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Law School Case Brief

Bindrim v. Mitchell - 92 Cal. App. 3d 61, 155 Cal. Rptr. 29 (1979)

Rule:

Reckless conduct is not measured by whether a reasonably prudent man would have investigated before publishing. There must be sufficient evidence to permit the conclusion that the defendant in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his publication. Thus, what constitutes actual malice focuses on a defendant's attitude toward the truth or falsity of the material published and reckless disregard of the truth or falsity cannot be fully encompassed by one infallible definition but its outer limits must be marked by a case-by-case adjudication.

Facts:

Plaintiff is a licensed clinical psychologist, who used the so-called "Nude Marathon" in group therapy as a means of helping people to shed their psychological inhibitions with the removal of their clothes. Defendant was an author who, after signing a contract agreeing not to disclosed what transpires in group therapy, participated in the Nude Marathon, and then, wrote a book about it. Once the book was published, Plaintiff filed a defamation, libel, and breach of contract action suit against defendants author and publisher, which asserted that he was damaged by the author's inaccurate portrayal of what happened at the marathon. The court entered a judgment in favor of the plaintiff. Defendants appealed.

Issue:

Is there sufficient evidence to support plaintiff’s claim for damages arising from her libel suit?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the award of punitive damages against defendant publisher, finding it had a duty to investigate the possibility that plaintiff was defamed by the book. The court found no authority that plaintiff could contractually prevent defendant author from writing about her treatment; therefore, the limits to her right to report were those involved in the libel counts.

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