2020 Georgia Code
Title 51 - Torts
Chapter 9 - Injuries to Real Estate
§ 51-9-11. Slander or Libel Concerning Title to Land

Universal Citation: GA Code § 51-9-11 (2020)

The owner of any estate in lands may bring an action for libelous or slanderous words which falsely and maliciously impugn his title if any damage accrues to him therefrom.

(Orig. Code 1863, § 2964; Code 1868, § 2971; Code 1873, § 3025; Code 1882, § 3025; Civil Code 1895, § 3883; Civil Code 1910, § 4479; Code 1933, § 105-1411.)

Law reviews.

- For annual survey of construction law, see 56 Mercer L. Rev. 109 (2004).

JUDICIAL DECISIONS

Essential elements.

- In order to sustain an action under this section, the plaintiff must allege and prove the uttering and publishing of the slanderous words; that the words were malicious; that the plaintiff sustained special damage thereby; and that the plaintiff possessed an estate in the property slandered. Schoen v. Maryland Cas. Co., 147 Ga. 151, 93 S.E. 82 (1917); Daniels v. Johnson, 191 Ga. App. 70, 381 S.E.2d 87 (1989).

Because a jury had sufficient evidence to infer that a seller, acting in concert with others, slandered the successor's title to its computer software, in violation of O.C.G.A. § 51-9-11, the trial court properly entered judgment in favor of the successor. Compris Techs., Inc. v. Techwerks, Inc., 274 Ga. App. 673, 618 S.E.2d 664 (2005).

Failure to adequately plead special damages defeated the borrower's claim for libel of title. Phillips v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, F. Supp. 2d (N.D. Ga. Sept. 10, 2013).

Oral claim of title actionable.

- A mere verbal claim or an oral assertion of ownership is not a cloud which can be removed by decree. The remedy in such cases is by an action for damages under this section. Weyman v. City of Atlanta, 122 Ga. 539, 50 S.E. 492 (1905).

When right to action accrues.

- In an action for false, slanderous, and malicious words impugning the title to the plaintiff's lands, the right of action accrues to the plaintiff upon the doing of the act complained of, just as in injuries to personal reputation. King v. Miller, 35 Ga. App. 427, 133 S.E. 302 (1926).

No cause of action.

- While liens were improperly filed by a supplier, the property owner failed to show that the statements in the lien notices were false; further, the trial court could also have found that the liens were privileged under O.C.G.A. § 51-5-8 and, thus, dismissal of the owner's slander of title action was proper. Roofing Supply of Atlanta, Inc. v. Forrest Homes, Inc., 279 Ga. App. 504, 632 S.E.2d 161 (2006).

Summary judgment was properly granted to real property buyers in an action by the sellers, alleging slander of title under O.C.G.A. § 51-9-11 as the sellers failed to assert actionable claims when lis pendens filed against the property were proper and privileged under O.C.G.A. § 51-5-8; further, any failure to remove or properly mark the lis pendens pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 44-14-612 after the sellers voluntarily dismissed the claim did not form the basis of a slander of title claim against the buyers. Exec. Excellence, LLC v. Martin Bros. Invs., LLC, 309 Ga. App. 279, 710 S.E.2d 169 (2011).

This tort was subject to defense of privilege as codified in former Code 1933, § 105-711 (see now O.C.G.A. § 51-5-8). Berger v. Shea, 150 Ga. App. 812, 258 S.E.2d 621 (1979); Panfel v. Boyd, 187 Ga. App. 639, 371 S.E.2d 222 (1988), aff'd, 195 Ga. App. 891, 395 S.E.2d 80 (1990).

Sufficiency of pleading.

- A petition alleging that the defendant has willfully, falsely, and maliciously stated to a prospective purchaser from the owner of land that the defendant owned it, had deeds to it, and would well it, stated a cause of action for what ever special damages were sustained by the owner as a consequence thereof. Copeland v. Carpenter, 203 Ga. 18, 45 S.E.2d 197 (1947).

Property owner's defamation of title action failed because the owner's conclusory allegations that the owner had fully paid a surveyor's bill for work done, although sworn to, did not, without more, create a material issue of fact regarding the falsity of statements in a surveyor's lien; thus, the owner failed to establish an essential element of defamation of title and summary judgment in favor of the surveyor was appropriate. Simmons v. Futral, 262 Ga. App. 838, 586 S.E.2d 732 (2003).

Lack of standing.

- Since the contractor was not the owner of the property, the contractor lacked standing to assert a claim for damages. Bishop Contracting Co. v. North Ga. Equip. Co., 203 Ga. App. 655, 417 S.E.2d 400, cert. denied, 203 Ga. App. 905, 417 S.E.2d 400 (1992).

In action for slander to title under this section, the plaintiff could recover only such special damages as the plaintiff actually sustained as a consequence of the alleged wrongful acts, and the plaintiff was required to plead them plainly, fully, and distinctly and with that particularity necessary to put the defendant on notice of their character. Copeland v. Carpenter, 203 Ga. 18, 45 S.E.2d 197 (1947).

Allegations insufficient to prove special damages.

- Allegations that the contractor's lien prevented the homeowner from obtaining funds necessary to complete the house and prevented the homeowner from selling the house, without offering specific figures for the damage allegedly suffered, were insufficient to prove special damages. Harmon v. Cunard, 190 Ga. App. 19, 378 S.E.2d 351 (1989).

Petition which a husband and wife filed against an attorney, seeking $50,000 "for humiliation and embarrassment" they experienced because an attorney initiated a foreclosure action after they refused to pay a promissory note, did not state a claim for special damages, and the state supreme court held that the trial court properly granted the attorney's motion for summary judgment on the husband and wife's claim alleging slander of title, even though the trial court dismissed the claim on other grounds. Latson v. Boaz, 278 Ga. 113, 598 S.E.2d 485 (2004).

Trial court erred in awarding a limited liability company special and general damages on the company's counterclaim against a mortgage broker for slander of title because, even if the evidence was sufficient to prove that a lien the broker recorded for a claimed brokerage fee over the LLC's real property constituted false and malicious publication of defamatory words against the property, there was a lack of evidence of special damages resulting therefrom; attorney fees the LLC incurred to remove the lien from the property did not constitute special damages, an essential element necessary to sustain the action, and general evidence that the lien hindered the LLC's ability to obtain a loan was also insufficient to establish special damages. M&M Mortg. Co. v. Grantville Mill, LLC, 302 Ga. App. 46, 690 S.E.2d 630 (2010).

Trial court did not err by granting summary judgment to the defendants on the plaintiff's claim of slander of title alleging that the estate suffered special damages by the loss in value of the slandered property because the plaintiff failed to raise an issue of fact regarding special damages as the plaintiff did not bring forth any facts regarding the value of the property at any time between April 2009, the date the forged assignment was recorded, to March 2011, the date of the Supreme Court's decision quieting title to the property; and the plaintiff did not show how the value of the property during that period suffered from the fact that the forged assignment was recorded. Veatch v. Aurora Loan Servs., LLC, 331 Ga. App. 597, 771 S.E.2d 241 (2015).

Directed verdict granted.

- Manufacturer was entitled to a directed verdict on the customer's slander of title claim since the customer failed to point to any evidence that the manufacturer acted with malice in filing a lien notice to protect its rights to recover the contract balance and failed to show that the lien notice was inaccurate. Premier Cabinets, Inc. v. Bulat, 261 Ga. App. 578, 583 S.E.2d 235 (2003).

Summary judgment proper when no evidence of malice in slander of title action.

- Summary judgment was warranted to investors on a developer's claims of tortious interference with contract and business relations, as well as slander of title, as the investors asserted that the investors filed a lis pendens and delivered a lis pendens to a bank in good faith to protect the investors' business interests, and a developer failed in the developer's burden of pointing to specific evidence in order to create a triable issue on the malice with intent to injure element. Meadow Springs, LLC v. IH Riverdale, LLC, 323 Ga. App. 478, 747 S.E.2d 47 (2013).

Fact issues remaining prevent award of summary judgment.

- When fact issues remained as to a foreclosure allegedly resulting from a non-existent debt, thus slandering the title to the underlying property, summary judgment was reversed. Boaz v. Latson, 260 Ga. App. 752, 580 S.E.2d 572 (2003).

Litigation and attorney fees.

- Costs of litigation and attorney fees cannot constitute the required special damage, as such costs and fees will be present in any suit and treating them as special damage would render the special damage requirement meaningless. Accordingly, the trial court properly concluded that a cause of action for defamation of title could not be maintained as a matter of law. Hicks v. McLain's Bldg., Materials, Inc., 209 Ga. App. 191, 433 S.E.2d 114 (1993).

Trial court erred in finding that a jury question remained on a property owner's claim against a subcontractor who had filed liens on the property for slander of title; under O.C.G.A. § 51-9-11, the owner could recover only such special damages as the owner actually sustained, and the owner only presented evidence of the attorney fees the owner incurred, which were not special damages. Seaboard Constr. Co. v. Kent Realty Brunswick, LLC, 331 Ga. App. 742, 771 S.E.2d 429 (2015).

Jury instructions.

- In Georgia, there is no tort for the wrongful filing of a claim of materialman's or mechanic's lien. When a materialman's or mechanic's lien is improperly filed, the cause of action, if any, is for defamation concerning land under O.C.G.A. § 51-9-11. In order to sustain an action of this kind, the plaintiff must allege and prove the uttering and publishing of the slanderous words; that the words were false; that the words were malicious; that the plaintiff sustained special damage thereby; and that the plaintiff possessed an estate in the property slandered. Consequently, the court erred in instructing the jury that failure to provide the property owner with statutory notice renders the lien claimant liable for damages. Amador v. Thomas, 259 Ga. App. 835, 578 S.E.2d 537 (2003).

Cited in King v. Neill, 33 Ga. App. 552, 126 S.E. 896 (1925); Copeland v. Carpenter, 206 Ga. 822, 59 S.E.2d 245 (1950); Ferguson v. Atlantic Land & Dev. Corp., 158 Ga. App. 33, 279 S.E.2d 470 (1981); Lincoln Log Homes Mktg., Inc. v. Holbrook, 163 Ga. App. 592, 295 S.E.2d 567 (1982); F.S. Assocs. v. McMichael's Constr. Co., 197 Ga. App. 705, 399 S.E.2d 479 (1990); Rapps v. Cooke, 234 Ga. App. 131, 505 S.E.2d 566 (1998); Sanders v. Brown, 257 Ga. App. 566, 571 S.E.2d 532 (2002).

RESEARCH REFERENCES

Proof of Slander or Disparagement of Title to Real Property, 55 POF3d 509.

Slander of Title by Improper Recording of Notice of Default, 28 Am. Jur. Trials 229.

C.J.S.

- 53 C.J.S., Libel and Slander, § 310 et seq.

ALR.

- Libel and slander: imputation that property sold or offered for sale is subject to an encumbrance, 50 A.L.R. 279.

Malice as element of action for slander of title, 129 A.L.R. 179.

Recording of instrument purporting to affect title as slander of title, 39 A.L.R.2d 840.

What constitutes special damages in action for slander of title, 4 A.L.R.4th 532.

Allowance of punitive damages in action for slander of title or disparagement of property, 7 A.L.R.4th 1219.

Slander of title: sufficiency of plaintiff's interest in real property to maintain action, 86 A.L.R.4th 738.

CHAPTER 10 INJURIES TO PERSONALTY

Sec.

  • 51-10-1. Right of action for deprivation of possession of personalty.
  • 51-10-2. Who may bring an action for interference with possession of chattel.
  • 51-10-3. Abuse of or damage to personalty as trespass.
  • 51-10-4. Rights of action of bailee and bailor for trespass.
  • 51-10-5. Right of action for injury to remainder or reversionary interest in personalty; joint action with tenant in possession.
  • 51-10-6. Owner's right of action for damage to or theft involving personal property.
Cross references.

- Time limitations on bringing of actions for injuries to personalty and recovery of personal property, §§ 9-3-31,9-3-32.

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