On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Bergen County.
Petrella, Ashbey and A.m. Stein, JJ.
By leave granted, defendant appeals from the denial of his motion for summary judgment in a libel case. We reverse.
Defendant Jesse Rosenblum was editor and publisher of a community newsletter, called the Informed Citizen In Closter (ICIC). Plaintiff Joseph Miele (for himself and on behalf of his corporation, Miele Sanitation)*fn1 filed a June 24, 1988 complaint which asserted that on May 31, 1988, defendant had used ICIC to libel plaintiff by publishing material misrepresentations of fact, known by defendant to be false. The complaint also said that there was a second publication on June 11, 1988.
Plaintiff demanded compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a retraction and attorneys' fees and costs. An amended complaint, dated April 4, 1989, added a second count, alleging that defendant had, with malice, published and continued to publish "facts" about plaintiff which placed plaintiff in a false light, and a third count alleging that defendant's actions caused plaintiff to lose business profits. The first count was not amended, so that neither complaint referred to the specific language alleged to be defamatory, except by reference to the two publications attached, and neither complaint referred to any publication other than these two. Plaintiff's claim that other publications were included in his cause of action rested entirely on his allegation that defendant "continue[d] to publish" articles which placed him in a false light.
The May 31, 1988 article attached to the complaint is here reprinted in its entirety:
Is Closter for sale? Our elected officials and board appointees are about to make three very important decisions. Will you help!
1. -- A business wants to start operations from their 5-acre Blanch Ave. tract in a residential district. Area downgrading!
2. -- The new owner of the A & P property plans to add a CAR WASH and stores. Torrents of new traffic and fewer parking spaces!
3. -- Last week, the mayor and council sadly voted to initiate legal negotiations leading to the sale of borough land on Railroad Ave. to the adjoining property owner, Miele Sanitation. Upon planning board approval, that Closter scavenger firm would gain 150% in land size to over 2 acres, install a baler, compactors and increase heavy hauling. Tenafly just said NO!
They even discussed a way to increase the flow of truck traffic to the industrial district, a haven of low land tax assessments.
This dumping on Closter will stop when your physical presence is noted at the following meetings. It's evident, they need help!
The publication ended with a notice of public meetings. There followed a collage and a map.
The June 11, 1988 article attached to the complaint (contrary to the implication in the body of the complaint) was not a republication. It appears to be a new publication. Page one of that claimed defamation states in its entirety:
MAGIC 4 is the license plate of Mayor Rogan, whose hobby is magic.
He, the council, and Miele Sanitation are trying hard to conjure up an agreement of sale for borough land adjoining Miele's Railroad Avenue property, yet expecting to prevent expansion of the scavenging operations. This would be a startling feat of legerdemain considering all the other borough acts that somehow have failed to materialize.
Behind the scenes, however, the regulatory agencies are 'pulling the wires' for a super transfer station in Closter if ...