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Hanrahan and Grove Successfully Defend Free Press versus Defamation Claim

May 6, 2021

Catherine Hanrahan (Partner-Washington, DC) and Callyson Grove (Associate-Washington, DC) represented an environmental newspaper and one of its journalists in a defamation case in which the Circuit Court for Baltimore City dismissed the complaint twice and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The plaintiff, a scrapyard, was used as an example in an article on the Maryland Department of the Environment's two-tiered approach to enforcing pollution laws, and the plaintiff alleged that a handful of statements in the article defamed it. The appellate court noted that the type of article at issue is "necessary to a functioning democracy." Cathy and Callyson challenged the adequacy of the complaint in the trial court, which dismissed both the original and amended complaint finding nothing about the article was capable of defamatory meaning. A panel of Maryland's intermediate appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s arguments that statements that the scrapyard was "dirty" and reporting the fact of a fire at the scrapyard were capable of defamatory meaning. In affirming the entry of judgment for the newspaper and journalist, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals confirmed that allegedly defamatory statements in an article need to be read in the context of the entire article and agreed with Wilson Elser's defenses that neither the statements complained of nor the article as a whole was capable of defamatory meaning. 

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