Reference to the Plaintiff

In a defamation action, the recipient of a communication must understand that the defendant intended to refer to the plaintiff in the communication. Even where the recipient mistakenly believes that a communication refers to the plaintiff, this belief, so long as it is reasonable, is sufficient. It is not necessary that the communication refer to the plaintiff by name. A defendant may publish defamatory material in the form of a story or novel that apparently refers only to fictitious characters, where a reasonable person would understand that a particular character actually refers to the plaintiff. This is true even if the author states that he or she intends for the work to be fictional.

In some circumstances, an author who publishes defamatory matter about a group or class of persons may be liable to an individual member of the group or class. This may occur when: (1) the communication refers to a group or class so small that a reader or listener can reasonably understand that the matter refers to the plaintiff; and (2) the reader or listener can reasonably conclude that the communication refers to the individual based on the circumstances of the publication.


Inside Reference to the Plaintiff