Lowell v. WrightAnnotate this Case
Plaintiff’s libel per se claim was based on a Google review, written by the manager of plaintiff’s business competitor, that subsequently was removed from the internet without a trace. The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed a grant of summary judgment to defendants. The issues this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court were: (1) whether plaintiff could reach a jury on his libel claim when the text was no longer available; (2) whether the First Amendment’s public comment defense was available in these circumstances and, relatedly, whether a defendant speaker’s identity or motive was part of the court’s inquiry on the defense’s availability; and (3) whether Oregon should require a plaintiff claiming defamation to prove that the defendant acted with a heightened culpable mental state, “actual malice,” in all cases when the speech was on a “matter of public concern” protected under the First Amendment, abolishing the distinction that requires such proof only when the defendant is a member of the media. The Court of Appeals concluded the trial court had erred because plaintiff’s evidence of the allegedly defamatory statements sufficed to create a question of fact for trial on his claim and the lack of the review’s printed text did not affect the analysis of defendants’ First Amendment defense. The Supreme Court concurred with the appellate court's conclusion that the lack of a copy of the review was not fatal to plaintiff’s libel claim and that two of the three allegedly defamatory statements in the review were actionable. The Court thus affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals in part and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.