Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Handberg v. Goldberg

Supreme Court of Virginia

August 22, 2019

MICHAEL N. HANDBERG
v.
FELICIA GOLDBERG, ET AL.

          FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF FAIRFAX COUNTY Robert J. Smith, Judge

          OPINION

          ELIZABETH A. McCLANAHAN, JUDGE

         Michael N. Handberg appeals a decision of the trial court upholding a jury verdict finding him liable for defamation of Dr. Felicia Goldberg. We agree with Handberg that the trial court erred in its gatekeeping function by failing to properly instruct the jury as to actionable statements of fact versus statements that were merely opinion and thus nonactionable. We reverse and remand.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Handberg retained Dr. Goldberg to provide educational advocacy services for his son who attended Loudoun County Public Schools ("LCPS"). The Morgan Center, an organization established by Dr. Goldberg, supplemented Dr. Goldberg's services with testing services. Handberg provided his debit card information to the Morgan Center for billing. Upon each request for payment, Handberg would grant permission for The Morgan Center to charge his debit card for services provided. Billing disagreements subsequently arose, however, between Handberg, Dr. Goldberg, and the Morgan Center. This resulted in Handberg sending an email on June 2, 2015 to Dr. Goldberg and educational professionals at his son's school informing them that Dr. Goldberg no longer represented his son, stating he was terminating Dr. Goldberg for fraudulent billing, and criticizing the billing practices of Dr. Goldberg and the Morgan Center as unethical.

         Dr. Goldberg filed a defamation action based on Handberg's email. Of the thirty-four statements contained in the email, Dr. Goldberg quoted the following eleven statements in her first amended complaint as allegedly defamatory:

1. "That he terminated Plaintiff's services for 'fraudulent billing;'"
2. "That 'since [Plaintiff] was able to secure reimbursement for LCPS [Plaintiff] thought she had a blank check to just start dumping hours on my credit card for services not provided;'"
3. "That Plaintiff would not speak with him 'unless [he] paid her more money;'"
4. "That Plaintiff 'stated it was not my money as LCPS would pay for it, so [Plaintiff] did not understand why I cared;'"
5. "That 'the motivation of the Morgan Center was focused on maximizing their billing and not on the best interests of the children they are advocating;'"
6. "That Plaintiff's 'view was that since it was not my money (LCPS) that was paying for their services, I should just go along with excess billing. That is a value system that I don't endorse, or approve;'"
7. "That Defendant 'did not want LCPS to reimburse someone through me for services that were not authorized or performed;'"
8. "That Defendant 'did not think that [he] could trust the motives of a person that was so opportunistic and aggressive about pursuing money and was not a person that I could trust in advocating services for my son;'"
9. "That 'given the change in behavior [he] saw on this case, [he] would not recommend that LCPS agree to reimburse advocacy services in the future, given the advocate's role in the negotiation and their conflict of interest;'"
10."That 'in the case of the Morgan Center and Dr. Goldberg, they could not resist the temptation to cash in on what they perceive as a windfall;'" and
11."That 'I don't think this is in the students [sic] interest or LCPS interest.'"

         Handberg demurred to the first amended complaint, arguing that the statements could not sustain a defamation claim. The trial court denied Handberg's demurrer in part and sustained it in part. The court found that the first eight statements recited above-numbered 1 through 8 (hereinafter the "first eight statements")-were actionable statements of fact, but that the last three statements-numbered 9 through 11 (hereinafter ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.