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School Candidate Can |Add Actual Malice Claim

(CN) - A school superintendent candidate became a victim of actual malice when school board members were told she was a Communist, a California appeals court ruled. The Westminster School District rescinded the appointment of Kimoanh Nguyen-Lam as the country's first Vietnamese school superintendent.

Nguyen-Lam filed a defamation suit, blaming Sinh Cuong Cao for the loss of the position. The plaintiff claimed that Cao called her a Communist in a phone call to board members and repeatedly republished the false statement.

The trial court allowed Nguyen-Lam to amend her complaint to include actual malice, finding that she demonstrated a probability that she would prevail on the merits of her case.

Cao appealed the amendment to include actual malice under the anti-SLAPP law, claiming that being called a Communist is no longer a slanderous statement and is therefore not actionable.

The 4th District Court of Appeal denied Cao's motion to strike the amendment to the lawsuit.

"The policy concerns against amendment in the anti-SLAPP context do not apply because the plaintiff's suit - shown to be likely meritorious - is not a strategic lawsuit against public participation," Justice Aronson wrote.

"Even assuming that defendant is correct that the Communist epithet should not be considered slander per se," Aronson added, "plaintiff demonstrates actual damages - she lost her job."

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