|NMU||NEVADA||Libel||Oct 14, 1999|
Republication of material from lawsuits protected by absolute privilege
- A casino company cannot sue a union over a letter that repeated claims from a lawsuit, even if the union knew the charges were false.
The Nevada Supreme Court in Carson City held in late August that the general public enjoys an “absolute privilege” to republish information contained in documents filed during a lawsuit, even if the person disseminating the information knows it is false or republishes it with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity.
The court heard the case because the Sahara Gaming Corp. had filed suit against a union in state court in Las Vegas, alleging that the union defamed Sahara by republishing in a letter statements made in a lawsuit filed in Mississippi, even though the union “either knew that the statements were false or did not examine the truth or falsity of the allegations.”
The state Supreme Court held that because the “alleged defamatory statements were a fair and accurate report of a judicial proceeding, they are absolutely privileged, and the material recited will not support a defamation suit even if the statements were made maliciously and with knowledge of their falsity.” Although all seven justices joined in the result, the case generated four separate opinions and conflicting analyses.
The majority opinion found that the statements contained in the Mississippi complaint fell within the Nevada absolute privilege rule, which protects “communications uttered or published in the course of judicial proceedings . . . , quasi-judicial hearings, complaints filed with an internal affairs bureau against a police officer, and even letters written in anticipation of litigation.”
Sahara had been in the process of closing an $18 million real estate and management deal when the union sent a letter to the other party to the deal. The letter stated that a “contentious labor dispute” existed between Sahara and the union and that by closing the deal, the other party would be “putting itself in the middle of this dispute.”
The letter further quoted from the Mississippi complaint allegations that the Sahara chairman falsely represented that experienced managers would staff certain Mississippi casinos and that the expenses contained in certain budget projections were accurate. The recipient canceled the real estate deal within two weeks of receiving the letter.
(Sahara Gaming v. Culinary Workers)
© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press