A unanimous Appellate Division, First Department, panel has affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a journalist against a prominent AIDS activist for allegedly defaming her over an article she wrote challenging the scientific consensus that AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Louis York (See Profile) dismissed the case in 2011, holding that the journalist, Celia Farber, was a public figure and her defamation claim against activist Richard Jefferys could not survive the heightened scrutiny required for defamation claims against public figures (NYLJ, Nov. 8, 2011).
Among other things, Jefferys called Farber and a doctor she interviewed "liars" after the Semmelweis Society International gave them an award in 2008 for being "whistleblowers" on the issue of AIDS. Farber has written multiple articles suggesting the link between HIV and AIDS has been played up by the pharmaceutical industry, culminating in a widely criticized 2006 Harper’s article called "Out of Control."
The First Department panel on Feb. 19 agreed with York. "Supreme Court properly determined that plaintiff was a limited public figure because, through her publication of countless articles, she voluntarily injected herself into the controversial debate on whether HIV causes AIDS with a view toward influencing the debate," the panel said.
The panel also said York was right to find that Jefferys calling Farber a "liar" was not actionable, because, in context, the statement was clearly meant as opinion and not fact. Justices Peter Tom (See Profile), Karla Moskowitz (See Profile), Rosalyn Richter (See Profile), Sallie Manzanet-Daniels (See Profile) and Darcel Clark (See Profile) sat on the panel in Farber v. Jefferys, 106399/09.