Trials & Litigation

Libel claim fails because in-house lawyer's letter was opinion, judge rules


A contractor who didn’t like what an in-house lawyer for Merck had to say about him sued the company and the lawyer.

But a federal judge in Pennsylvania has tossed the claim, saying the letter was opinion and fell short of the standard for defamation, the Legal Intelligencer reports.

At issue was a letter sent by Merck in-house lawyer Thomas Fitzgibbon to the plaintiff, Leo Gibney, and five other people. Gibney had asked for an investigation into possible overbilling by a contractor.

U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, characterized Fitzgibbon’s conduct as professional and found that, “Gibney’s dislike of the result of the investigation he caused to take place does not make libelous the communication of the result.”

The Intelligencer notes that Gibney, who was pro se in the case, took issue with Fitzgibbon’s assertion that Gibney’s claims were “unfounded.”

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