Article Attacking a Business Plan as Unethical and Greedy Is Not Defamatory
Description Appeals court upheld the dismissal of a defamation suit brought by debtor who won a controversial bankruptcy case and was the subject of a magazine article that attacked the law and the business practice in question. Those were the subjective views of the publication, not an allegation of illegal actions.
Topic Torts
Key Words Defamation; Libel
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts A Forbes magazine article concerned a case involving bankruptcy litigation, that went to the Supreme Court after the article was published, about a technical issue of an exception to the absolute priority rule. The article sided with the lenders, contending that "many judges ... are allowing unscrupulous business owners to rob creditors" and stated that a debtor in this case was "stiffing" the creditor. The debtor sued for libel. The district court dismissed the suit. The debtor appealed.
Decision Affirmed. The article is not defamatory under either New York law (where Forbes is located) or under Illinois law (where the parties to the bankruptcy case are located). New York law supplies an absolute privilege for "the publication of a fair and true report of any judicial proceeding." In Illinois, a "statement of fact is not shielded from an action for defamation by being prefaced with the words 'in my opinion,' but if it is plain that the speaker is expressing a subjective view, an interpretation, a theory, conjecture, or surmise, rather than claiming to be in possession of objectively verifiable facts, the statement is not actionable." The article's use of "rob" and "stiffing" are the author's view of the effect of the law, not an assertion of an illegal action by the debtor. The article "drips with disapproval" of the debtor's action and business ethics, but those are a point of view, not libel. An "allegation of greed is not defamatory."
Citation Wilkow v. Forbes, Inc., - F.3d - (2001 WL 166709, 7th Cir., 2001)

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