Which case won?

casea
The case for chairperson
  • The claim that I sent the tenant “many” emails and copied in all the other residents of the building is not true.
  • I have been depicted as a malicious person who acted menacingly, unreasonably harassing the tenant by consistently threatening her by email. I have never menaced, harassed or threatened the tenant by email or in any other way.
  • The allegation made that I was the perpetrator of the mailbox break-ins paints me as a criminal and a thief. This is clearly defamatory.
  • I was portrayed as a small-minded busybody who wasted the time of residents on petty items concerning the running of a building.
  • The emails I sent were only sent to the tenant, except two general emails that were sent to all of the residents, whereas the tenant sent her email to 16 different people for the purpose of publicly humiliating me.
  • I have been defamed by the unrestrained phrases in the email from the tenant, that clearly identify me and have lowered and harmed my reputation. The court should find the tenant guilty of defamation.
caseb
The case for tenant
  • When I first took up residence in the building, I received the standard “welcome” email which included information about the building. There was no mention of any need to lock letterboxes in this email.
  • There is no law or bylaw specifying the need to lock letterboxes, so the chairperson had no right to ask me to keep my letterbox locked.
  • The material in my email was substantially true, considering the repeated emails of the chairperson, that were sent solely to shame and humiliate me.
  • The email I sent was an expression of honest opinion as opposed to a statement of fact.
  • The subject matter of unlocked mailboxes is a trivial matter and the tone of my email is light-hearted and jocular. It was only sent to a limited number of people who had already formed their view on the matter and therefore was unlikely to cause harm to the chairperson.
  • I had a social and moral duty to alert the other residents of the apartment block to the behaviour of the chairperson and the court should find that I am not guilty of defamation.

So, which case won?

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Case A won. You were right!

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a54%
b46%

Expert commentary on the court's decision

“In its conclusion, the judgment stated that ‘every sentence of the defendant’s email… struck a blow at the plaintiff, and was intended to ridicule and humiliate him in every way’.”
District Court finds tenant guilty of defamation

In handing down its finding in the case Raynor v Murray [2019] NSWDC 189, the District Court found the chairman, Mr Gary Raynor, to be a witness of truth.

The court found that the imputations made in the email of the tenant, Ms Patricia Murray, clearly identified Mr Raynor and affected his reputation in a damaging way. All of the claims of Mr Raynor were proven.

Imputations arising from email sent by tenant

Mr Raynor claimed that several imputations arose from the email that Ms Murray had sent to him and 16 other owners of units in the building:

  • That he had unreasonably harassed Ms Murray by consistently threatening her by email
  • That he had acted menacingly towards her by consistently threatening her by email
  • That he is a malicious person who sent threatening emails to Ms Murray and copied in other residents of the building for the express purpose of publicly humiliating her
  • That he is a small-minded busybody who wastes the time of fellow residents on petty items concerning the running of the building
Court finds imputations capable of being conveyed by tenant’s email

In the view of the court, the inclusion of the text of five of Mr Raynor’s previous emails in the email sent by Ms Murray did indeed give the impression that he was on a campaign of unreasonably harassing her.

The use of the words “fixation” and “menacing”, along with the phrase “months of campaigning”, demonstrated to the ordinary reader a disturbing obsession for a rather minor grievance.

The court agreed that the seriousness of the conduct described in Ms Murray’s email and the depiction of this behaviour as deliberate would indeed be viewed as malicious by the ordinary reader.

The sneering tone of Ms Murray’s email portrayed Mr Raynor as a pathetic figure with fixations, so the imputation that he was a “small-minded busybody” was found to be clearly conveyed and defamatory to Mr Raynor.

In summary, the court found that all four of the imputations were capable of being conveyed by Ms Murray’s email, that the imputations were false and that they defamed Mr Raynor.

Tenant’s defences to finding of defamation

As the defamation was substantiated, it then became a matter of whether any defences exist. The tenant pleaded four defences.

All defences pleaded by tenant fail

The judge determined that Ms Murray failed to establish the justification of any of the four imputations.

She was also found to have known the falsity of the imputations, as demonstrated by her selective editing of the previous emails to create an inaccurate impression of the exchanges between herself and Mr Raynor. This meant that the “honest opinion” defence failed.

Ms Murray’s choice of language and the suggestion that Mr Raynor could have staged the mailbox break ins himself were found to be at odds with the assertion that the matter was trivial.

The qualified privilege defence – that is, that Ms Murray had a legal, moral or social duty to inform the other residents of the building of Mr Raynor’s behaviour – was also dismissed. Ms Murray’s motivation in sending the email was found to be her anger and resentment at being asked repeatedly to lock her mailbox, along with her hostility and ill will towards Mr Raynor.

Consequently, each of Ms Murray’s defences failed.

Credibility of tenant called into question

In its judgment, the court noted that Ms Murray’s conduct had not assisted her case, finding that she and her partner were not “witnesses upon whom reliance can be placed”.

The court described the email from Ms Murray that had led to the defamation action as containing “the strongest adjectives she could find”, in order to embarrass the plaintiff and make him look as if his conduct was criminal, without having any basis for making such allegations.

The judge found that Ms Murray never felt “menaced” by Mr Raynor, but was instead enraged by his request that she keep her mailbox locked.

In its conclusion, the judgment stated that “every sentence of the defendant’s email… struck a blow at the plaintiff, and was intended to ridicule and humiliate him in every way.”

Court awards damages and aggravated damages to chairperson

In proceedings of this nature there must be an “appropriate and rational” relationship between the damages awarded and the harm that was sustained. There was no doubt that the email had a significant effect on the reputation of Mr Raynor, with almost every aspect of the email ridiculing or humiliating him in some way. Given the extent of the damage, the court awarded him $90,000 for general hurt and distress.

On account of Ms Murray’s failure to apologise for the email, the fact that her conduct was “improper, unjustifiable and lacking in bona fides” and the “recklessness of the publication”, the court further awarded an additional $30,000 for aggravated damages.

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