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Thompson v Bridges [1925] 273 SW 529

(Court of Appeals of Kentucky)

Slander; conspiracy to injure

(288 words)

Facts

The appellant was a high school teacher and principal of his school. In 1922, a bitter campaign was fought for trusteeships at Princeton schools, whereby the appellant’s opponents were elected. Several months later, the respondents organised a parent-teacher association of the schools in question with the purpose of investigating the appellant’s conduct, especially his relationships with older girls in his school. At the association’s first meeting, the appellant’s supporters were not allowed to speak on his behalf. At a later meeting, the respondents made direct accusations regarding the appellant’s morality and his conduct with the older girls in his school. These remarks made the appellant appear unfit for his role as principal and discredited his standing as a teacher.

Issue

Despite the prima facie slanderous nature of the comments about the appellant, the respondents argued that their statements were prima facie privileged. Thus, the presumed malice coming from a prima facie slanderous statement was rebutted by the prima facie privilege – as a result, it was for the appellant to show actual malice.

Held

The Court agreed that the slanderous statements were made in circumstances giving rise to qualified privilege – they were said at a parent-teacher meeting designed to uncover and solve problems in schools, and as the appellants was the principal of a school, discussions regarding his fitness or morality were rightly seen as privileged. The respondents were thus right in arguing that the presumed malice of prima facie slanderous statements can be rebutted by qualified privilege. However, if the appellant is then able to show actual malice, the privilege disappears. In this case, the appellant could prove that the allegations made against him were false – and malice could be inferred from the falsity of the statements.


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