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Harte-Hanks Communications v. Connaughton

Supreme Court of the United States

March 20, 1989, Argued ; June 22, 1989, Decided

No. 88-10

Opinion

 [*659]   [***571]   [**2681]  JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

 ] A public figure may not recover damages for a defamatory falsehood without clear and convincing proof that the false "statement was made with 'actual malice' -- that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 279-280 (1964). See Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130, 162 (1967) (opinion of Warren, C. J.). In Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 466 U.S. 485 (1984), we held that judges in such cases have a constitutional duty to "exercise independent judgment and determine whether the record establishes actual malice with convincing clarity." Id.,  [**2682]  at 514. In this case the Court of Appeals affirmed a libel judgment [****7]  against a newspaper without attempting to make an independent evaluation of the credibility of conflicting oral testimony concerning the subsidiary facts underlying the jury's finding of actual malice. We  [***572]  granted certiorari to consider whether the Court of Appeals' analysis was consistent with our holding in Bose. 488 U.S. 907 (1988).

 [*660]  I

Respondent, Daniel Connaughton, was the unsuccessful candidate for the office of Municipal Judge of Hamilton, Ohio, in an election conducted on November 8, 1983. Petitioner is the publisher of the Journal News, a local newspaper that supported the reelection of the incumbent, James Dolan. A little over a month before the election, the incumbent's Director of Court Services resigned and was arrested on bribery charges. A grand jury investigation of those charges was in progress on November 1, 1983. On that date, the Journal News ran a front-page story quoting Alice Thompson, a grand jury witness, as stating that Connaughton had used "dirty tricks" and offered her and her sister jobs and a trip to Florida "in appreciation" for their help in the investigation.

 Invoking the federal court's diversity [****8]  jurisdiction, Connaughton filed an action for damages, alleging that the article was false, that it had damaged his personal and professional reputation, and that it had been published with actual malice. After discovery, petitioner filed a motion for summary judgment relying in part on an argument that even if Thompson's statements were false, the First Amendment protects the accurate and disinterested reporting of serious charges against a public figure. The District Court denied the motion, noting that the evidence raised an issue of fact as to the newspaper's interest in objective reporting and that the "neutral reportage doctrine" did not apply to Thompson's statements. 2 The case accordingly proceeded to trial.

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491 U.S. 657 *; 109 S. Ct. 2678 **; 105 L. Ed. 2d 562 ***; 1989 U.S. LEXIS 3133 ****; 57 U.S.L.W. 4846; 16 Media L. Rep. 1881

HARTE-HANKS COMMUNICATIONS, INC. v. CONNAUGHTON

Prior History:  [****1]  CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT.

Disposition:  842 F. 2d 825, affirmed.

CORE TERMS

actual malice, interview, tapes, charges, newspaper, allegations, malice, witnesses, reckless disregard, public figure, candidate, promised, listen, clear and convincing proof, credibility, falsity, publisher, election, confirm, cases, libel, convincing, reporting, campaign, defamatory, finding of actual malice, extreme departure, municipal court, subsidiary, questions

Torts, Defamation, Public Figures, Actual Malice, Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Constitutional Law, Freedom of Speech, General Overview, Public Figures, Intentional Torts, Clear & Convincing Evidence, Voluntary Public Figures, Libel, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Procedural Matters, Clearly Erroneous Review, Defenses, Privileges, Constitutional Privileges