Internet Law

Trump's tweets were too vague and subjective to be defamatory, appeals court says

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An appeals court in New York has affirmed dismissal of a lawsuit that claimed Donald Trump defamed a guest television commentator in his tweets during the presidential campaign.

The Appellate Division, First Department, upheld dismissal of the suit filed by public relations consultant Cheryl Jacobus in a short order on Tuesday, report Bloomberg News and the Hollywood Reporter. How Appealing links to the decision and additional coverage.

Trump had tweeted about Jacobus after a 2016 television appearance in which she questioned Trump’s stated motive for his threat to skip a debate. Jacobus had said Trump was a “bad debater” who “comes off like a third grader faking his way through an oral report on current affairs.”

One of Trump’s responses on Twitter said Jacobus “begged us for a job. We said no and she went hostile. A real dummy!” Another tweet said Jacobus “begged my people for a job. Turned her down twice and she went hostile. Major loser, zero credibility!”

The trial judge who dismissed the suit said Trump’s tweets about his critics “are rife with vague and simplistic insults” that deflect serious consideration.

Jacobus had maintained that the Trump campaign had tried to recruit her, but she declined. Her appeals brief argued that the lower court judge’s analysis “comes dangerously close to declaring Twitter a ‘defamation free-fire zone,’” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The appeals court agreed the suit should be tossed.

“The alleged defamatory statements are too vague, subjective, and lacking in precise meaning (i.e., unable to be proven true or false) to be actionable,” the appeals court said. “The immediate context in which the statements were made would signal to the reasonable reader or listener that they were opinion and not fact.”

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