Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pa. Landlord Loses Libel Suit

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In Charles F. Kurowski v. A. Parker Burroughs, Editor, Observer Publishing Co., Observer-Reporter (Case No. 1391WDA 2009, 210 Pa. Super. 69), Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Robert Freedberg upheld summary judgment for the defendants previously entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County in a defamation case brought by the attorney/landlord whose arson-damaged building was cited by the city.

As reported by the Courthouse News Service, Kurowski owns the building at 79-83 North Main St. that housed apartments and an addiction-recovery program, which was targeted by an arsonist. The municipality cited the plaintiff for failing to secure a vacant building.

The Observer-Reporter wrote a series of articles and editorials critical of the plaintiff's post-fire upkeep of the building and efforts to block the city's demolition of the structure, including an editorial entitled "City Should Target Run-down Properties" that ran 8/9/06, and an article headlined: "City on Lookout for Rampant Weeds," that appeared 7/11/07. The paper reported that the landlord plaintiff was cited for weed and grass violations by the city. Also, the Observer-Reporter criticized Kurowski for effecting building repairs at an "agonizingly slow pace."

Kurowski alleged that the defendants defamed him by portraying him as an unscrupulous businessperson and a "slumlord." The Superior Court disagreed, holding: "the expression of opinion in the editorial is not capable of defamatory meaning."  Judge Freedberg also noted the absence of evidence that the editorial's writer based his opinion on undisclosed facts.

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