Gossip and Slander : Part 2

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Q: I am a lizard trainer.  My neighbor is a police officer: in his spare time, he raises gerbils.  One day, he came to my shop and started complaining to the secretary about me.  She escorted him to my office, and he told me, “Stay away from my gerbils.  I know you’ve been following me.”  My neighbor said that I had been making telephone calls to his home, hanging up without speaking, to figure out when he was away.

A: From your neighbor’s unflattering remarks to the secretary, the question arises whether you can sue him successfully for ‘slander per se’.  In a case like this, you often can – if he accused you of a crime or if his words affected you in your occupation.   However, the crime must be an indictable offense, upon conviction of which punishment may be inflicted: a mere intention to take his gerbils for your lizards is not a crime.  Similarly, to prove an effect upon your occupation, you would have to show hard facts, e.g., a decline in your income.

Even if you fail to show slander ‘per se’, you might still prevail in a lawsuit for general slander, but you would have to provide great detail as to how you were damaged.  For a starting question, did your secretary quit upon hearing his accusations?

Even more issues arise if your neighbor showed up in his uniform.  Perhaps you have a cause of action for unlawful seizure, against the government, within the meaning of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.  That depends upon the way in which your neighbor confronted you.  Would a reasonable person believe that he or she was free to leave?  I realize that could be a hard question to answer.  If the answer is ‘not free to leave’, then a court could say that a seizure occurred.  Even so, your lawyer will be reluctant to pursue this case without hard proof as to damages, and it may not be worth the time off from your lizards.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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