Police Union President Loses Defamation Lawsuit Against Mayor

Sean McCausland is an Atlantic City police officer and former president of the Police Benevolent Association (PBA). McCausland sued the mayor, Lorenzo Langford, as well as other City officials alleging defamation of character.
McCausland alleged that Langford referred to him as someone who had “mastered the art of suburban warfare. He has no connection to Atlantic City, and has contributed nothing to the City, but takes all he can out of the City.” The Mayor was also quoted as “definitely questioning McCausland’s leadership as the president of the PBA.”

McCausland further alleged that, in a memorandum, the Mayor claimed that McClausland had lied to the Chief of Police regarding a rumored sick-out during President’s Day weekend. Langford also allegedly referred to McCausland as “persona non grata” who had “lost the confidence of the rank-and-file PBA membership and was on his way out,” and was a “piece of shit.”

The Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court dismissed McCausland’s lawsuit. Without getting into the issue of whether McCausland was a public figure and whether Langford’s statements were made with malice, the Court found that none of Langford’s statements rose to the level of defamation. Quoting extensively from the trial court’s rulings, the Court found that “to some extent they are opinion, to some extent while not opinion they are comments that are what I’m going to call, for lack of a better phrase, political judgments. They may or may not be true. They are in the eye of the beholder. Even if true they do not as a matter of law adversely affect anyone’s perception or could not as a matter of law adversely affect anyone’s perception of McCausland’s honesty or integrity.”

The Appeals Court also quoted from the trial court’s findings as to the likely impact of Langford’s statements: “In some instances, I accept or assume that these attacks by the Mayor probably helped McCausland in some people’s minds. In any event, as a matter of law they do not constitute defamatory comments. Questioning his leadership as the president of the PBA falls into the same category. I don’t know what to make of a ‘persona non grata’ or ‘piece of shit.’ They are personal characterizations. Certainly as to the latter, it is at least unpleasant and offensive, but I’m not persuaded that it is defamation.”

McCausland v. City of Atlantic City, 2006 WL 1451060 (N.J.Super. 2006).

This article appears in the July 2006 issue