By: John Whitbeck
John C. Whitbeck, Jr. is the founder of WhitbeckBennett. His practice focuses on family law, special education law, and mental health law. He regularly practices in several jurisdictions in the Northern Virginia area. He has also been certified as an expert witness in litigation. To learn more about John Whitbeck, click here.
Suing for Defamation: Does Johnny Depp Have the Right Idea?
Most people have heard about the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial going on in Fairfax County, Virginia. Depp is suing Heard for defamation for claiming she is a survivor of domestic violence, in other words implicating Depp as abusing her during their marriage. You might wonder whether it’s unusual to sue your former spouse for defamation. Not really, and people very often will bring claims against a spouse, ex-spouse, or significant other when they have been the victims of intentional torts like defamation.
Here’s a list of some claims one could bring against a spouse, former spouse, or significant other in certain situations:
Defamation is essentially where someone makes a false statement about you in public that is more than just a mere opinion and is damaging to your reputation in your community. Someone falsely accusing you of a crime like domestic violence or other crimes are good examples of where a claim for defamation may be warranted.
Defamation can either be oral or in writing as long as it’s false. For example, someone could post something on social media falsely accusing you of a crime or other misconduct and be sued for defamation. Someone could also make false statements to a large number of people in public or to your employer and be sued for defamation.
In the context of a domestic dispute, the likely situation where defamation would be a good claim to bring is if your spouse or significant other posts something on social media about you, brings false criminal charges against you, costs you your job by making false accusations or makes public statements about you to the media or third parties that end up being published. Sometimes the only way to “clear your name” is to sue the person for defamation and prove your innocence.
- Malicious Prosecution
What if someone’s false statements end up getting you charged with a crime or multiple crimes? In such a situation you can sue for defamation, but you may also have a claim against them for malicious prosecution.
Malicious prosecution is where someone’s false statements lead to your prosecution for a criminal offense or multiple criminal charges. In such cases, you have to prove there was no “probable cause” for the charge because the charges were based on completely false statements. The charges also have to be dropped or resolved in your favor such as a not guilty verdict.
Often times malicious prosecution cases will also be accompanied by claims for defamation. Again, sometimes the only way to clear your name is to file a lawsuit. Malicious prosecution cases oftentimes are accompanied by expungement of your criminal charges, which is where the court destroys the records so there is no trace of the false charges.
- Abuse of Process
Abuse of process is a claim against someone who used the court system or other quasi-court process to hurt you rather than for the normal use of the system. For example, if someone got a protective order or restraining order against you to keep you away from your children rather than to protect them from domestic violence, that could lead to a claim for abuse of process. Abuse of process claims are hard to win though, and normally would be part of a larger lawsuit that included defamation and/or malicious prosecution.
- Other Claims
There may be other claims you could raise if your spouse, former spouse or significant other gets you falsely charged with a crime, makes defamatory statements about you in public, or uses the court system wrongfully against you. Some examples are:
– Insulting words
– Intentional infliction of emotional distress
– Negligent infliction of emotional distress
– Racial/sexual harassment claims
Whatever your particular situation, it’s important you talk to an attorney who not only has experience in family law matters but who also can advise you accurately on what to do if you have been the victim of defamation, false criminal charges, or any of the other claims above. At WhitbeckBennett our attorneys have extensive experience in all aspects of family law as well as civil claims that can be brought against a spouse, former spouse, or significant other. Give us a call to review your situation and how we can help you.