Texas Supreme Court Rules On Defamation Per Se And The TCPA

In a per curiam opinion issued today, the Texas Supreme Court reversed a Court of Appeals’ failure to reverse and dismiss, under the Texas Citizens Participation Act (“TCPA”), a defamation claim.  A copy of the opinion can be found here.

In Bedford v. Spassoff, the Court held that the defamation claim brought by the plaintiff, a baseball club, could not survive defendant’s motion to dismiss under the TCPA because the plaintiff did not establish, in response to the motion to dismiss, any damages.  The plaintiff had argued (and the Court of Appeals had agreed) that the defendant’s communications constituted defamation per se, thus relieving the plaintiff of having to prove the element of damages.  In response to the TCPA motion to dismiss, plaintiff had not presented any evidence of damages, relying upon its claim that the defamation constituted defamation per se.

The Texas Supreme Court disagreed, and explained that defamation per se against the baseball club was not established by a mere showing that the defendant accused the baseball club of failing to prevent a batting coach from engaging in an extramarital affair or for not disciplining such a coach in some unidentified manner.  The Court held that only disparagement of “a character or quality that is essential to the business” of operating a baseball club would constitute defamation per se in this case.  Since the plaintiff did not make such a showing, plaintiff was required to show the element of damages in response to the TCPA motion to dismiss.  Because plaintiff failed to do so, the Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court to dismiss the defamation case and award the defendant attorney’s fees.