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Ruling in libel case upheld

State appeals court says Newport wig shop owner must pay customer $24,000 for online defamatory comments.

September 24, 2013|By Hannah Fry

A Newport Beach wig shop owner must pay $24,000 after a state appeals court affirmed that she libeled a customer in online posts.

The panel of three judges, in a Sept. 17 opinion, upheld Orange County Superior Court Judge Charles Margines' ruling that Constance Walsh, owner of Wiggin Out, wrote defamatory posts online about Cheryl Sanders, who bought a wig from the Newport Beach store in 2009.

"The patently false nature of the claims, Walsh's false denial that she posted the statements, and Walsh's hostile attitude towards plaintiff are substantial evidence to support the trial court's finding of malice," Justice Raymond J. Ikola wrote in the opinion.

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Malice is one of the legal requirements for defining printed defamation, or libel.

In June 2009, Sanders bought a wig from Walsh for her mother, who had lost her hair while undergoing chemotherapy to treat breast cancer.

Sanders said Walsh assured her the wig was custom-made, but she later realized it was not. Her mom attempted to return the wig via Federal Express, but the salon refused the delivery, according to court documents

Walsh took Sanders' mother to small-claims court, where a judge ruled that Walsh was not owed money for the wig because of the attempt to return it.

Two months later, Walsh posted a "rebuttal" to a customer's critical posting on Ripoffreport.com regarding the court's decision.

"The rebuttal consists of a series of paragraphs prefaced by 'Fact:' explaining defendant's version of the facts, with editorial commentary interspersed throughout," according to the appeals court opinion.

In the post, Walsh said Sanders used an unauthorized check to buy the wig and fabricated a letter from FedEx in an effort to prove Sander's mother attempted to return the wig.

Several months later, an anonymous author posted on Yelp.com an accusation that Sanders participated in city corruption.

The same day, an anonymous author also attacked Sanders on MerchantCircle.com, writing: "Thank you Cheryl Sanders for hurting the community by giving all the construction business in Anaheim for a under the table bribe. I hope that an investigation takes place soon and you end up behind bars."

The posts allege that Sanders works in the Anaheim planning department. However, she testified that she works in the public utilities department, saying she had no control over who is awarded city contracts and that none of her family or friends has done contracting work for the city, according to the appeals court ruling.

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