Atkins v Till [2017] NZDC 18635

Published 16 April 2018

Summary judgment — defamation — qualified privilege — whether defence of qualified privilege lost through malice — District Court Rules, r 12.2(2) — Defamation Act 1992, s 19 — Horrocks v Lowe. The defendants in this matter sought summary judgment on a defamation claim bought by the plaintiff. The plaintiffs had attempted to form a professional institution, using a name claimed by the defendants, which would be run in competition to the defendants. The plaintiff gave undertakings to stop using the name and the pending litigation was dismissed. The defendant CEO of the Institute sent an email informing members of developments and which described the plaintiff as acting in an "aggressive manner". The plaintiff claimed defamation seeking $200,000 in damages. The defendants raised defences of truth and honest opinion and further claimed the defence of qualified privilege in respect of the email. The Court noted that qualified privilege applied if there was an interest or duty by the defendant to make the statement and the recipients to receive it. As the Institute is an incorporated society and the email was sent to members with an interest in receiving the information, the Court found that the statement was made on occasion of qualified privilege and that there was no malice capable of destroying the defence. As the plaintiff's defamation claims could not succeed at trial, summary judgment was made striking out the defamation proceedings. Costs were to be assessed on a 2B basis. Judgment Date: 23 August 2017.