Proving ''Actual Malice'' In Defamation Cases Against a Public Figure

To recover for defamation, a public figure or public official, must prove the defendant published a false and defamatory statement with actual malice. See: Huckabee v. Time Warner Entertainment Co., L.P. (Tex. 2000) (citing WFAA-TV, Inc. v. McLemore, 978 S.W.2d 568, 571 (Tex. 1998); Carr v. Brasher, 776 S.W.2d 567, 569 (Tex. 1989); New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 279-80, 11 L. Ed. 2d 686, 84 S. Ct. 710 (1964)). "Actual malice" in a defamation case is a term of art. See Huckabee, 43 Tex. Sup. J. at 677. Unlike common-law malice, it does not include ill-will, spite, or evil motive. See id.; Casso v. Brand, 776 S.W.2d 551, 558 (Tex. 1989). Rather, to establish actual malice, a plaintiff must prove the defendant made the statement "with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or not." See Huckabee, 43 Tex. Sup. J. at 677 (quoting New York Times, 376 U.S. at 279-80). "Reckless disregard" is also a term of art. See Huckabee, 43 Tex. Sup. J. at 677. To establish "reckless disregard, " the public official or public figure must prove the publisher entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the publication in question. See id. (citing St. Amant v. Thompson, 390 U.S. 727, 731, 20 L. Ed. 2d 262, 88 S. Ct. 1323 (1968)). A defendant can obtain summary judgment if he conclusively negates one element of the plaintiff's claim. See Phan Son Van v. Pena, 990 S.W.2d 751, 753 (Tex. 1999); TEX. R. CIV. P. 166a(c). A defendant in a defamation suit can negate actual malice as a matter of law by presenting evidence that he did not publish the statement with knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard for its truth. See Huckabee, 43 Tex. Sup. J. at 677. Once a defendant produces evidence negating actual malice as a matter of law, the burden shifts to the claimant to present controverting proof raising a genuine issue of material fact. See Phan Son Van, 990 S.W.2d at 754; TEX. R. CIV. P. 166a(c).