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Saying Thief in an Email May Have Been Libelous

(CN) - A New York City man has a basis for libel against the person who called him a thief in an email, a state appeals court ruled.

Joseph Suarez sued John Angelet, alleging that he published an email stating, "Gerry and [plaintiff Joseph Suarez] are thieves as far as I am concerned," according to court records.

Concluding that this was an expression of "pure opinion," a Rockland County judge dismissed Suarez's libel claim.

The Brooklyn-based Second Department New York Appellate Division revived the case on Dec. 20, however, saying the email did not qualify as "pure opinion."

"Here, the record contains virtually nothing about the 'overall context' in which the allegedly defamatory statement was made," according to the unsigned opinion.

"In addition, the Court of Appeals has expressly stated that, depending on the exact context, both the statement 'John is a thief' and the statement 'I believe John is a thief' might, in fact, constitute actionable defamation," they added.

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