CACI No. 1720. Affirmative Defense - Truth

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (2024 edition)

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1720.Affirmative Defense - Truth
[Name of defendant] is not responsible for [name of plaintiff]’s harm, if
any, if [name of defendant] proves that [his/her/nonbinary pronoun/its]
statement(s) about [name of plaintiff] [was/were] true. [Name of defendant]
does not have to prove that the statement(s) [was/were] true in every
detail, so long as the statement(s) [was/were] substantially true.
New September 2003; Revised October 2008, May 2017
Directions for Use
This instruction is to be used only in cases involving private plaintiffs on matters of
private concern. In cases involving public figures or matters of public concern, the
burden of proving falsity is on the plaintiff. (Sonoma Media Investments, LLC v.
Superior Court (2019) 34 Cal.App.5th 24, 37 [247 Cal.Rptr.3d 5].)
Sources and Authority
“Truth, of course, is an absolute defense to any libel action.” (Campanelli v.
Regents of Univ. of Cal. (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 572, 581-582 [51 Cal.Rptr.2d
“California law permits the defense of substantial truth and would absolve a
defendant even if she cannot ‘justify every word of the alleged defamatory
matter; it is sufficient if the substance of the charge be proved true, irrespective
of slight inaccuracy in the details.’ ‘Minor inaccuracies do not amount to falsity
so long as ‘the substance, the gist, the sting, of the libelous charge be
justified.’ (GetFugu, Inc. v. Patton Boggs LLP (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 141,
154 [162 Cal.Rptr.3d 831], internal citation omitted.)
“Put another way, the statement is not considered false unless it ‘would have a
different effect on the mind of the reader from that which the pleaded truth
would have produced.’ (Jackson v. Mayweather (2017) 10 Cal.App.5th 1240,
1262-1263 [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 234].)
“In defamation actions generally, factual truth is a defense which it is the
defendant’s burden to prove. [¶] In a defamation action against a newspaper by a
private person suing over statements of public concern, however, the First
Amendment places the burden of proving falsity on the plaintiff. As a matter of
constitutional law, therefore, media statements on matters of public interest,
including statements of opinion which reasonably imply a knowledge of facts,
‘must be provable as false before there can be liability under state defamation
law.’ (Eisenberg v. Alameda Newspapers, (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 1359, 1382
[88 Cal.Rptr.2d 802], original italics, internal citations omitted.)
Secondary Sources
5 Witkin, Summary of California Law (11th ed. 2017) Torts, §§ 655-659, 720
4 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 45, Defamation, § 45.10 (Matthew Bender)
30 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 340, Libel and Slander, § 340.55
(Matthew Bender)
14 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 142, Libel and Slander (Defamation),
§ 142.39 (Matthew Bender)
1 California Civil Practice: Torts §§ 21:19, 21:52 (Thomson Reuters)

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