Dongguk v. Yale University
If a party is a "public figure," a plaintiff who alleges defamation possesses the burden to prove that a defamatory statement was published with "actual malice," or with reckless disregard about whether a statement was false. Shin Jeong-Ah allegedly claimed that she possessed a Yale Ph.D. in art history. Shin's certification misspelled Dean Pamela Schirmeister's name as "Schirmestr" and Twentieth Century Art as "Twentieth Centry Art." Schirmeister allegedly sent a fax to Dongguk University and confirmed that Shin attended. In 2007, Yale University indicated it had no record of her dissertation. Shin, who had been hired as a Dongguk professor, resigned. Media in Korea claimed that Shin allegedly lied about credentials and had an affair with an official. Yale officials initially denied the 2005 fax was genuine. Dongguk, a public figure, sued and alleged defamation and negligence. In 2012, the District Court granted judgment to Yale. Dongguk appealed. To prevail on defamation, Dongguk had to prove Yale was responsible for: 1.) publication of a defamatory statement; 2.) identifying Dongguk; 3.) to a third person; 4.) Dongguk suffered injury as a result of the statement; and 5.) actual malice. Schirmeister's response to Dongguk's letter merely confirmed that Schirmeister signed Shin's fraudulent certification. It did not address a matter of public concern. Assuming that Deputy Counsel Susan Carney was responsible for the publication of Associate Director of Public Affairs Gila Reinstein's statements, Dongguk failed to establish Carney acted with actual malice. No evidence existed that Carney, Schirmeister or Reinstein were aware of the probable falsity of statements or acted with wrongful motives. Dongguk failed to establish Yale employees who allegedly were responsible for defamatory statements acted with actual malice. Injury to Dongguk's reputation was caused by news reports of Shin's affair, allegations that Dongguk hired Shin in exchange for grants, and Yale's denials that the Schirmeister fax was fraudulent. No basis exists from which a reasonable jury could find in Dongguk's favor on negligence. The 2nd Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court, Melancon, J. Andrew Kratenstein, Robert Weiner and Ira Grudberg represented Dongguk. Felix Springer and Howard Fetner represented Yale.