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There is no liability that could arise simply from thanking people you worked with. However, if those addresses are addresses of clients, and if that list of clients constitutes a "trade secret," and furthermore if you then contacted those clients to start a competing business, you might be exposing yourself to a civil lawsuit for misappropriation of trade secrets. But you'd need to do a lot more to get to that point. It doesn't really seem to be what you describe.
As for suing for defamation of character, stating negative opinions about someone is not against the law. However making false statements of fact (distinct from mere opinion) to third parties can give rise to a claim for defamation if you can prove that you have suffered some sort of quantifiable financial harm as a result of the false statements. For example, telling people that you were "incompetent" would be legal because that is a statement of opinion regarding your ability. Even if you believe the opinion is untrue, you cannot sue for it because opinions are always subjective to the opinion holder. However, if your employer told people that you were fired for testing positive for cocaine and that statement caused you to lose a job opportunity, you could sue for defamation because you have a false statement of fact (you either did or didn't test positive--there is no "opinion" involved) and you suffered a financial loss as a result of the statement. This would be the extent of your recourse under the circumstances you describe.
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In any event, it was a pleasure assisting you and I would be glad to attempt to assist you further on this issue, or a new legal issue, if needed.
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