Civil Model Jury Charge3.11B PRIVATE DEFAMATION
The instructions set forth below apply only where plaintiff is a
private person (as opposed to a public official or public figure)
and the subject matter of the alleged defamatory statement is not a
matter of legitimate public concern.1The Supreme Court inRocci
v. Ecole Secondaire, 165N.J.149 (2000), expanded free speech
protection to private persons, if the reasons are deemed to be in
the public interest or of legitimate public concern. A plaintiff in
those circumstances must prove actual malice; seePitts v.
Newark Bd. of Educ., 337N.J. Super.331 (2001); pecuniary loss
(actual damage to reputation) damages will not be presumed. The
rights of Plaintiffs in private defamation cases , distinguished from
public defamation cases, came before the New Jersey Supreme
Court in the cases ofSenna v. Floriment, 196N.J.469 (2008) and
W.J.A. v. D.A., 210N.J.229 (2012).
For [plaintiff] to recover damages from [defendant] for defamation,
[plaintiff] must prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence that
[defendant] communicated to someone other than [plaintiff] a false and
defamatory statement2of fact concerning [plaintiff] and that [defendant] had
actual knowledge that the statement was false,oracted in reckless disregard of
1Seefootnote 1 of the Public Defamation instructions (Model Civil Charge 3.11A),supra.
2A defamatory statement may consist of libel or slander.Dairy Stores, Inc. v. Sentinel Publg
Co., 104N.J.125, 133, 516 A.2d 220 (1986)(citingProsser and Keeton on Torts 111 at 771
(5th ed. 1984)); Rodney A. Smolla,Law of Defamation 1:10 (2d ed. 2008).
CHARGE 3.11B Page 2 of 12
its truth or falsity,oracted negligently in failing to ascertain the falsity of the
So, for [plaintiff] to prevail, he/she must prove by a preponderance of the
evidence3the following elements: (1) that [defendant] made a defamatory
statement of fact; (2) concerning [plaintiff]; (3) which was false; (4) which was
communicated to at least one person other than [plaintiff]; and (5) with actual
knowledge by [defendant] that the statement was false, or with reckless
disregard by [defendant] of the statements truth or falsity, or with negligence
[defendant] in failing to determine the falsity of the statement.4
a. The statement must be a defamatory statement of fact.[Same
as for Public Defamation.]
b. The plaintiff must prove that the defamatory statement
concerned the plaintiff. [Same as for Public Defamation.]
c. The plaintiff must prove that the defamatory statement is false.
[Same as for Public Defamation.]
d. The plaintiff must prove that the defamatory statement was
communicated to a person or persons other than the plaintiff.
[Same as for Public Defamation.]
3Except that when a qualified privilege exists, the plaintiff must prove the abuse of the
qualified privilege by clear and convincing evidence.Erickson v. Marsh & McLennan, 117
N.J.539, 565 (1990);Kass v. Great Coastal Express, Inc., 291N.J. Super.10 (App. Div.
1996),affd in part,revd in part, 152N.J.353 (1998).
4See Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 580B;Bainhauer v. Manoukian, 215N.J. Super.
9, 31-34, 42 n. 13 (App. Div. 1987).
CHARGE 3.11B Page 3 of 12
e. [Plaintiff] must prove that [defendant] actually knew the
statement was false when he/she communicated it, or
[defendant] communicated the statement with reckless
disregard of its truth or falsity, or [defendant] acted negligently
in failing to ascertain the falsity of the statement before
This last element deals with [defendants] fault in communicating the
defamatory statement. [Plaintiff] must prove one of the following: (a) that
[defendant] communicated a defamatory statement which he/she actually knew
to be false, or (b) that [defendant] communicated a defamatory statement with a
high degree of awareness that it was probably false or with serious doubts as to
the truth of the statement, or (c) that [defendant] acted negligently in failing to
ascertain the falsity of the statement prior to communicating it.
In determining if [defendant] acted negligently in failing to ascertain the
falsity of the statement, you must determine that [defendant] failed to act as a
reasonably prudent person would have acted under like circumstances.
Consider whether [defendant] had reasonable grounds to believe that the
statement was true, and whether [defendant] acted reasonably in checking on
the truth or falsity of the statement communicating it. Consider, also,
[defendants] investigation or lack of investigation of the accuracy of the
statement, the thoroughness of that investigation, the nature and the interests of
the persons to whom the statement was communicated, the extent of damage
CHARGE 3.11B Page 4 of 12
that would be produced if the communication proved to be false, and whether
[defendant] had an honest but nonetheless mistaken belief in the truth of the
In certain circumstances, the communication of a defamatory
statement to another will be conditionally privileged for
example, where there is a reasonable belief that the information
affects a sufficiently important interest of the person making or
receiving the statement and knowledge of the information will
serve the lawful protection of that interest.6The question of
whether a defamatory statement is conditionally privileged is for
the court.7If the court determines that the communication of the
defamatory statement is conditionally privileged, the question of
whether the privilege has been abused is for the jury.8The
following must be given where the court has determined that the
statement is conditionally privileged but the jury must decide
whether the privilege has been abused.
5See Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 580B, comments g and h.
6See, e.g.,Gallo v. Princeton Univ., 281N.J. Super.134, 143 (App. Div. 1995) (describing
circumstances giving rise to qualified privilege),certif. denied, 142N.J.453 (1995);
Restatement (Second) of Torts, Sections 594 to 598A (1977) (describing circumstances giving
rise to a qualified or conditional privilege).
7Hawkins v. Harris, 141N.J.207, 216 (1995) (whether a defendant is entitled to a privilege
is a question of law);Bainhauer v. Manoukian, supraat 40.
8Erickson v. Marsh & McLennan Co., supraat 566 (abuse of privilege is an issue normally
reserved for the jury);Bainhauer v. Manoukian, supraat 40;Restatement (Second) of Torts,
CHARGE 3.11B Page 5 of 12
Here, [defendant] has asserted a qualified privilege to make the
statements which [plaintiff] claims are defamatory. In other words, [defendant]
claims that, even if the communication was defamatory, [defendant] was
entitled privileged to make the communication which he/she made. I have
decided as a matter of law that such a privilege exists, because
[select the particular privilege(s) which the defendant has asserted and
factually describe the interests which defendant claims were being
protected (a) protecting his/her lawful interests,9or (b) protecting the
lawful interest of the person(s) to whom the allegedly defamatory
statement was communicated,10or (c) informing those persons sharing a
common interest of information which they are entitled to know by reason
of their common interest,11or (d) lawfully protecting the well-being of
defendants immediate family member(s) or an immediate family member
of the person to whom the statement was communicated.]12
9Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 594. For example, an employee or supervisor is
privileged to make a defamatory statement about a co-employee, so long as the person to
whom the statement is made has a need to know the information in order to protect the
employers lawful interest. Thus, an employee or supervisor is privileged in reporting to
management his/her reasonable belief concerning activity of an employee which is workrelated.
10For example, a personnel manager is privileged to make a defamatory statement about a
former employee to a prospective employer so long as the statement directly relates to the
employees qualifications for the job.See Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 595, cmt. i.
11It is not necessary to the existence of this privilege that the defamatory statement be
communicated for the protection of the common interest. For example, in an employment
setting a partner may be informed of the reasons why an employee of the partnership was
discharged, even though the employment is at will and thus the information is not essential to
justify the discharge.See Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 596, cmt. c.
12This privilege would arise, for example, where the defendant reasonably believes that his
brother-in-law has AIDS and informs his sister of this.See Restatement (Second) of Torts,
CHARGE 3.11B Page 6 of 12
This privilege is not absolute. It can be abused and lost. You must
decide if the privilege was abused and lost. So, if you determine that the
statements were defamatory, you must also consider whether [defendant] lost or
abused the qualified privilege.13If you find that [defendant] abused the
qualified privilege, you may find in favor of plaintiff; if you find that
[defendant] did not abuse the qualified privilege, you may not find for
[Plaintiff] must prove the first five elements of defamation by a
preponderance of the evidence. On the issue of privilege, however, [plaintiff]
bears a different and heavier burden of proof to prove that [defendant] has lost
or abused the privilege to communicate the defamatory statement. Plaintiff
must show by clear and convincing evidence, not merely by a preponderance of
the evidence, that [defendant] abused the privilege.15
Clear and convincing evidence is evidence which produces in your
minds a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be
established.16It must be as clear, direct and weighty and convincing as to
13Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 599.
14See Kass v. Great Coastal Express, Inc.,supra.
15Erickson v. Marsh & McLennan, supraat 565-566: to defeat the qualified privilege,
plaintiff must show abuse by clear and convincing evidence.
16In re Boardwalk Regency Casino License Application, 180N.J. Super.324, 399 (App. Div.
CHARGE 3.11B Page 7 of 12
enable either a judge or jury to come to a clear conviction, without hesitancy, of
the truth of the precise facts in issue.17The clear and convincing standard of
proof requires more than a mere balancing of doubts or probabilities.18It is
evidence which causes you to be convinced that the allegations sought to be
Abuse of the privilege can be proved by [plaintiff] in one of three ways.
To prove that [defendant] abused and thereby lost the privilege to communicate
the defamatory statement, [plaintiff] must prove, by clear and convincing
evidence: (1) that [defendant] knew the statement was false or [defendant]
acted in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity; or (2) the statement served a
purpose contrary to the interests served by the privilege; or (3) the defendant
disseminated the statement excessively.20I will now explain each of these ways
that the qualified privilege may be abused and thereby lost.21
1981),modified on other grounds, 90N.J.361 (1982).
17Aiello v. Knoll Golf Club, 64N.J. Super.156, 162 (App. Div. 1960);See Matter of Jobes,
108N.J.394, 407 (1987);State v. Hodge, 95N.J.369, 376 (1984).
18Aiello v. Knoll Golf Club, supraat 162.
19See alsoModel Civil Charge 1.19.
20Kass v. Great Coastal Express, Inc., supraat 356 (setting forth three-part test and clear and
convincing burden of proof);Williams v. Bell. Tel. Lab. Inc., 132N.J.109, 121 (1993) (setting
21The Appellate Division inKass v. Great Coastal Express, Inc., supra, includes an in-depth
discussion of qualified privilege and an analysis of the former Model Civil Charge 3.11B.
One Appellate Judge has suggested Jury Questions in an appendix.
CHARGE 3.11B Page 8 of 12
First, the privilege may be lost if [plaintiff] proves by clear and
convincing evidence that [defendant] knew the statement was false or acted in
reckless disregard of the statements truth or falsity. I earlier told you that
knowledge of falsity or recklessness must be proven by a preponderance of
evidence for you to find that a statement was defamatory. However, for you to
find that [defendant] lost the privilege, [plaintiff] must establish by the higher
evidentiary standard of clear and convincing evidence that [defendant] knew the
statement was false or acted in reckless disregard of the statements truth or
Second, the privilege can be lost if [plaintiff] proves by clear and
convincing evidence that the statement served a purpose contrary to the
interests of the qualified privilege.23
Third, the privilege can be lost if [plaintiff] shows that a contrary
purpose was served by presenting evidence about [defendants] motivation.
The privilege is lost if it is not made primarily for the purpose of furthering the
interest which is entitled to protection.24
22Kass v. Great Coastal Express, Inc.,supra.
23Id.at 357;Fees v. Trow, 105N.J.330, 341 (1987).
24Fees v. Trow,supraat 341.
CHARGE 3.11B Page 9 of 12
I have ruled that the interest which is entitled to protection here is
[choose appropriate interest]:
(a) protecting defendants lawful interests; or
(b) protecting the lawful interest of the person(s) to whom the
allegedly defamatory statement was communicated; or
(c) informing those persons sharing a common interest of
information which they are entitled to know by reason of
their common interest; or
(d) lawfully protecting the well-being of defendants immediate
family member(s) or an immediate family member of the
person to whom the statement was communicated.
For example, if [plaintiff] proves by clear and convincing evidence that
[defendant] was primarily or chiefly motivated by ill will or spite toward
[plaintiff] in communicating the statement, the privilege is lost (even if
[defendant] was partly motivated by the interests protected by the privilege).25
If [plaintiff] proves by clear and convincing evidence that [defendant] was
primarily or chiefly motivated by an intent even if legitimate, which does not
serve the purpose of the privilege, the privilege is abused and lost.26However,
25Kass v. Great Coastal Express, Inc., supraat 22, 23;Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section
26Fees v. Trow,supraat 341 (qualified privilege lost if defendant motivated by ill motive or
wrong motive);Coleman v. Newark Morning Ledger Co., 29N.J.357, 373 (1959). For
example, if defendant reported defamatory information about a co-worker to a supervisor not
out of ill will toward the co-worker, but chiefly out of a desire to enhance the defendants own
changes for a promotion by removing a competitor, then the privilege would presumably be
CHARGE 3.11B Page 10 of 12
even if [defendant] harbored ill will against [plaintiff] or was motivated by
objectives that did not serve the purpose of the privilege, if that ill will or
objective was not the primary or chief motivating force behind the
communication, the privilege will not be lost.27
Proving that the communication was chiefly or primarily motivated by ill
will or other wrongful purpose is not the only way to show abuse of the
qualified privilege. The privilege may also be abused and lost if [plaintiff]
proves by clear and convincing evidence that [defendant] did not reasonably
believe the content of the statement to be necessary for the purpose for which
the privilege was granted. Sometimes, this may involve a claim by a plaintiff
that the defendant communicated more information than defendant could have
believed reasonably necessary for the legitimate purposes of the privilege.28
Third, the privilege can be lost if [plaintiff] proves by clear and
convincing evidence that [defendant] could not reasonably believe that the way
that [defendant] disseminated the statement was a proper means of
communicating the information to the person who was privileged to receive it.
27See, e.g., Lutz v. Royal Ins. Co. of Am., 245N.J. Super.480, 499-501 (App. Div. 1991).
28See Gallo v. Princeton Univ., supraat 148-49 (stating that there was no abuse of privilege
where university officials were circumspect in release of defamatory information, only releasing
details as reasonably necessary).See, generally,Bainhauer v. Manoukian, supraat 43;
Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 605.
CHARGE 3.11B Page 11 of 12
This is called excessive publication. Sometimes, a communication may reach
persons who are not privileged to receive it, as well as those who do.29Whether
that is excessive depends on the circumstances. For example, a letter may be
typed and read by a secretary before transmittal to the privileged recipient; a
general release of information may reach persons without a privileged interest
where such a release is only reasonable way of reaching those with a privileged
interest.30To find excessive publication, you must find by clear and convincing
29According toRestatement (Second) of Torts, Section 604, a plaintiff must establish two
elements to prove abuse of the privilege by excessive publication: (1) the defendantknewthat
the communication would reach non-privileged recipients; and (2) the defendant did not have
a reasonable belief that the method of communication was proper.
One who, upon an occasion giving rise to a conditional privilege for the
publication of defamatory matter to a particular person or persons, knowingly
publishes the matter to a person to whom its publication is not otherwise
privileged, abuses the privilege unless he reasonably believes that the
publication is a proper means of communicating the defamatory matter to the
person to whom its publication is privileged.[Id.]
However,Gallo v. Princeton Univ., supra,Bainhauer v. Manoukian, supra, andFeggans v.
Billington, 291N.J. Super.382, 399-400 (App. Div. 1996), focused only on the second aspect
of the test - whether the defendant had a reasonable belief that the publication was a proper
means of communicating. Conceivably, a case could arise in which the defendant did not
know that his/her communication would reach non-privileged recipients -e.g., a person shouts
to police officer about a presumed purse-snatcher without seeing or knowing about a
bystander. There, regardless of whether defendant had a reasonable belief that the publication
was proper, there would be no excessive publication and consequent loss of the privilege
30Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 604, cmts. a and b (it is not excessive publication
where publication to persons lacking an interest in the statement is reasonably incidental to
publication to persons who do have an interest, such as publication to a secretary, publication
to bystanders on a street when a person calls out to a police officer, and publication of a
fraternal magazine which might be read by outsiders).
CHARGE 3.11B Page 12 of 12
evidence that [defendant] could not reasonably believe the method of
communication/publication was a proper means of communicating.31
31See Gallo v. Princeton Univ., supraat 143-146 (general release of report of staff
misconduct was not excessive and that publication through general news media may in some
cases be a reasonable means for a non-profit corporation to communicate to its pool of
donors).See also, Feggans v. Billington, supraat 399-400 (it was not excessive for workers
to communicate to supervisor and to plaintiffs union representative where they would have
had a reasonable belief that it was proper). It is unclear whether plaintiff must show that the
defendant in fact did not reasonably believe the communication was proper; or whether,
regardless of what the defendant actually believed, the plaintiff must show, based on a more
objective test, that the defendant could not have reasonably believed the communication
proper under the circumstances. It appears, however, that the more objective test should be
applied.See Feggans v. Billington, supraat 399 (a communication is excessive where
defendants could have no reasonable belief that the publication was appropriate means of
communicating.);Gallo v. Princeton Univ., supraat 144 (quoting with approval a federal
decision finding no excessive publication where the publication ... was a reasonable means of
communicating....).But see Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 604 (stating that the
privilege is lost unless he [defendant] reasonably believes that the publication is a proper
means of communicating....).