CACI 1720 Affirmative Defense—Truth

California Civil Jury Instructions CACI

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.

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 891].)

“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)