A California Court of Appeals has ruled that Joe E. Collin III’s defamation suit against Representative Maxine Waters can proceed. The case arises out of the 2020 election when Collins and Waters competed to represent California’s 43rd congressional district. During the election, Waters asserted Collin’s had been dishonorably discharged. Her allegation was based on an inference from a suit he had filed in federal court. Collins, however, proceeded to show her official evidence that his discharge was not dishonorable. Waters remained skeptical given the initial evidence she found and did not investigate further.
The appellate court accepted that Collins was a public figure, but refused to dismiss the case, arguing it was too early to determine that he had no chance to produce clear and convincing evidence of “actual malice.” The driver of the decision:
“Free speech is vital in America, but truth has a place in the public square as well. Reckless disregard for the truth can create liability for defamation. When you face powerful documentary evidence your accusation is false, when checking is easy, and when you skip the checking but keep accusing, a jury could conclude you have crossed the line. It was error to end this suit at this early stage, for Collins established the minimal case needed to defeat Waters’s special motion to strike.”
The court is operating with the following definition of actual malice: “[P]eople speak with actual malice when they know their statements are false, or they recklessly disregard whether their statements might be false. Reckless disregard, in this sense, requires defendant speakers to have a high degree of awareness of probable falsity.” The case is Collins v. Waters. The opinion appears here.