(CN) - A New York City detective's statements to the press about a rape complaint involving a former North Bronx congressional candidate were not defamatory, an appeals court ruled.
According to Herbert Moreira-Brown's complaint, Detective Raymond Rivera gave written and verbal statements to the press asserting that Moreira-Brown "had committed rape and sexual assault and was being sought by the police for arrest and prosecution" for those crimes, yet could not be located for questioning.
A Bronx County Supreme Court judge dismissed the lawsuit on the basis that the allegedly defamatory words were not marked in quotes.
The New York Appellate Divison's First Department reinstated the case in March 2010, ruling that "the words need not be set in quotation marks" in a defamation complaint.
The case was again dismissed by the lower court, and the appeals court ruled last week that the remarks attributed to Rivera were not defamatory because they were neither false nor malicious.
"The record demonstrates that all of the statements attributed to Rivera about plaintiff were true, namely, that plaintiff was being sought for questioning; that repeated efforts to locate plaintiff had been unsuccessful; and that the case involved an allegation of rape," the court ruled.
Moreover, Moreira-Brown is a public figure who must demonstrate that the defamatory statements were made with malicious intent, yet there was insufficient evidence of ill will in this case, according to the ruling.
The sexual assault investigation was later dropped and no charges were brought, according to media reports. But in the meantime, Moreira-Brown, who was running in a Democratic primary for a seat in the U.S. Congress representing the North Bronx when news of the rape investigation surfaced, lost the race with just 20 percent of the vote.
"The fact that these truths may have been fatal to plaintiff's bid for public office have no bearing on whether they were legally defamatory," the panel wrote.
Justices John Sweeny, Leland DeGrasse, Sallie Manzanet-Daniels and Darcel Clark issued the unanimous decision.
Before his candidacy, Moreira-Brown was an educator who later became an attorney.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.