holding that statements made regarding the plaintiff, including “liar,” a “cheat,” and a “debtor,” constituted personal opinion and rhetorical hyperbole, not objective factSummary of this case from Chau v. Lewis
June 6, 1994
Appeal from the Supreme Court, Nassau County (Kutner, J.).
Ordered that the order is affirmed insofar as appealed from, with costs.
The plaintiff Moorthy S. Ram commenced this action, inter alia, to recover damages for defamation and the invasion of privacy arising out of allegedly defamatory statements made by an associate attorney employed by the defendant law firm Moritt, Hock Hamroff, in the course of levying on a judgment to repossess medical equipment from the plaintiff. The plaintiff charges that the associate called the plaintiff a "liar", a "cheat", and a "debtor" in the presence of patients in the doctor's waiting room.
Our review of the statements convinces us that they were not reasonably susceptible of a defamatory meaning, but rather constituted personal opinion and rhetorical hyperbole rather than objective fact, and thus were constitutionally protected (see generally, Immuno AG. v. Moor-Jankowski, 77 N.Y.2d 235, 243, cert denied 500 U.S. 954).
We further note that, although words which affect a person in his or her profession by imputing to him or her any kind of fraud, dishonesty, misconduct, incapacity, unfitness, or want of any necessary qualification in the exercise of one's profession (see, Four Star Stage Light. v. Merrick, 56 A.D.2d 767, 768) may be actionable, we agree with the Supreme Court that the alleged statements did not address the plaintiff's professional status as a doctor and were thus not slanderous per se. Thus, in the absence of a sufficient allegation of special damages, the alleged statements were not actionable (see, Aronson v. Wiersma, 65 N.Y.2d 592). In the instant case, the plaintiff did not plead special damages with sufficient particularity (see, L.N Y Agency v. St. Paul Fire Mar. Ins. Co., 125 A.D.2d 371, 373).
In addition, the Supreme Court properly dismissed the invasion of privacy cause of action, since New York State does not recognize the common-law tort based upon invasion of privacy except to the extent it comes within Civil Rights Law §§ 50 and 51, which protects against the appropriation of a plaintiff's name or likeness for the defendants' benefit for advertising or trade purposes (see, Cohen v. Herbal Concepts, 63 N.Y.2d 379). O'Brien, J.P., Santucci, Altman and Krausman, JJ., concur.