In Cad*** v. Har*** (Ariz. R. Sup. Nov. XX, 2019), the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division Two, took into account the petitioner’s appeal and request for her denied motion for summary judgment to be reconsidered, claiming that the petitioner was entitled to legal judgment on accusations of defamation made against her by the defendant, along with a request of compensatory damages.
Brief order of events: The defendant, C** C***, was an athletic coach at the University of Arizona. The defendant was convicted of sexual harassment, aggravated assault, and assault with a deadly weapon in 2018, after engaging with student-athlete and plaintiff, B*** G*****, in a sequence of intimate encounters for three years and subsequently assaulting the plaintiff.
In the litigation at court, Car*** and his wife brought a counterclaim against the petitioner and G*****’s advocate, Ly*** Cad***. The counterclaim was for defamation, claiming that the statements G***** used served to falsely imply that C*** C*** raped G***** and engaged with G***** in the sexual interaction without her actual consent. Cad***’s request for summary motion was initially denied. Cad*** filed a request in return to have her case looked over, claiming she was entitled for judgment on the claims made against her.
Trial court: Pima County prosecutors presented the jury a video of the defendant’s confession of the assault to University of Arizona security officials, but C*** C*** did not testify at trial. Evidence also included voicemails, emails and text messages sent by Car*** in which Car*** apologized to G***** for the attack and plead with her not to report him to the police. During the trial, Car***’s attorney, Dan Cooper, argued that Car***’s actions on the day of the incident did not meet the criteria of adequately defining “aggravated assault”.
Appeal: Cad***’s appeal requested for a remand of further proceedings and, in consideration of Car***’s public figure status, the appeal also requested a grant relief be paid to the victim.
On appeal, the court stated that cases denied motion for summary judgment are usually not given special-action review (see Moore v. Browning, 203 Ariz. 102.) but they would “make an exception in this case due to the public’s primary first amendment interest in protecting … (against) the chill of meritless liberal actions”, as referenced in Scottsdale Pub, Inc. v. Superior Court, 159. Ariz. 72. 74.
Considering that a plaintiff in a case of defamation qualifies legitimately as a public figure, he or she is essentially subject to the New York Times Co. V. Sullivan, 376 US, 254 (1964) rule, which states “that the plaintiff in action of such must prove that the defamatory publication was made with ‘deliberate malice’, that is – with acknowledgment that it was either fabricated or made with reckless disregard”.
Evidence consisting of Car***’s position and whether or not he qualified as a public figure was given primarily from the official disposition of Fred Harvey. Harvey, a director of the track and field, stated that the sporting program was subject to notable exposure and recognition. Harvey stated that a few of the meets are televised and track events have on average five to seven hundred people present.
The Arizona Supreme Court concluded that a person qualifies as a public figure “because of their position” and their own “purposeful activity” when thrusting themselves into matters of public controversy, or because of their close involvement with resolutions of matters to do with public concern. Dombey. V Phx. 250, Newspaper, Inc.,150 Ariz. 476, 483 (1986).
Likewise “the term public figure applies at the very least to those in the hierarchy of government employment and to those who have important responsibilities for control over government affairs and procedures”, as referenced in Rossenbatt, 282 US, at 85. The same standard was applied in court to classify a chemistry teacher as a “public official”. The judge applied the same precedent to Car***, who had a position in a notable athletic state program, and concluded that it would be perfectly fair to classify Car*** as a public figure.
Having classified Car*** as a public figure, the judge claimed that Car*** would need to establish that Cad***’s actions were made with “deliberate malice”, per St. Amant, 390 US. at 728. Special action jurisdiction was accepted and an appeal for a grant relief in part and a remand was approved.