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torts:slander-of-title

Slander of Title

Slander of title consists of a false, malicious state­ment in writing, printing, or by word of mouth, injurious to any person’s title to property, and causing special damage to such person. If lands or chattels are about to be sold by auction, and a man declares in the auction-room, or elsewhere, that the vendor's title is defective, that the lands are mortgaged, or that the chattels are stolen pro­perty, and so deters people from buying, or causes the pro­perty to be sold for a less price than it would otherwise have realized, this is a slander upon the title of the owner, and gives him a prima facie claim for compensation in damages.1)

The plaintiff, in order to sustain the action, must es­sentially prove:

  1. That the statement is false.2) If there be such a flaw in the title as the defend­ant asserted, no action lies. It is for the plaintiff to prove it false, not for the defendant to prove it true.3)
  2. That the statement was made mala fide and is malicious.4) There must be malice express or implied. It is implied when a stranger, having no interest, interferes to make the assertion. So also it will be implied where the statement is not only untrue, but made without reasonable and probable cause. If the statement is made in the bona fide assertion of defendant's own right, real or supposed, to the property, no action lies.
  3. That the words go to defeat his title to property. The property may be either real or personal; and the plaintiff's interest therein may be either in possession or reversion. It need not be even a vested interest, so long as it is anything that is saleable or that has a market value.5) It makes no difference, whether the defendant's words be spoken, or written, or printed; save as affecting the damages which should be larger where the publication is more permanent or extensive, as by advertisement.6)
  4. That special damage has resulted from the slander. The special damage must always be such as naturally or reasonably arises from the use of the words.7) An action for slander of title is not properly an action for words spoken or for a libel written and published, but an action on the case for special damage, sustained by reason of the speaking or publication of the slander of the plaintiff's title.8) There must be damnum et injuria; the injuria consists in the unlawful words maliciously spoken, and the damnum is the consequent money loss to the plaintiff.

An action for slander of title differs from an action of defamation in several respects:

  1. The words are not defamatory : they do not disparage the plaintiff's moral character, or his solvency, skill, business capacity etc.; they merely attack on something, or on his title to something.
  2. The words will be equally actionable whether written or spoken.
  3. Special damage must in all cases be proved.
  4. There is no presumption that the words are untrue: the onus lies on the plaintiff to prove them untrue.
  5. Malice will not be presumed; the plaintiff must give some prima facie evidence that the defendant acted maliciously, or, at all events, without lawful occasion or reasonable cause.
  6. A right of action for defamatory words dies with the person defamed; but this action survives to his executor to the extent that any damage can be shown to the estate of the deceased.9)

Plaintiff was possessed of certain shares in a silver mine, touching which shares certain claimants had filed a bill in Chancery, to which plaintiff had demurred. Held, that without alleging special damage, plaintiff could not sue defendant for falsely publishing that the demurrer had been over-ruled; that the prayer of the petition (for the appointment of a receiver) had been granted; and that persons duly authorized had arrived at the mine.10) Where defendants, coach-owners, used the name of a hotel on their coaches and the drivers' caps, so as to suggest that they were authorized and employed by the hotel-keeper to ply between the hotel and the railway station; but the plaintiffs were the coach-owners authorized and employed by the hotel; it was held that the defendants must not falsely hold themselves out as having the patronage of the hotel though they could freely compete with the plaintiffs for the carriage of passengers and goods to the hotel, and could advertise their intention of so doing in any honest way.11) Plaintiff had contracted for the purchase of certain wood, but he was unable to obtain delivery owing to defendant falsely alleging an agreement under which he had a lien on the goods for monies advanced to the plaintiff. Held, that there was a good cause of action for slander of title.12) A purchaser is not liable to an action at law for having depreciated to the vendor the value of the property, or its chance of sale;13) nor will the action lie against a stranger for preventing a sale by giving notice of his claim upon the estate, unless it be shown that such notice was given maliciously.14) If the defendant acted bona fide, the action could not be maintained, although a man of sound sense and a knowledge of business would not have uttered the slander.15)

Damages

The special damage must be proved, and that will, in part, be the measure of damages; this damage may consist in the property having on a sale realized a less price than it otherwise would; or in the owner being put to other necessary expenses in consequence;16) but another essential ingredient, which will also affect the measure of damages, is the presence of malice.17) The want of probable cause does not necessarily lead to an inference of malice neither does the existence of probable cause afford any answer to the action.18)

1)
Gerard v. Dickenson
2)
Brook v. Rawl
3)
Burnett v. Tak
4) , 18)
Pater v. Baker
5)
Odgers
6) , 8) , 10) , 17)
Malachy v. Soper
7)
Haddon v. Lott
9)
Hatchard v. Mege
11)
Marsh v. Billings
12)
Green v. Button
13)
Vernon v. Keys
14)
Hargrave v. Le Breton
15)
Pit v. Donovan
16)
Brooks v. Rawl


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