Immunity in Defamation Cases: Statements Made to Police Regarding Criminal Activity Remain Absolutely Privileged | Speaker Law
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Immunity in Defamation Cases: Statements Made to Police Regarding Criminal Activity Remain Absolutely Privileged

Posted on Tuesday, May 15, 2018

In Eddington v Torrez, 311 Mich App 198 (2015), the Court of Appeals addressed a narrow issue regarding defamation cases: "whether statements made to police regarding criminal activity are absolutely privileged and therefore immune from suit for defamation." The Court of Appeals first discussed the inception of the privilege in the Michigan Supreme Court case Shinglemeyer v Wright, 124 Mich 230; 82 NW 887 (1900). In Shinglemeyer, the Supreme Court adopted a rule of absolute privilege for statements made to police regarding criminal activity, holding that it would be against public policy to allow reports made to the police form the basis of a defamation claim. The appellant in Eddington disputed that the privilege set forth in Shinglemeyer persisted. However, the Court of Appeals noted that Shinglemeyer had never been overruled and had repeatedly been positively cited in Supreme Court opinions, even in one where the communications to the police were done with malicious intent. The Court of Appeals further indicated that the public policy concerns discussed in Shinglemeyer still remained true: "[W]e could not reliably have practical law enforcement if victims of crimes, or those with knowledge of crimes, were forced to risk a lawsuit upon reporting what they know or what they suffered." Recognizing the concern that reports to the police can on occasion be made maliciously, the Court of Appeals noted that criminal statutes make it a crime to lie to the police about an ongoing investigation under MCL 750.479c and to make an intentionally false report to the police under MCL 750.411a. Therefore, the Court of Appeals stated, malicious reporting would not be protected unduly by the absolute privilege and immunity from a defamation claim. The Court of Appeals also found no meaningful difference with regard to statements made to the police between those made to initiate an investigation and those made during an ongoing investigation. Finally, the Court of Appeals noted that if the law set forth in Shinglemeyer were to be changed, it would have to be the Legislature or the Supreme Court that did so.

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