Goodell DeVries Prevails in Precedential Defamation Case in the Court of Special Appeals

By: GDLD | 9.26.13 | Case Results

Shannon M. Madden, Craig S. Brodsky, and M. Peggy Chu secured an appellate victory for the Rockville Football League, a youth football organization, and its president Eric Heckman, in a defamation action brought by a coach who was suspended after the league investigated complaints of his misbehavior and dismissed him from coaching.  The league and Mr. Heckman prevailed on summary judgment when the Circuit Court for Montgomery County agreed that they were entitled to evaluate fully and fairly the reported conduct of the league’s coaching staff, without being subjected to a trial for alleged defamation.  The Court found that the conditional common interest privilege applied to the Board’s statements made during its evaluation process and plaintiff could not overcome the privilege because the Board did not act with malice.  In a reported opinion, the Court of Special Appeals unanimously affirmed the circuit court.  Shirley v. Heckman, NO. 633 SEPT. TERM 2012, --- A.3d ---, 2013 WL 4777321 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Sept. 6, 2013).  Significantly, the opinion represents the first instance in which a Maryland appellate court has held that the standard for proving abuse of the fair reporting and fair comment privileges, enunciated by the Court of Appeals in Piscatelli v. Smith, 424 Md. 294 (2012), applies equally to the common interest privilege.  Thus, Maryland claimants seeking to prove defamation and abuse of the common interest privilege must establish not only that the comment at issue constitutes defamation, but further that the defendant made a false statement with both actual knowledge of its falsity and with the intent to deceive others.