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Legal Hypothetical Example 2

"Life at Moreland University is anything but harsh. (Watch out, though. The weather stinks, except in the summer when you're home.) Sex, drugs and booze are the staples of life. If Moreland has a reputation as a party school, it is well deserved. The predominant attitude among the upper-middle class student body is that 'we're here to party.' The women are attractive, and the guys look like they're weight-trained." – from the book, True Facts About Colleges.

Moreland, a private university, sues the book's publisher for libel, claiming that, after the book was published, the school's applications for entrance decreased 30 percent and the number who entered its freshman class was down 15 percent from the previous year. The publisher uses the defense of opinion. Is it likely to be successful?

The category of law is libel. Libel is considered a form of written defamation. Defamation refers to false communication about another person that damages that person’s reputation or brings them into disrepute. The publisher is using the defense of opinion which requires use of the Ollman Test. The Ollman Test was established in the case Ollman v. Evans (1985) and is made up of 4 parts:

1. Is the statement verifiable – can the statement be proved either true or false? Opinion is indirectly linked to the falsity/truth element of libel. That is, if a statement cannot be proved true of false, then it may satisfy the legal definition of an expression of opinion.

2. What is the common usage or meaning of the words?

3. What is the journalistic context in which the statement occurs? This element is especially important for the media. It provides added weight for an opinion defense when the material in question appears in a art of a publication (or, e.g., a broadcast or website) traditionally reserved for opinions – for example, the op-ed pages, personal columns, social media or blogs. The statement must be considered within the material take as a whole. The language of an entire opinion column, for example, may signal that a specific statement, standing alone, which would appear to be factual, is actually an expression of opinion.

4. What is the broader social context in which the statement fits? For example, was the statement at issue made within a context or in a place where the expression of opinions is common or expected? Or was it made within a context in which statements are presumed to be statements of fact?

The 4 parts of the Ollman Test are weighed in relation to each other rather than treated as absolute. Application of the Ollman Test is as follows: the statement is verifiable through legal records and testimonials. There is no abnormal usage of words (that is to say, they are all common usages). The statement was made in a book called True Facts About Colleges, therefore, it can be assumed that a reasonable reader would see the views presented in the book as truth unless otherwise informed. The broader social context of the statement is related to colleges. People tend to be opiniated about specific colleges, and so a reader may consider all the views presented in the book as simply being impassioned opinions. Weighed all together, this instance of speech does not pass the Ollman Test and therefore is likely to not be successfully protected by defense of opinion.

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