.J. In Senna’s game, the first player to roll balls into five holes wins tickets that can be redeemed for prizes.
Senna ran an ad in a local paper, promising that tickets won in his former Seaside Heights location would be honored at the Wildwood parlor.
Florimont’s employees allegedly told customers that Senna wouldn’t honor the prize tickets and broadcast over a public-address system that Senna was “a crook” who “ran away and screwed all of his customers in Seaside.”
Senna sued Florimont and his employees for defamation. He lost in the lower courts, which ruled that he had failed to prove actual malice.
But the actual malice standard does not apply in this case, the state high court ruled, because the speech did not touch on matters of public concern.
“The false and defamatory statements of defendants’ employees, impugning the honesty of a business competitor, fall into the category of commercial speech that is not entitled to heightened scrutiny,” Justice Albin wrote.