Defamation is a false communication that harms individuals’ reputations, causes the general public to hate or disrespect them, or damages their business or employment. “The Law Dictionary” definition of defamation is communication that “tends so to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him.” To be defamatory, a statement must be an assertion of fact (rather than mere opinion) and capable of being proven false. In addition to being false, the statement, to be defamatory, must identify its victim by naming or reasonably implicating the person allegedly defamed.
A Minnesota statute passed in 1925 provided for the "abatement" of a "malicious, scandalous and defamatory newspaper, magazine or other periodical." Near v. State of Minnesota ex rel. Olson, 283 U.S. 697, 701-02 (1931). J.M. Near published a newspaper called The Saturday Press, which contained articles complaining of the mayor, district attorney, and chief of police, among others, and alleging a Jewish gambling conspiracy. As a result, the county attorney filed an action against the paper to prevent it from publishing any more issues. Near argued that the law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.
Beauharnais produced a leaflet that called on the Mayor and City Council of Chicago “to halt the further encroachment, harassment and invasion of white people, their property, neighborhoods and persons, by the Negro.” The leaflet also called for the use of violence to further this goal. Beauharnais was charged under an Illinois law prohibiting exposing “any race, color, creed or religion to contempt, derision, or obloquy[.]”
We must decide whether § 315 of the Federal Communications Act of 1934 bars a broadcasting station from removing defamatory statements contained in speeches broadcast by legally qualified candidates for public office, and if so, whether that section grants the station a federal immunity from liability for libelous statements so broadcast. Section 315 reads:
"(a) If any licensee shall permit any person who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use a broadcasting station, he shall afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates for that office in the use of such broadcasting station: Provided, That such licensee shall have no power of censorship over the material broadcast under the provisions of this section. No obligation is imposed upon any licensee to allow the use of its station by any such candidate."
This suit for libel arose as a result of a speech made over the radio and television facilities of respondent, WDAY, Inc., by A. C. Townleya legally qualified candidate in the 1956 United States senatorial race in North Dakota. Because it felt compelled to do so by the requirements of § 315, WDAY permitted Townley to broadcast his speech, uncensored in any respect, as a reply to previous speeches made over WDAY by two other senatorial candidates. Townley's speech, in substance, accused his opponents, together with petitioner, Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union of America, of conspiring to "establish a Communist Farmers Union Soviet right here in North Dakota." Farmers Union then sued Townley and WDAY for libel in a North Dakota State District Court. That court dismissed the complaint against WDAY on the ground that § 315 rendered the station immune from liability for the defamation alleged. The Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed, stating: "Section 315 imposes a mandatory duty upon broadcasting stations to permit all candidates for the same office to use their facilities if they have permitted one candidate to use them. Since power of censorship of political broadcasts is prohibited it must follow as a corollary that the mandate prohibiting censorship includes the privilege of immunity from liability for defamatory statements made by the speakers." For this reason it held that the state libel laws could not apply to WDAY. 89 N. W. 2d 102, 110. We granted certiorari because the questions decided are important to the administration of the Federal Communications Act. 358 U. S. 810.
Sullivan, a Commissioner of the City of Montgomery, Alabama, brought a civil libel suit against the publisher of the New York Times and four individual black clergymen in Alabama for running an ad in the paper. The ad described police action against student demonstrators and a leader of the civil rights movement. Some of the statements in the ad were false. A lower court found in favor of Sullivan, awarding him damages of $500,000.
380 U.S. 356 (1965) HENRY v. COLLINS. No. 89. Supreme Court of United States. Decided March 29, 1965.[*] ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MISSISSIPPI. Robert L. Carter, Barbara A. Morris, Jack H. Young and Frank D. Reeves for petitioner in both cases. W. O. Luckett for respondents in both… Read more
A columnist for the local Laconia Evening Citizen asked in an editorial for the paper, “What happened to all the money last year? and every other year?” when discussing Frank “Fritzie” Baer’s management of a ski resort and public recreation area. Baer brought a claim of libel against the columnist because of the column.
388 U.S. 130 (1967) CURTIS PUBLISHING CO. v. BUTTS. No. 37. Supreme Court of United States. Argued February 23, 1967. Decided June 12, 1967.[*] CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT.*133 Herbert Wechsler argued the cause for petitioner in No. 37. With him on the brief was… Read more
Edwin Walker, a retired U.S. general, was reported by the Associated Press to have “[a]ssumed command” of a crowd of anti-desegregation protests at the University of Mississippi and led them in a charge against the U.S. Marshals. The story was published by newspapers subscribing to the Associated Press, and Walker sued for libel and was awarded compensatory damages. This was a companion case to Curtis Pub. Co. v. Butts (1967).
389 U.S. 81 (1967) BECKLEY NEWSPAPERS CORP. v. HANKS. No. 467. Supreme Court of United States. Decided November 6, 1967. ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF WEST VIRGINIA, WYOMING COUNTY.Thurman Arnold and Jack A. Mann for petitioner.Harry G. Camper, Jr., for respondent. PER CURIAM. The petition for… Read more
Appellee, Board of Education, dismissed appellant, a teacher, for writing and publishing in a newspaper a letter criticizing the Board's allocation of school funds between educational and athletic programs and the Board's and superintendent's methods of informing, or preventing the informing of, the school district's taxpayers of the real reasons why additional tax revenues were being sought for the schools. At a hearing, the Board charged that numerous statements in the letter were false, and that the publication of the statements unjustifiably impugned the Board and school administration. The Board found all the statements false as charged, and concluded that publication of the letter was "detrimental to the efficient operation and administration of the schools of the district" and that "the interests of the school require[d] [appellant's dismissal]" under the applicable statute. There was no evidence at the hearing as to the effect of appellant's statements on the community or school administration. The Illinois courts, reviewing the proceedings solely to determine whether the Board's findings were supported by substantial evidence and whether the Board could reasonably conclude that the publication was "detrimental to the best interests of the schools," upheld the dismissal, rejecting appellant's claim that the letter was protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, on the ground that, as a teacher, he had to refrain from making statements about the schools' operation "which, in the absence of such position, he would have an undoubted right to engage in."
The petitioners are the publishers of a small weekly newspaper, the Greenbelt News Review, in the city of Greenbelt, Maryland. The respondent Bresler is a prominent local real estate developer and builder in Greenbelt, and was, during the period in question, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from a neighboring district. In the autumn of 1965 Bresler was engaged in negotiations with the Greenbelt City Council to obtain certain zoning variances that would allow the construction of high-density housing on land owned by him. At the same time the city was attempting to acquire another tract of land owned by Bresler for the construction of a new high school. Extensive litigation concerning compensation for the school site seemed imminent, unless there should be an agreement on its price between Bresler and the city authorities, and the concurrent negotiations obviously provided both parties considerable bargaining leverage.
On September 10, 1960, three days before the New Hampshire Democratic Party's primary election of candidates for the United States Senate, the Concord Monitor, a daily newspaper in Concord, New Hampshire, published a syndicated "D. C. Merry-Go-Round" column discussing the forthcoming election. The column spoke of political maneuvering in the primary campaign, referred to the criminal records of several of the candidates, and characterized Alphonse Roy, one of the candidates, as a "former small-time bootlegger." Roy was not elected in the primary, and he subsequently sued the Monitor Patriot Co. and the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA), the distributor of the column, for libel.
In November 1961, the United States Commission on Civil Rights issued the fifth volume of its Report for that year, a document entitled Justice. A part of Justice was devoted to a study of "police brutality and related private violence," and contained the following paragraph:
"Search, seizure, and violence: Chicago, 1958. The Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Monroe v. Pape on February 20, 1961. Although this decision did not finally dispose of the case, it did permit the plaintiff to sue several Chicago police officers for violation of the Federal Civil Rights Acts on the basis of a complaint which alleged that:
". . . [O]n October 29, 1958, at 5:45 a. m., thirteen Chicago police officers led by Deputy Chief of Detectives Pape, broke through two doors of the Monroe apartment, woke the Monroe couple with flashlights, and forced them at gunpoint to leave their bed and stand naked in the center of the living room; that the officers roused the six Monroe children and herded them into the living room; that Detective Pape struck Mr. Monroe several times with his flashlight, calling him `nigger' and `black boy'; that another officer pushed Mrs. Monroe; that other officers hit and kicked several of the children and pushed them to the floor; that the police ransacked every room, throwing clothing from closets to the floor, dumping drawers, ripping mattress covers; that Mr. Monroe was then taken to the police station and detained on `open' charges for ten hours, during which time he was interrogated about a murder and exhibited in lineups; that he was not brought before a magistrate, although numerous magistrate's courts were accessible; that he was not advised of his procedural rights; that he was not permitted to call his family or an attorney; that he was subsequently released without criminal charges having been filed against him." Justice 20-21.
A week later, Time, a weekly news magazine, carried a report of the Commission's new publication. The Time article began:
"The new paperback book has 307 pages and the simple title Justice. It is the last of five volumes in the second report of the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights, first created by Congress in 1957. Justice carries a chilling text about police brutality in both the South and the Northand it stands as a grave indictment, since its facts were carefully investigated by field agents and it was signed by all six of the noted educators who comprise the commission."
There followed a description, with numerous direct quotations, of one of the incidents described in Justice, and then the following account of the Monroe incident:
"Shifting to the North, the report cites Chicago police treatment of Negro James Monroe and his family, who were awakened in their West Side apartment at 5:45 a. m. by 13 police officers, ostensibly investigating a murder. The police, says Justice, `broke through two doors, woke the Monroe couple with flashlights . . . .' "
The Time article went on to quote at length from the summary of the Monroe complaint, without indicating in any way that the charges were those made by Monroe rather than independent findings of the Commission.
The Ocala Star-Banner Co., a petitioner in this case, publishes a small daily newspaper serving four counties in rural Florida. On April 18, 1966, the Star-Banner printed a story to the effect that the respondent, Leonard Damron, then the mayor of Crystal River in Citrus County and a candidate for the office of county tax assessor, had been charged in a federal court with perjury, and that his case had been held over until the following term of that court. This story was false. The respondent had not been charged with any crime in federal court, nor had any case involving him been held over, but the story was substantially accurate as to his brother, James Damron. Two weeks later the respondent was defeated in the election for county tax assessor.
403 U.S. 29 (1971) ROSENBLOOM v. METROMEDIA, INC. No. 66. Supreme Court of United States. Argued December 7-8, 1970. Decided June 7, 1971. CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT.*30 Ramsey Clark argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief was Benjamin Paul.Bernard G…. Read more
In a magazine called American Opinion, the John Birch Society accused Gertz, an attorney, of being a “Leninist” and a “Communist-fronter” because he chose to represent clients who were suing a law enforcement officer. Gertz lost his libel suit because the trial judge found that the magazine had not violated the actual malice test for libel, which the Supreme Court had established in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964). The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the trial judge’s ruling.
The issue in this case is whether a state statute granting a political candidate a right to equal space to reply to criticism and attacks on his record by a newspaper violates the guarantees of a free press.
Petitioner is the publisher of Time, a weekly news magazine. The Supreme Court of Florida affirmed a $100,000 libel judgment against petitioner which was based on an item appearing in Time that purported to describe the result of domestic relations litigation between respondent and her husband. We granted certiorari, 421 U. S. 909 (1975), to review petitioner's claim that the judgment violates its rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
By virtue of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, neither the Federal nor a State Government may make any law "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . . ." The question here is whether those Amendments should be construed to provide further protection for the press when sued for defamation than has hitherto been recognized. More specifically, we are urged to hold for the first time that when a member of the press is alleged to have circulated damaging falsehoods and is sued for injury to the plaintiff's reputation, the plaintiff is barred from inquiring into the editorial processes of those responsible for the publication, even though the inquiry would produce evidence material to the proof of a critical element of his cause of action.
In 1974, respondent Reader's Digest Association, Inc., published a book entitled KGB, the Secret Work of Soviet Agents (KGB), written by respondent John Barron. The book describes the Soviet Union's espionage organization and chronicles its activities since World War II. In a passage referring to disclosures by "royal commissions in Canada and Australia, and official investigations in Great Britain and the United States," the book contains the following statements relating to petitioner Ilya Wolston:
An unusual metaphor in a critical review of an unusual loudspeaker system gave rise to product disparagement litigation that presents us with a procedural question of first impression: Does Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure prescribe the standard to be applied by the Court of Appeals in its review of a District Court's determination that a false statement was made with the kind of "actual malice" described in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 279-280 (1964)?In the May 1970 issue of its magazine, Consumer Reports, respondent published a seven-page article evaluating the quality of numerous brands of medium-priced loudspeakers. In a boxed-off section occupying most of two pages, respondent commented on "some loudspeakers of special interest," one of which was the Bose 901 an admittedly "unique and unconventional" system that had recently been placed on the market by petitioner. After describing the system and some of its virtues, and after noting that a listener "could pinpoint the location of various instruments much more easily with a standard speaker than with the Bose system," respondent's article made the following statements:
"Worse, individual instruments heard through the Bose system seemed to grow to gigantic proportions and tended to wander about the room. For instance, a violin appeared to be 10 feet wide and a piano stretched from wall to wall. With orchestral music, such effects seemed inconsequential. But we think they might become annoying when listening to soloists." Plaintiff's Exhibit 2, p. 274.
After stating opinions concerning the overall sound quality, the article concluded: "We think the Bose
system is so unusual that a prospective buyer must listen to it and judge it for himself. We would suggest delaying so big an investment until you were sure the system would please you after the novelty value had worn off." Id.,
472 U.S. 749 (1985) DUN & BRADSTREET, INC. v. GREENMOSS BUILDERS, INC. No. 83-18. Supreme Court of United States. Argued March 21, 1984 Reargued October 3, 1984 Decided June 26, 1985 CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF VERMONT*750 Gordon Lee Garrett, Jr., reargued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were… Read more
This case requires us once more to "struggl[e] . . . to define the proper accommodation between the law of defamation and the freedoms of speech and press protected by the First Amendment." Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U. S. 323, 325 (1974). In Gertz, the Court held that a private figure who brings a suit for defamation cannot recover without some showing that the media defendant was at fault in publishing the statements at issue. Id., at 347. Here, we hold that, at least where a newspaper publishes speech of public concern, a private-figure plaintiff cannot recover damages without also showing that the statements at issue are false.
In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 279-280, 84 S.Ct. 710, 725-726, 11 L.Ed.2d 686 (1964), we held that, in a libel suit brought by a public official, the First Amendment requires the plaintiff to show that in publishing the defamatory statement the defendant acted with actual malice—"with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." We held further that such actual malice must be shown with "convincing clarity." Id., at 285-286, 84 S.Ct., at 728-729. See also Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 342, 94 S.Ct. 2997, 3008, 41 L.Ed.2d 789 (1974). These New York Times requirements we have since extended to libel suits brought by public figures as well. See, e.g., Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130, 87 S.Ct. 1975, 18 L.Ed.2d 1094 (1967).
This case presents the question whether the clear-and-convincing-evidence requirement must be considered by a court ruling on a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in a case to which New York Times applies. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that that requirement need not be considered at the summary judgment stage. 241 U.S.App.D.C. 246, 746 F.2d 1563 (1984). We granted certiorari, 471 U.S. 1134, 105 S.Ct. 2672, 86 L.Ed.2d 691 (1985), because that holding was in conflict with decisions of several other Courts of Appeals, which had held that the New York Times requirement of clear and convincing evidence must be considered on a motion for summary judgment.1 We now reverse.
* Respondent Liberty Lobby, Inc., is a not-for-profit corporation and self-described "citizens' lobby." Respondent Willis Carto is its founder and treasurer. In October 1981, The Investigator magazine published two articles: "The Private World of Willis Carto" and "Yockey: Profile of an American Hitler." These articles were introduced by a third, shorter article entitled "America's Neo-Nazi Underground: Did Mein Kampf Spawn Yockey's Imperium, a Book Revived by Carto's Liberty Lobby?" These articles portrayed respondents as neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, racist, and Fascist.
Respondents filed this diversity libel action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that some 28 statements and 2 illustrations in the 3 articles were false and derogatory. Named as defendants in the action were petitioner Jack Anderson, the publisher of The Investigator, petitioner Bill Adkins, president and chief executive officer of the Investigator Publishing Co., and petitioner Investigator Publishing Co. itself.
Following discovery, petitioners moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. In their motion, petitioners asserted that because respondents are public figures they were required to prove their case under the standards set forth in New York Times. Petitioners also asserted that summary judgment was proper because actual malice was absent as a matter of law. In support of this latter assertion, petitioners submitted the affidavit of Charles Bermant, an employee of petitioners and the author of the two longer articles.2 In this affidavit, Bermant stated that he had spent a substantial amount of time researching and writing the articles and that his facts were obtained from a wide variety of sources. He also stated that he had at all times believed and still believed that the facts contained in the articles were truthful and accurate. Attached to this affidavit was an appendix in which Bermant detailed the sources for each of the statements alleged by respondents to be libelous.
Respondents opposed the motion for summary judgment, asserting that there were numerous inaccuracies in the articles and claiming that an issue of actual malice was presented by virtue of the fact that in preparing the articles Bermant had relied on several sources that respondents asserted were patently unreliable. Generally, respondents charged that petitioners had failed adequately to verify their information before publishing. Respondents also presented evidence that William McGaw, an editor of The Investigator, had told petitioner Adkins before publication that the articles were "terrible" and "ridiculous."
In ruling on the motion for summary judgment, the District Court first held that respondents were limited-purpose public figures and that New York Times therefore applied.3 The District Court then held that Bermant's thorough investigation and research and his reliance on numerous sources precluded a finding of actual malice. Thus, the District Court granted the motion and entered judgment in favor of petitioners.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed as to 21 and reversed as to 9 of the allegedly defamatory statements. Although it noted that respondents did not challenge the District Court's ruling that they were limited-purpose public figures and that they were thus required to prove their case under New York Times, the Court of Appeals nevertheless held that for the purposes of summary judgment the requirement that actual malice be proved by clear and convincing evidence, rather than by a preponderance of the evidence, was irrelevant: To defeat summary judgment respondents did not have to show that a jury could find actual malice with "convincing clarity." The court based this conclusion on a perception that to impose the greater evidentiary burden at summary judgment "would change the threshold summary judgment inquiry from a search for a minimum of facts supporting the plaintiff's case to an evaluation of the weight of those facts and (it would seem) of the weight of at least the defendant's uncontroverted facts as well." 241 U.S.App.D.C., at 253, 746 F.2d, at 1570. The court then held, with respect to nine of the statements, that summary judgment had been improperly granted because "a jury could reasonably conclude that the . . . allegations were defamatory, false, and made with actual malice." Id., at 260, 746 F.2d at 1577.