This past spring the California Court of Appeal provided an entertaining holding in the case of Vogel v. Felice, letting the world know that the term “dumb ass” is not a defamatory term. [More on the Vogel case.]
Now the Court of Appeals of Michigan continues the effort of building a lexicon of non-defamatory terms with its decision in the case of Hatfield v. Riley. From this case we learn that calling someone a “dud” is apparently okay in the state of Michigan.
Plaintiff Hatfield, a special education teacher, filed suit against defendant Riley after she learned that Riley posted an article on his website that referred to various “DUD teachers.” The lower court threw out Hatfield’s lawsuit on summary judgment. The appellate court affirmed.
As in Vogel, the Michigan court focused on the inability of proving the veracity of the alleged defamatory term. The court concluded that the truth of “dudness” remained inscrutable:
“[D]efendant’s statement regarding plaintiff was not provable as false and was merely a subjective opinion. . . . A question whether someone is a “DUD” teacher is necessarily subjective and not provable as false. In cases where statements reasonably cannot be interpreted as stating actual facts about an individual, those statements are protected under the First Amendment.”
Hatfield v. Riley, 2005 WL 2401628 (Mich.App., September 29, 2005) (Not selected for official publication).