Defamation and Torts
Dun & Bradstreet v. Greenmoss Builders

(1985) pp. 195-200

F: Greenmoss Builders falsely represented as bankrupt to a credit reporting agency. Brought defamation lawsuit searching for both compensatory and punitive damages.

I: Whether Greenmoss should be allowed to collect punitive damages.

H: Yes.

R: Typically, as we saw in Gertz, punitive and presumed damages may not be collected without proving actual malice. However, the Court ruled that collecting punitive damages is possible when the contested statements do not involve matters of public concern.

Ru: Punitive damages may be collected without showing actual malice if the statments are not matters of public concern.

Posted by timmy
Bartnicki v. Vopper

(2001) pp. 208-214

F: Cellular telephone call between the chief union negotiator and the union president of a high school school board. The call, which suggested violence against teachers, was illegally intercepted and played over a public affairs radio talk show.

I: Whether information about a public matter may be suppressed because it was illegally obtained.

H: No.

R: Speech by a law-abiding possessor of information cannot be suppressed in order to deter conduct by a non-law abiding 3rd party.

Ru: Speech, even if obtained illegally, may not be suppressed, especially when involving matters of public concern.

Posted by timmy
Hustler v. Falwell

(1988) pp. 215-219

F: Falwell sued Larry Flynt for invasion, libel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress after Hustler ran a mock ad depicting Falwell having sex with his mother. Falwell lost on the privacy and defamation torts, but won for intentional infliction of emotional damages.

I: Whether his award for emotional damages violates the 1st Amendment.

H: Yes.

R: Emotional distress in not the same as reputational harm. The Hustler ad parody could also not reasonably be understood as describing actual events.

Ru: Public figures and officials may not recover for emotional distress without showing actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth.

Posted by timmy
NY Times v. Sullivan

(1964) pp.168-76

F: Bureaucrat from Alabama sues NYT claiming he was libeled by a full page ad depicting him as a racist and as an actor for the police in a protest. He was never mentioned by name in the ad but believes the ad insinuates his involvement.

I: Did the ad intend to maliciously attack Sullivan and is Alabama's ruling constitutional?

H: No.

R: The ad did not injure Sullivan's career despite some false statements. There needed to be "actual malice" in the ad whether or not the statements were true.


Posted by capn
Time Inc. v. Hill

(1966) pp. 178-83

F: Life magazine reported that a new play depicted the experience suffered by Hill and his family. The play followed the book and Hill claims the book was not about his family.

I: Did the false depiction of the Hill family violate the 1st? (right to privacy)

H: No.

R: Although the Hills were not public officials (NYT v. Sullivan) they were thrust into the limelight. Thus, their claim of defamation/libel must be treated as Sullivan was.


Posted by capn
Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc.

(1974) pp. 188-195

F: American Opinion magazine publishes desparaging remarks about Gertz w/ many inaccuracies. They make no attempts to claim sources.

I: Is this libel? Does the NYT v. Sullivan rule fit even though Gertz isn't a public figure?

H: Yes.

R: The strict liability may cause the publisher to use self-censorship, but a private citizen is much less likely to have recourse, unlike a public figure.

Ru: The complainant must prove that the libel has caused actual damage, but it is less demanding than NYT. Actual damage is more than money--it is also reputation, personal humiliation and mental anguish.

Posted by capn