Ohio Defamation Law

Note: This page covers information specific to Ohio. For general information concerning defamation, see the Defamation Law section of this guide.

Elements of Defamation

The elements of a defamation claim in Ohio are essentially similar to the elements discussed in the general Defamation Law section, with the following exceptions and clarifications:

Defamation Per Se

Ohio recognizes that certain statements constitute defamation per se. These statements are so egregious that they will always be considered defamatory and are assumed to harm the plaintiff's reputation, without further need to prove that harm. Ohio has a broad definition of defamation per se. In contrast to most states, which limit defamation per se to three or four specific categories of statements, Ohio defines the term as any statement that "reflects upon the character of [the plaintiff] by bringing him into ridicule, hatred, or contempt, or affects him injuriously in his trade or profession.” Becker v. Toulmin, 138 N.E.2d 391, 395 (Ohio 1956). A statement can constitute defamation per se only if it conveys its negative meaning directly, not by innuendo or implication.

Public and Private Figures

A public official is a government employee or official whose position has such apparent importance that the public has an independent interest in the qualifications and performance of the person who holds it, beyond the general public interest in the qualifications and performance of all government employees. See Scott v. News-Herald, 496 N.E.2d 699, 702 (Ohio 1986). Ohio courts have found law enforcement officials to be public officials, including a sheriff, a deputy sheriff, a university police officer, a bailiff, a chief probation officer, and the chief of the criminal section of a city law department. Other examples of public officials include a county treasurer, a county engineer, a municipal law director, a city council member, and members of the Board of Education.

In defining all-purpose and limited-purpose public figures, Ohio courts follow Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 345 (1972). All-purpose public figures are those who have achieved pervasive fame and influence. Examples include celebrities, professional athletes, and similarly famous people.

A limited-purpose public figure is someone who injects himself or herself into a particular public controversy. The determination of whether a particular individual qualifies as a limited-purpose public figure depends on the (1) plaintiff's access to the media; and (2) the extent to which the plaintiff, by virtue of his or her position in the community or involvement in a matter of public concern, can be said to invite public comment or attention. Examples of individuals and organizations deemed limited-purpose public figures by Ohio courts include:

  • the owner of a private art school (for purposes of discussing its administration);
  • a retired schoolteacher who worked for the public school system for 30 years, regularly attended and voiced concerns at school board meetings, and had his own talk show entitled "One Man's Opinion" where he discussed matters relating to the board (for purposes of discussing his statements and conduct at a board meeting); and
  • a restaurant and its owner (for purposes of review of the restaurant).

Actual Malice and Negligence

In defamation suits brought by private figure plaintiffs, Ohio courts require a plaintiff to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant "failed to act reasonably in attempting to discover the truth or falsity or defamatory character of the publication." Landsdowne v. Beacon Journal Publ'g, 512 N.E.2d 979, 984 (Ohio 1987). The Ohio test is similar to an ordinary negligence standard, but the "clear and convincing evidence" standard requires the plaintiff to put forward strong evidence of negligence.

Public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice, i.e., knowing that the statements were false or recklessly disregarding their falsity. See the general page on actual malice and negligence for details on the standards and terminology mentioned in this subsection.

Privileges and Defenses

Ohio courts recognize a number of privileges and defenses in the context of defamation actions, including substantial truth, the opinion and fair comment privileges, and the fair report privilege.

The Ohio Supreme Court has declined to recognize the neutral reportage privilege. The CMLP could identify no Ohio cases concerning the wire service defense.

There also is an important provision under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that may protect you if a third party -– not you or your employee or someone acting under your direction –- posts something on your blog or website that is defamatory. We cover this protection in more detail in the section on Publishing the Statements and Content of Others.

Fair Report Privilege

Ohio recognizes the fair report privilege, which is codified in two statutes, Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2317.04 and 2317.05.

  • Ohio Rev. Code § 2317.04 provides a privilege to accurate reports of state and local legislative and executive proceedings, as well reports reproducing the contents of any bill, ordinance, report, resolution, bulletin, notice, petition, or other document presented, filed, or issued in such a proceeding. A plaintiff can defeat this privilege by showing that the defendant acted with actual malice.
  • Ohio Rev. Code § 2317.05 provides a privilege to accurate reports of the return of any indictment, the issuance of a warrant, the arrest of any person accused of a crime, and the filing of any affidavit, pleading, or other document in a civil or criminal court case, as well as fair an impartial reports of the contents of these documents. A plaintiff can defeat this privilege by showing that the defendant (1) acted with actual malice, (2) failed to publish a reasonable written explanation or contradiction offered by the plaintiff, or (3) failed to publish, upon request of the plaintiff, the subsequent determination the lawsuit or case.

To take advantage of the fair report privilege, you do not need to quote the official record verbatim, but it must be a substantially accurate report, which means the report conveys the essence of the official record.

Neutral Reportage Privilege

The Ohio Supreme Court has declined to recognize the neutral reportage privilege. See Young v. Morning Journal, 669 N.E.2d 1136, 1138 (Ohio 1996).

Wire Service Defense

The CMLP could not identify any cases concerning the wire service defense in Ohio. If you are aware of any cases, please contact us.

Statute of Limitations for Defamation

The statute of limitations for defamation in Ohio is one (1) year. See Ohio Rev. Code § 2305.11 (1981).

The status of the single publication rule in Ohio is not settled. For a definition of the "single publication rule," see the Statute of Limitations for Defamation page.

 

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Last updated on August 13th, 2008

   
 
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