‘Libel-proof plaintiff’ doctrine adopted in politician’s suit
PUERTO RICO–In late December a superior court in San Juan dismissed a slander claim filed by a politician and his family against a radio station and one of its commentators, holding for the first time in Puerto Rico that a “libel-proof plaintiff” could not sue for defamation.
Marcos Morell claimed that he was forced to resign from his position as secretary general of the New Progressive Party less than three weeks before the 1996 general elections after WKAQ commentator Luis Francisco Ojeda accused him of being the “axis of corruption in Puerto Rico.”
In response, Morell held a press conference to accuse Ojeda of being a “paid agent” of the Popular Democratic Party. He also announced that he had filed suit against Ojeda and WKAQ.
The commentator and the station asked the court to grant summary judgment in their favor, arguing that Morell had been accused of corruption many times by the press and was regularly involved in “crude polemics” with political opponents and journalists.
Judge Milagros Rivera-Guadarrama wrote a 63-page memorandum decision dismissing Morell’s complaint, holding that the politician’s reputation was so tarnished by years of accusations that he had become a “libel-proof plaintiff.” However, the court added that the “libel- proof plaintiff” defense was an exceptional rule that would only apply in specific circumstances. (Morell v. Ojeda; Media Counsel: Juan Marchand, San Juan)