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30 River Court East Urban Renewal Company v. Capograsso

383 N.J. Super. 470, 892 A.2d 711 (App. Div. 2006)

LANDLORD-TENANT; DEFAMATION - - Defamatory remarks about a landlord to the landlord’s agents, such as a building’s concierge and doorman, are considered to be complaints to the landlord, as principal, and therefore are not considered as having been published.

A tenant, with a long history of disputes, made several phone calls to the building’s concierge complaining that the landlord was rifling through her mail and alleging that the landlord hired someone to drive her off the road. The landlord sued for defamation, and the tenant counter sued, asserting the landlord’s suit was in retaliation for her activities with a tenant’s organization. The lower court ruled that the tenant’s statements were defamatory per se because they involved allegations of criminal activity. Finding the concierge to be a person other than the landlord, the lower court ruled that the tenant’s statements made to the concierge were published for purposes of satisfying a defamation claim. The tenant appealed.

The landlord provided walkie-talkies to all its employees, including its concierge and doorman. This was evidence of the landlord’s policy to allow the tenants to communicate any grievance with any employee of the landlord. Finding that the landlord had a policy of encouraging tenants to voice their complaints, and further finding that the building supervisor encouraged tenants to voice their complaints to the concierge, and further finding that the concierge was an agent of the landlord, the Appellate Division reversed the lower court and ruled that invited communications could not be considered “published” for purposes of a defamation claim. The tenant’s complaints related to her tenancy and thus fell within the scope of the landlord’s invitation to the tenant to voice her grievances to the concierge. Complaints to an agent are communications to the principal for purposes of defamation, and such complaints are not considered published. The Court further ruled that because neither the concierge nor the building supervisor believed the tenant’s remarks, the remarks had no possibility of causing harm to the landlord’s reputation and therefore could not support a claim for defamation.

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