Memo critical of law firm's billing rate is not defamatory
The Meisner & Associates law firm sued property manager Jeffrey Podolski, after his memo to a client, criticizing Meisner's billing rates, resulted in the firm's loss of the client condominium association. Podolski had suggested that the firm's bills were "inflated", that the association's fees were "exorbitant", and that other "equally qualified and signficantly cheaper" firms were available.
The Court dismissed the law firm's complaint, holding that the statements in the memo were not defamatory as the factual representations within it were true and the memo was essentially an expression of opinion. It also held that Podolski enjoyed a qualified privilege with respect to the content of his memo, because his statements were made (1) in good faith, (2) pursuant to a legitimate interest, (3) were limited in scope to the proper purpose, (4) made on a proper occasion, (5) and published only to the proper parties in a proper manner.
The Court noted that the duty which Podolski was fulfilling and which made his comments legitimate need not be a legal duty, provided it is "of a moral or social character of imperfect obligation". If such a qualified privilege attaches to the comments made, the privilege can be defeated only through proof of "actual malice" or "reckless disregard for truth".