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Florida Fourth DCA rules that attorney copying client on “cease and desist letter” to third party did not constitute publication under Florida defamation law

On June 12, 2019 in Hoch v. Loren, No. 4D18-1407, the Florida Fourth DCA affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of a plaintiff’s defamation case against the law firm representing the board of directors of his condominium association. The law firm sent the plaintiff a cease and desist letter relating to certain alleged conduct by the plaintiff and sent a copy to their client, the board. The plaintiff took offense at the content of the letter and sued the attorneys for defamation. The Fourth DCA noted in its opinion that publication of the alleged defamatory statement is a required element of the tort, and while the publication can be to any third person, not all sharing of the communications with third parties constitutes a publication.  For example, the Court noted that   Florida courts have found no publication where a corporation is sued for defamation and the defamatory statement was made by one managerial employee of the corporation to another. See. e,g, Am. Airlines, Inc. v. Geddes, 960 So. 2d 830, 833 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007); Advantage Pers. Agency, Inc. v. Hicks & Grayson, Inc., 447 So. 2d 330, 331 (Fla. 3d DCA 1984).  Florida courts also have found no publication where the defamatory statement is made to the plaintiff’s attorney. See, e,g,, Maine v. Allstate Ins. Co., 240 So. 2d 857, 858 (Fla. 4th DCA 1970). The Fourth DCA concluded that a statement that an attorney makes to his or her client as part of the attorney-client relationship is analogous to the situations presented in Geddes, Hicks and Grayson, and Maine, where there was no publication to a third party because the communication was tantamount to the principal “talking to itself.” Geddes, 960 So. 2d at 834.

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