Horvitz & Levy persuaded the Court of Appeal to uphold a defense judgment following a jury verdict in a defamation case.
This defamation lawsuit arose from comments a volunteer soccer coach for a youth soccer team made about the head volunteer referee at the team’s championship match. Immediately before the game began, the coach told assistant referees and his team’s parents that he believed he smelled alcohol on the head referee’s breath and that this referee seemed intoxicated. One of the team’s parents called the police to report the head referee was drunk and the police arrived to check the referee’s sobriety at the end of the game, in front of hundreds of witnesses. The head referee sued the coach, the team’s local league, and the larger organization of which the league was a member for defamation and other torts. The trial court sustained demurrers to the other torts and, after years of litigation, the defamation claim went to trial. The trial court concluded the allegedly defamatory remarks were not defamatory per se, so that the plaintiff had to prove special damages to prevail. The court also granted a directed verdict as to punitive damages. The jury found the plaintiff failed to prove special damages and therefore reached a defense verdict.
The plaintiff appealed and Horvitz & Levy was retained to represent the defendant on appeal. The plaintiff argued that the judgment should be reversed because: (1) the coach’s remarks were defamatory per se; (2) the trial court erred in instructing the jury; (3) the trial court erroneously granted a directed verdict as to punitive damages; and (4) the trial court erred in sustaining the demurrer.
The California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, affirmed the defense judgment. The appellate court held that the remarks were not defamatory per se and that the plaintiff forfeited his instructional error argument. The court also held the plaintiff did not present substantial evidence of punitive damages. Finally, the court decided that the demurrer as to the other torts had been properly sustained because the plaintiff had failed to state claims by failing to allege sufficient facts for various elements of those claims.