Arizona Defamation Laws

Arizona General Defamation Definition

In Arizona, defamation is defined as a statement that brings the plaintiff into disrepute, contempt, or ridicule, or impeaches the plaintiff’s honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation.  Whether something is defamatory or not is determined by the “natural and probable effect a reading of the entire statement in context would have on the mind of the average reader.”

How Does Arizona Define Public Figure vs. Private Figure

In the United States, federal law differentiates between private and public individuals. Plaintiffs who are public figures must prove actual malice to win a defamation lawsuit. In Arizona, public officials, public figures – both limited and all purpose – qualify as public figures. Public officials are any elected politician, teachers, FAA inspectors, a sheriff and his deputies, and even a student-body member at a state university. An all-purpose public figure in Arizona is defined as anyone with “such pervasive fame or notoriety that he [or she] becomes a public figure for all purposes and in all contexts.” The Arizona Supreme Court established that a limited-purpose public figure is any individual “voluntarily injects [themself] or is drawn into a particular public controversy,” however, an individual “is not automatically transformed into a public figure just by becoming involved in or associated with a matter that attracts public attention,” instead, “the person must voluntarily assume a position that invites attention.” In Arizona, advertising does not necessarily mean someone is interjecting themselves into the proverbial spot-light, and does not necessarily make the party a public figure.

When there is actual malice, must prove:

  1. Defendant made, said or wrote a defamatory statement of fact
  2. Statement was false
  3. Communicated to a third party
  4. Statement caused damage
  5. At the time the statement was made, the defendant knew that the statement was false or acted in reckless disregard for the truth if 1B, then this standard is just negligence in determining the truth.

In Arizona, if the defamation lawsuit does not involve a public figure, only common law negligence standards must be met.

Defenses for Defamation in Arizona

Arizona statutes and legal precedence establish that truth is a complete defense for defamation in the state. Moreover, the law of the land says that “slight inaccuracies” don’t make a statement false if the message is substantially true. Opinion and fair comment are also acceptable defenses, however, if actual malice is proven, then opinion and fair comment can be defeated.

The fair report privilege, while not often used, is also a valid defense under Arizona defamation law. Meaning, if a publication relies on public records to craft a story, they may be granted report privileges and not be found liable if charged with slander or libel.

The “wire service defense” is also another legal theory that has been used to defeat defamation charges in Arizona. For example, if a television affiliate broadcasts a show, but had no hand in developing or planning the program, they could be found not guilty of slander or libel in an Arizona court.

Single Publication Rule in Arizona

Arizona adheres to the single-publication rule, meaning “any form of mass communication or aggregate publication . . . is a single communication and can give rise to only one action for libel.” This applies to broadcast and print media. When a case involves the Internet, however, the rules vary slightly. For example, if you publish the same defamatory content on 15 different websites, you can be charged for each instance, since each of the websites constitutes a different media outlet.

Per Se and Per Quod Defamation in Arizona

Arizona recognizes both per se slander and libel, in addition to per quod slander and libel. Per se is a legal standard, in which damage is presumed, whereas per quod, is when the plaintiff must prove the damages caused by the defamatory act.

Allowable Damages

Arizona laws allow for the following damages when deliberating a defamation case:

  1. Reputation impairment
  2. Impairment of community standing or future standing
  3. Emotional distress
  4. Humiliation
  5. Inconvenience
  6. Anxiety and future anxiety
  7. Monetary Loss

Punitive damages are also allowed in slander and libel lawsuits.

In Arizona, if a defaming party is a print, telephonic or broadcast outlet, damages may be limited to a retraction or correction, in cases that do not involve a public figure; if the correction is not made within a given time frame (usually 20 days), then the plaintiff can seek punitive damages, if they can prove actual malice.

The defamation statute of limitations in Arizona is one year from publication; however, an exception exists in situations where the publication of the defamatory material was purposefully left concealed from the plaintiff – like in incidents involving a confidential memo.  In those situations, the clock starts ticking at the date of discovery.

Miscellaneous Defamation Law Standards and Definitions in Arizona

-Libel is written defamation; slander is defamation by speech or another transitory form.

-Reckless disregard is when a person has serious doubts as to whether or not a statement is true, but publish the information anyway. Reckless disregard is also defined as when someone consciously disregards whether a statement is true or not.

-Negligence is defined as a simple failure to act as a reasonable person would in a given circumstance. It can involve either action or inaction.

-In Arizona, if a defamatory statement is repeated by third-party, the person being charged can be held responsible in some cases.

-At least one federal court in Arizona has ruled that the retraction statute only applies to “libel actions based on newspaper or magazine articles” and does not apply to comments made on an online forum.