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Defamation - 12(b)(6) Dismissal

Bell v. Smith, [Ms. 1171108, Mar. 22, 2019] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2019). The Court (Mendheim, J.; Parker, C.J., Shaw, Bryan, and Mitchell, JJ., concur) affirms the Montgomery Circuit Court’s dismissal of a complaint alleging defamation. Ella Bell, a member of the Alabama State Board of Education, alleged that she was defamed by an article written by Cameron Smith quoting Bell’s comments at a meeting of the State Board of Education and asserting that Bell believed that special education students should be institutionalized. Ms. *6.

The Court first held that the attachment of Smith’s article to the various motions to dismiss did not convert the motions into motions for summary judgment because “‘if a plaintiff does not incorporate by reference or attach a document to its complaint, but the document is referred to in the complaint and is central to the plaintiff’s claim, a defendant may submit an indisputably authentic copy to the court to be considered on a motion to dismiss.’” Ms. *10, quoting Donoghue v. American Nat’l Ins. Co., 838 So. 2d 1032, 1035 (Ala. 2002) (some internal quotation marks omitted).

In affirming the circuit court’s dismissal of the action, the Court applied the “Sanders maxim” that “‘one cannot recover in a defamation action because of another’s expression of an opinion based upon disclosed, non-defamatory facts, no matter how derogatory the expression may be.” Ms. *13, quoting Sanders v. Smitherman, 776 So. 2d 68, 74 (Ala. 2000).

The Court rejected Bell’s contention that the circuit court improperly determined questions of fact in ruling on the motion to dismiss. The Court held “‘[a] decision whether a statement is reasonably capable of a defamatory meaning is a question of law.’” Ms. *14, quoting Cottrell v. National Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 975 So. 2d 306, 346 (Ala. 2007).

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