Category Archives: statements in fraud investigation as defamatory

May statements made in the course of an ongoing fraud investigation be defamatory?

On April 7, 2011, the First Department of New York’s Appellate Division upheld a trial court’s dismissal of a lawsuit for defamation.  Akpinar v. Moran, 2011 WL 1311902 (1st Dept. 2011).  The plaintiff, Reverend Dr. Bill Akpinar, sued attorney William Moran; Moran’s law firm; and the firm’s client, Wachovia Mortgage, FSB (“Wachovia”) for defamation.  Akpinar alleged that Moran defamed him in a newspaper article about a pending criminal investigation into a mortgage fraud and a lawsuit brought against Akpinar by Wachovia alleging mortgage fraud.

When referring to Akpinar, Moran told the newspaper, “I’m looking forward to getting him under oath” and “I want to get to the bottom of many questions myself.”  Id.  Akpinar argued that when considered in the context under which the statements were made, they amounted to defamation.  Akpinar claimed “that he lost $17 million in venture funding from unspecified individuals who read the [defamatory] statements.”  Id.

The Appellate Division dismissed Akpinar’s complaint, holding that “a reasonable reader would understand the statements defendant made about plaintiff as mere allegations to be investigated rather than as facts.”  Id.  (Emphasis in original).  The court reasoned that “the statements neither impute to him the commission of a serious crime nor tend to injure him in his trade, occupation or profession, and therefore do not constitute slander per se.”  Id.  Neither Akpinar’s reference to the pending criminal investigation nor the civil lawsuit were sufficient to establish a claim for “defamation by innuendo” – whether the statements are defamatory requires a balancing between the alleged defamatory words and the facts and circumstances that surround their publication.

The court also found Akpinar’s allegation that he lost “$17 million in venture funding from unspecified individuals” inadequate to plead special damages as required in a defamation action.  Id.  Finally, the court noted that Moran’s statements were protected under Civil Rights Law §74 as a “fair and true report of a judicial proceeding.”  Id.  The court similarly dismissed Akpinar’s claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress as duplicative of his defamation claim and on the ground that Moran’s statements were “not so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency.”  Id.  Thus, the court upheld the decision of the trial court dismissing Akpinar’s lawsuit in its entirety.

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© 2011 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC