False statements can cause serious harm to an individual, business, or organization. In some cases, these types of statements may even be legally actionable on the grounds of defamation. California’s defamation laws are complicated. Unfortunately, the courts do not always reach the right conclusion. 

This raises an important question: Can you appeal a defamation case? The short answer is “yes”—but you only have a limited amount of time to start the process. In this article, our California civil appellate lawyer explains the key things to know about appealing a defamation case. 

What is Defamation?

The Legal Information Institute defines defamation as a false “statement that injures a third party’s reputation.” For the most part, defamation is not a federal question. These cases are handled under state law and, typically, in state courts. Under California law (Cal. Civ. Code § 44), defamation encompasses both libel and slander. In order to prove defamation, a plaintiff generally needs to establish each of the following four elements: 

  • A false statement that has been represented as a fact; 
  • Some form of communication/publication of that information to third parties; 
  • Fault on the part of the party making the statement arising at least to the negligence; and
  • Actual damages suffered by the party about whom the false statement was made. 

Understanding the Distinction Between Defamation, Slander, and Libel

While you may sometimes hear the terms “defamation,” “slander,” and “libel” used interchangeably, that is a mistake. In California, there are subtle but important legal differences between these three concepts. Defamation is a general term that covers both slander and libel. Slander refers to spoken or transitory false statements, such as in a conversation or live broadcast. Libel refers to written or published false statements, such as in a newspaper or on the internet. In California, a person can bring a defamation lawsuit if they can prove that the statement was false, was made to a third party, and caused harm to their reputation.

Both Plaintiffs and Defendants Can File an Appeal an Adverse Verdict in a Defamation Case

Defamation is not a crime in California. It is a civil issue. As with other types of civil matters, both plaintiffs and defendants have a similar right to file an appeal of an adverse verdict in a defamation case. For example, if the plaintiff in a defamation case is seeking damages for harm to their reputation, but the jury finds in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff may appeal the decision. Along the same lines, if the defendant is found liable and ordered to pay damages, they may also appeal the decision. Indeed, as the Associated Press (AP) reported, Amber Heard (defendant) filed an appeal of an unfavorable verdict in her well-publicized civil defamation case against Johnny Depp. 

What to Know About the Process for Civil Appeals in California

Appellate law is complicated. Whether you are a plaintiff or a defendant in a defamation case, it is imperative that you have a general understanding of the relevant legal procedures. Here are three key things to know about civil appeals in California: 

  • You Have a Limited Amount of Time to File a Notice of Appeal: The appeals process starts with the filing of a legal document called a Notice of Appeal. In California, a notice of appeal must be filed within 90 days of the judgment or 30 days of receipt of notice from the clerk in civil defamation cases involving damages under $25,000. In civil defamation cases over $25,000, the deadline to file a Notice of Appeal is 180 days of the judgment or 60 days of receipt of notice from the clerk
  • An Appeal of a Defamation Case is Not a Retrial: It is vital to understand that an appeal of an unfavorable decision in a defamation case is not a retrial, nor is it a new trial. Whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, you will not get a fresh opportunity to present your case. Instead, you must have clear and solid grounds for appeal. The appellate court can reverse material legal or procedural errors. 
  • Where the Appeal Goes Depends on the Size of the Defamation Case: In California, civil appeals of cases with less than $25,000 in damages will be heard by the appellate division of the nearby superior court. However, the California Courts of Appeal will hear civil appeals with greater than $25,000 in damages. 

Get Help From Our California Civil Appellate Lawyers Today

At The Appellate Law Firm, our California appellate law attorneys have the professional skills and specialized legal expertise to represent both plaintiffs and defendants in defamation appeals. If you have any questions about appealing a defamation case, we can help. Contact us today to arrange your completely confidential initial case review. We provide civil appellate law representation in defamation cases throughout California, including in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento.

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Do you or a loved one have a trial case that you wish to appeal? If so, call the office or contact us at The Appellate Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation of your case and learn more about how to increase your chances of success with your appellate case.

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