In a case by a landowner alleging that a neighbor, who also served as a member of the local planning commission, is liable for defamation and tortious interference with contract for sending numerous email communications relating to plaintiff’s application for a special use permit to operate a dog kennel on her property, the circuit court did not err in sustaining a demurrer to several claims based on communications that did not contain a defamatory statement, as well as a demurrer regarding a defamation claim by a corporate plaintiff. With regard to an email charging that the individual plaintiff “is lying and manipulating facts,” the basis for the writer’s rationale was fully disclosed, and the two persons to which it was sent would have perceived the accusation as pure opinion of the writer based upon her subjective understanding of the underlying scenario and not upon an implied factual predicate of which they were unaware. Thus, in the absence of a claim that the underlying facts stated in that email were themselves false and defamatory, the statement was purely the defendant’s subjective analysis. It is protected by the First Amendment and not actionable. Dismissal of the corporate plaintiff’s claim for tortious interference with contractual relations is affirmed for lack of any allegation that the contract at issue was terminated, or that it became more expensive or burdensome for that plaintiff.
Schaecher v Bouffault, 772 S.E. 2d 589 (VA 6/4/2015)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.courts.state.va.us/opinions/opnscvwp/1141480.pdf