Lefebvre v. Zarka
A defamatory statement is a communication that tends to harm the reputation of another and to lower the individual in the estimation of the community. The plaintiffs, Susan and Philip Lefebvre, alleged that in 2008 the defendant, Joni Zarka, falsely informed a reporter for the Hartford Courant that in response to pranks in which children rang his doorbell and ran away, Philip Lefebvre held the arm of Zarka's niece "jacked against her back," and that the niece, when released, fell into Zarka's arms, crying. The plaintiffs sued, alleging defamation. Zarka moved for summary judgment and argued that her statements were accurate. To establish a prima facie case of defamation, a plaintiff must prove: 1.) the defendant published a defamatory statement; 2.) the defamatory statement identified the plaintiff to a third person; 3.) the defamatory statement was published to a third person; and 4.) the plaintiff's reputation was injured as a result. "A defamation claim requires a statementi.e., an assertion of fact either explicit or implied, and not merely an opinion, provided the opinion does not imply the existence of undisclosed defamatory facts," pursuant to Superior Court Judge Thomas Corradino's 2012 decision, Gleason v. Smolinski. Although Philip Lefebvre allegedly admitted that he held the niece's wrist loosely behind her back, this could be interpreted differently than Zarka's claim that Lefebvre held the niece's arm "jacked against her back." There also was a dispute about Zarka's claim that her niece fell into her arms, crying, which could be interpreted as a claim that Lefebvre tortured a terrified child. There were genuine issues of material fact with respect to whether Zarka unfairly slanted her allegations against Lefebvre, and the court denied Zarka's motion for summary judgment on the defamation count.