2021 Georgia Code
Title 51 - Torts
Chapter 5 - Libel and Slander
§ 51-5-6. Truth as Justification

Universal Citation: GA Code § 51-5-6 (2021)

The truth of the charge made may always be proved in justification of an alleged libel or slander.

(Orig. Code 1863, § 2921; Code 1868, § 2928; Code 1873, § 2979; Code 1882, § 2979; Civil Code 1895, § 3839; Civil Code 1910, § 4435; Code 1933, § 105-708.)

Law reviews.

- For article, "Defamation in Georgia Local Government Law: A Brief History," see 16 Ga. L. Rev. 627 (1982). For note, "The Great Escape: How One Plaintiff's Sidestep of a Mandatory Arbitration Clause Was Applied to a Class in Bickerstaff v. SunTrust Bank," see 68 Mercer L. Rev. 539 (2017).


Libel must be false as well as malicious. Jones v. Neighbor Newspapers, Inc., 142 Ga. App. 365, 236 S.E.2d 23 (1977).

Truth is perfect defense in civil action for libel or slander. Savannah News-Press, Inc. v. Hartridge, 110 Ga. App. 203, 138 S.E.2d 173 (1964).

When the petition in a libel action affirmatively shows that the printed matter relied on to constitute the libel is not false, but on the other hand shows it to be true, then such petition fails to state a cause of action for libel, the falsity of the printed matter being an essential element to such a cause of action. Savannah News-Press, Inc. v. Harley, 100 Ga. App. 387, 111 S.E.2d 259 (1959).

If the petition shows on the petition's face that the printed matter is either true or privileged, a general demurrer (now motion to dismiss) to the petition will lie for the reason that the petition on the petition's face sets out no cause of action. Savannah News-Press, Inc. v. Harley, 100 Ga. App. 387, 111 S.E.2d 259 (1959).

The truth of the charge may always be proved in justification of the libel or slander. Rucker v. Gandy, 158 Ga. App. 104, 279 S.E.2d 259 (1981).

Fact that medical director had tested positive for an infectious disease was true; thus, the medical director's claims for libel and slander based on communications made that stated the medical director had been diagnosed with an infectious disease could not be sustained since the truth was a perfect defense in a civil action for libel or slander. Nelson v. Glynn-Brunswick Hosp. Auth., 257 Ga. App. 571, 571 S.E.2d 557 (2002).

Memorandum in which a vice chairperson of an organization alleged that the organization's vice president and treasurer acted improperly in violation of the organization's conflict of interest rules by allowing the treasurer to receive payment for work that the treasurer performed for the organization, did not present an actionable libel claim, as the information in the memorandum qualified as opinion or was true, thus presenting a defense under O.C.G.A. § 51-5-6. Koly v. Enney, 269 Fed. Appx. 861 (11th Cir. 2008)(Unpublished).

Under Georgia law, O.C.G.A. § 51-5-6, truth was an absolute defense in a defamation action. Thus, the plaintiff was not likely to succeed on the merits of a defamation claim and was not entitled to a preliminary injunction. Windsor v. United States, F.3d (11th Cir. May 20, 2010)(Unpublished).

Real estate developer did not show defamation on the part of home buyers because the buyers in the buyers' communications with others concerning drainage problems on the buyers' property which the buyers purchased from the developer addressed factually true information, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 51-5-6, and the buyers' communications were privileged, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 51-5-7, as there was no showing of malice pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 51-5-9. Chaney v. Harrison & Lynam, LLC, 308 Ga. App. 808, 708 S.E.2d 672 (2011).

Statement that criminal charges were about to be brought against the plaintiff was in fact true at the time the statement was made and therefore could not constitute an actionable slander. Tetrault v. Shelton, 179 Ga. App. 746, 347 S.E.2d 636 (1986).

Substantial accuracy constitutes defense of truth.

- Newspapers are not ordinarily held to the exact facts or to the most minute details of the transactions they publish. What is usually required is that the publication shall be substantially accurate; and if the article is published by the newspaper in good faith and the same is substantially accurate, the newspaper has a complete defense. Jones v. Neighbor Newspapers, Inc., 142 Ga. App. 365, 236 S.E.2d 23 (1977).

As long as the facts in a newspaper are not misstated, distorted, or arranged so as to convey a false and defamatory meaning, there is no liability for a somewhat less than complete report of the truth. Jones v. Neighbor Newspapers, Inc., 142 Ga. App. 365, 236 S.E.2d 23 (1977).

Defendant in defamation action cannot automatically escape liability by swearing that statements were made with belief that statements were true. Williams v. Trust Co., 140 Ga. App. 49, 230 S.E.2d 45 (1976).

Rumors not basis of justification.

- Rumors that the subject matter of the charge was true will not support a plea of truth. Cox v. Strickland, 101 Ga. 482, 28 S.E. 655 (1897).

An omission from an otherwise truthful communication of a reference to the underlying extenuating circumstances regarding the termination of the plaintiff's employment did not render those communications false and actionable defamations. Yandle v. Mitchell Motors, Inc., 199 Ga. App. 211, 404 S.E.2d 313, cert. denied, 199 Ga. App. 907, 404 S.E.2d 313 (1991).

If truth of article is proven, it is immaterial altogether whether it may have been viewed as in "poor taste" by anybody, for the defense of justification is established and the defendant is entitled to a verdict. Savannah News-Press, Inc. v. Hartridge, 110 Ga. App. 203, 138 S.E.2d 173 (1964).

Character of plaintiff in issue.

- In an action of slander, the plea of justification puts the plaintiff's general character in issue. Bryan v. Gurr, 27 Ga. 378 (1859).

Bad character of the plaintiff merely serves to mitigate damages, and cannot operate as a bar. Redfearn v. Thompson, 10 Ga. App. 550, 73 S.E. 949 (1912).

False identification as convicted criminal in campaign materials.

- In a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit by political opponents of a sheriff who, they claimed, libeled them by identifying them as criminals in campaign literature, a majority of the defamatory statements were protected by the First Amendment as rhetorical political hyperbole, except for a flier displaying a mug shot of one of the citizens with a caption falsely identifying that citizen as a "convicted" criminal; because the citizen had never been convicted, the latter statement was actionable under O.C.G.A. § 51-5-1 because truth was not a defense under O.C.G.A. § 51-5-6. Bennett v. Hendrix, 325 Fed. Appx. 727 (11th Cir. 2009)(Unpublished).

Plea of privilege is not waived by plea of justification. Etchison v. Pergerson, 88 Ga. 620, 15 S.E. 680 (1892).

Truth available as defense even when statement not privileged.

- When a slander per se is not privileged, the defendant may defend by denying the utterance of the words, or by setting up the truth in defense. Ivester v. Coe, 33 Ga. App. 620, 127 S.E. 790 (1925); McIntosh v. Williams, 160 Ga. 461, 128 S.E. 672 (1925).

Time that knowledge of truth was ascertained by defendant is immaterial. Cox v. Strickland, 101 Ga. 482, 28 S.E. 655 (1897).

Plaintiff failed to establish that parents entertained serious doubts to the truth.

- In an action in which the plaintiff, who was named by the parents of a murdered child on national television and in the parents' book about their daughter's murder as a potential suspect, filed suit against the parents, asserting both a libel and slander claim, the parents were granted summary judgment on the libel claim; the plaintiff failed to establish that when the parents wrote the book, the parents in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the publication. Wolf v. Ramsey, 253 F. Supp. 2d 1323 (N.D. Ga. 2003).

Statements in letter setting forth board member's judgments, tax liens, and crimes were true.

- In a defamation suit brought by a board member of a vacation resort community owners' association against a property owner who wrote a letter detailing the board member's civil judgments, tax liens, and criminal charges, the trial court properly granted the property owner summary judgment as the statements regarding the judgments, tax liens, and criminal charges were garnered from public records and were true. Additionally, the property owner's assessment that the board member was not fit to manage the association's funds if the board member was not able to manage personal finances was the opinion of the property owner and served no basis for the defamation action. McCall v. Couture, 293 Ga. App. 305, 666 S.E.2d 637 (2008).

Defense of truth inapplicable in creditor's slander of title claim.

- Trial court erred in granting partial summary judgment to a limited liability company (LLC) and the company's member on a creditor's slander of title claim based on the defense of truth because the lis pendens was not valid; a prior action the LLC and member filed against a debtor, and the interests asserted therein, did not involve the real property at issue. McChesney v. IH Riverdale, LLC, 307 Ga. App. 77, 704 S.E.2d 244 (2010).

Truthful social media postings not defamation.

- Judgment notwithstanding the verdict and directed verdicts in a defamation case were affirmed because the plaintiff was properly found to be a public figure in the spheres of running and Christian evangelism and there was no evidence of actual malice as to the social media postings, which alleged that the plaintiff was having multiple affairs with married women and had not completed all of the long distance runs, were true; there was no evidence of violations of O.C.G.A. § 16-9-93 or O.C.G.A. § 16-9-93.1. Bickerstaff v. SunTrust Bank, 299 Ga. 459, 788 S.E.2d 787 (2016), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 571, 196 L. Ed. 2d 447 (U.S. 2016).

Truthfulness of statements made about defendant is question of fact for the jury. Hub Motor Co. v. Zurawski, 157 Ga. App. 850, 278 S.E.2d 689 (1981).

Truthfulness is a question of fact for the jury. Military Circle Pet Ctr. No. 94, Inc. v. Cobb County, 665 F. Supp. 909 (N.D. Ga. 1987), aff'd in part and rev'd in part, 877 F.2d 973 (11th Cir. 1989); Stone v. McMichen, 186 Ga. App. 510, 367 S.E.2d 839 (1988); Stalvey v. Atlanta Bus. Chronicle, Inc., 202 Ga. App. 597, 414 S.E.2d 898, cert. denied, 202 Ga. App. 907, 414 S.E.2d 898 (1992); Sparks v. Ellis, 205 Ga. App. 263, 421 S.E.2d 758, cert. denied, 205 Ga. App. 901, 421 S.E.2d 758 (1992).

Except when the plaintiff makes acknowledgment of truthfulness.

- Although truthfulness is normally a question of fact for the jury, since the party claiming to have been defamed has conclusively acknowledged the truthfulness of the communication at issue, it may be resolved as a matter of law. Kersey v. United States Shoe Corp., 211 Ga. App. 655, 440 S.E.2d 250 (1994).

Privilege inapplicable to slander of title claim.

- Defense of truth, O.C.G.A. § 51-5-6, did not entitle a limited liability company and the company's member to summary judgment on an owner's slander of title claim because a prior action the LLC and member filed against the owner, the prior action, and the interests asserted therein, did not involve the owner's real property. Meadow Springs, LLC v. IH Riverdale, LLC, 307 Ga. App. 72, 704 S.E.2d 239 (2010).

Cited in Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 351 F.2d 702 (5th Cir. 1965); Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. v. Miller, 398 F.2d 218 (5th Cir. 1968); Retail Credit Co. v. Russell, 234 Ga. 765, 218 S.E.2d 54 (1975); McKinnon v. Trivett, 136 Ga. App. 59, 220 S.E.2d 63 (1975); Spaulding v. Rich's, Inc., 146 Ga. App. 693, 247 S.E.2d 218 (1978); Georgia Power Co. v. Busbin, 159 Ga. App. 416, 283 S.E.2d 647 (1981); Carey v. Glen Restaurants, Inc., 166 Ga. App. 638, 305 S.E.2d 171 (1983); Anderberg v. Georgia Elec. Membership Corp., 175 Ga. App. 14, 332 S.E.2d 326 (1985); Watkins v. Laser/Print-Atlanta, Inc., 183 Ga. App. 172, 358 S.E.2d 477 (1987); Jim Walter Homes, Inc. v. Strickland, 185 Ga. App. 306, 363 S.E.2d 834 (1987); Wrenn v. Ledbetter, 697 F. Supp. 483 (N.D. Ga. 1988); Davis v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 242 Ga. App. 907, 531 S.E.2d 764 (2000); No Witness, LLC v. Cumulus Media Partners, LLC, F. Supp. 2d (N.D. Ga. Nov. 13, 2007); Brown v. Camden County, 583 F. Supp. 2d 1358 (S.D. Ga. 2008).


Am. Jur. 2d.

- 50 Am. Jur. 2d, Libel and Slander, §§ 251-253.


- 53 C.J.S., Libel and Slander, § 161 et seq.


- Common report as defense to action for libel or slander, 43 A.L.R. 887.

Admissibility, for purpose of diminishing damages in an action for libel or slander, of particular facts reflecting upon plaintiff's character or reputation, 130 A.L.R. 854.

Joinder in defamation action, of denial and plea of truth of statement, 21 A.L.R.2d 813.

Necessity and sufficiency of plaintiff's allegations as to falsity in defamation action, 85 A.L.R.2d 460.

Reliance on facts not stated or referred to in publication, as support for defense of fair comment in defamation case, 90 A.L.R.2d 1279.

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