Count One at 3. Accordingly, Plaintiff claims that an accusation of child neglect is analogous to an accusation of a crime, and therefore should be treated as libel per se. Id.
Defendants refute Plaintiff's argument, stressing that an imputation of a crime is necessary for a libel per se action. Defendants also contend that "under the District of Columbia Code, a parent's duty under criminal law to adequately provide for a child extends only to the age of fourteen (14) years." Because Plaintiff's daughter was sixteen (16) years old at the time in question, there can be no imputation of a crime. See Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss Count One at 2.
After reviewing the pleadings in this case and the relevant caselaw in the District of Columbia pertaining to libel per se, the Court finds that the accusation by Defendants concerning Plaintiff's alleged neglect of her daughter does not impute the commission of a crime by the Plaintiff. First and foremost, the Court takes notice that there are two statutes in the District of Columbia addressing the treatment of children. D.C.Code § 16-2301 et. seq., sets forth the statutory infraction of child neglect. D.C.Code § 22-901, on the other hand, sets forth the criminal offense for cruelty to children. While similar types of conduct trigger the application of each statute, the proceedings that follow the violation of each statute "is profoundly different in purpose and character." In re S.K. and V.L., 564 A.2d 1382, 1388 (D.C. 1989). A civil proceeding based on neglect is remedial in nature and focuses on the child and his or her best interest. See In re S.K. and V.L., supra; In re S.G., 581 A.2d 771 (D.C. 1990). A criminal proceeding based on cruelty or abuse, however, is "primarily concerned with the allegedly abusive parent." In re S.G., 581 A.2d at 775. Because a separate criminal statute does exist relating to the abuse of children, and because Plaintiff admits that she was accused solely of the statutory offense of child neglect, see Plaintiff's Amended Complaint at 4, para. 14, the Court cannot find that the Defendants' accusation of neglect is sufficiently analogous to an accusation that Plaintiff committed a criminal offense.
Similarly, Plaintiff's argument that the penalties resulting from a child neglect charge are analogous to the punishment afforded to criminal violators does not convince this Court to treat her action as a libel per se. In fact, the neglect statute does not provide for indictment or criminal punishment such as fines or imprisonment. Farnum v. Colbert, supra, requires that such punishment measures be at issue. Furthermore, because the statutory scheme for child neglect involves at most a temporary suspension of parental rights, due process only requires that a finding of neglect be based on a preponderance of evidence. See In the Matter of N.H., 569 A.2d 1179 (D.C. 1990) (rejecting claim that the Constitution requires the clear and convincing evidence standard in neglect cases). Criminal proceedings, on the other hand, require proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It follows that the statutory infraction of child neglect cannot accurately be described as analogous to a crime.
There are distinct differences between an action in libel and an action in libel per se. A defamatory publication need only be injurious to the reputation of another to constitute libel, while libel per se requires an actual imputation of a criminal offense. See Smith v. District of Columbia, 399 A.2d 213 (D.C. 1979); 53 C.J.S. Libel and Slander §§ 2 and 38. In addition, the necessary allegations of general and specific damages differs in each action. See Curtis Publishing Co. v. Vaughan , 107 App. D.C. 343, 278 F.2d 23 (D.C. Cir. 1960); 53 C.J.S. Libel and Slander §§ 145-147. It is precisely because the law draws distinctions between libel and libel per se actions that the Court should not liberally permit a Plaintiff assert a libel per se claim.
Therefore, it is, by this Court, on this 14th November, 1991,
ORDERED that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Count One of Plaintiff's Complaint shall be, and hereby is, GRANTED insofar as it alleges a claim of libel per se, and the Court shall treat the remainder of Count One as a claim sounding in tort as a pure libel action.