Slander of Title
Slander of title is a tort that can be defined as the wrongful, intentional, and malicious disparagement of the vendibility of title to real property. It occurs when someone maliciously publishes a falsehood concerning title to the property that impairs its vendibility. Thus, the individual responsible for the false statement must know that it will likely result in inducing others not to deal with the person whose title is disparaged, and in fact, the false statement must play a material and substantial part in inducing others not to deal with that person. Slander of title can consist of a statement in writing or by word of mouth or in the use of pictures.
Slander of Title Distinguished From Other Kinds of Libel
The phrase “slander or disparagement of property,” sometimes called “trade libel” is distinguished from slander of title, and is defined as an untrue statement of fact that is disparaging to the quality of another’s land, chattels, or intangibles, under circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to foresee that the conduct of a third person as purchaser or lessee thereof would be determined thereby, to the impairment of the property’s vendibility.
Elements to Claim for Slander of Title
A cause of action for Slander of Title exists when someone, without a privilege to do so, causes pecuniary loss by publishing a matter that is untrue and disparaging to another’s property in land, chattels or intangible things under such circumstances as would lead a reasonable person to foresee that it might deter a purchaser or lessee. The elements of an action for slander of title are that:
- A falsehood,
- has been published, or communicated to a third person by the defendant,
- when the defendant knows or reasonably should know that it will likely
- result in inducing others not to deal with the plaintiff, and
- in fact, the falsehood does play a material and substantial part in
- inducing others not to deal with the plaintiff, and
- actual or special damages are proximately caused as a result of the
- published falsehood, and
- if an affirmative defense of privilege is raised, the plaintiff must
- prove actual malice.
For example, generally, a wrongful and intentional filing of a notice of lis pendens will support an action for disparagement of property or slander of title.
Although actual malice is not necessary to recover compensatory damages in disparagement actions, such as slander of title, the plaintiff must prove actual malice in order to recover punitive damages. In other words, punitive damages are recoverable in disparagement actions, but before they can be recovered, the plaintiff must establish actual malice on the part of the defendant. Actual malice necessary for punitive damages means ill will, bad or evil motive, or such gross indifference to or reckless disregard of the rights of others as will amount to a willful or wanton act. This is not equivalent to the legal malice that is sometimes said to be necessary to prove a claim of disparagement. For example, in a slander of title action, the filing of a lis pendens, absent a finding of actual malice, will not support punitive damages.
Defenses to an action or claim for slander of title are many and varied. Generally, an action will not lie where a statement in slander of title, although false, was made in good faith with probable cause for believing it. Privilege may be asserted as a defense to a slander of title action or claim.
Parties to private litigation have an absolute privilege to publish defamatory material in connection with a judicial proceeding—such as prior litigation. This absolute privilege applies as well to defamation of title. The doctrine of judicial estoppel may also bar a claim of slander of title. Sometimes a lienor has inflated the amount of the lien sought. When the lienor has willfully exaggerated the amount of the claim of lien, or has compiled the claim in a grossly negligent fashion so as to amount to a willful exaggeration, such activity is a complete defense to the lien claim. The fraud must be stated with particularity in pleading this affirmative defense. The party claiming the fraudulent lien bears the burden of proof on that issue
Attorney’s fees are available in a slander of Title action if the Plaintiff prevails because attorney’s fees are often deemed to be damages incurred in clearing title.
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If someone has caused injury to the title of your property or if someone has sued you for slander of title, call Miami business attorney Andrew J. Pascale today to evaluate your case.
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