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Chapadeau v. Utica Observer-Dispatch, Inc. - 38 N.Y.2d 196, 379 N.Y.S.2d 61, 341 N.E.2d 569 (1975)

Rule:

Within the limits imposed by the Supreme Court where the content of the article is arguably within the sphere of legitimate public concern, which is reasonably related to matters warranting public exposition, the party defamed may recover; however, to warrant such recovery he must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the publisher acted in a grossly irresponsible manner without due consideration for the standards of information gathering and dissemination ordinarily followed by responsible parties.

Facts:

Appellant Chapadeau was a public school teacher who was arrested on June 10, 1971 and charged with criminal possession of a hypodermic instrument and criminal possession of a dangerous drug, heroin, in the fourth degree. The next day, respondent's newspaper, The Utica Observer-Dispatch, reported Chapadeau's arrest in an article which also related that two Herkimer men had been arrested on misdemeanor drug charges. After reporting the three arrests the newspaper account went on to state that, "The trio was part of a group at a party in Brookwood Park where they were arrested. Drugs and beer were found at the party, police charge." Appellant claims that the quoted sentences, which were false and maliciously published, libeled him. The newspaper admitted the falsity of those sentences but contended that in its entirety the article was a fair and true report and moved for summary judgment. The trial court denied the motion but was subsequently reversed. The Appellate Division held that in light of Chapadeau's occupation and the nature of the crime, his arrest was a matter of public interest and therefore qualifiedly privileged. The Appellate Division further held that the communication was privileged absent malice and the mere showing of defendant's failure to discover and correct the error was insufficient to warrant a trial on the issue of malice. Appellant challenged the decision, contending that the decision must be overturned because the constitutional privilege with respect to matters of public interest which had been mandated by Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc. was eliminated by the Supreme Court in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc..

Issue:

In matters of legitimate public concerns, can a defamed teacher recover damages from the publisher of the defamatory material?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that where the content of an article was arguably within the sphere of legitimate public concern, which was reasonably related to matters warranting public exposition, the defamed person could potentially recover. However, to warrant such recovery, he must establish that the publisher acted in a grossly irresponsible manner without due consideration for the standards of information gathering and dissemination ordinarily followed by responsible parties. Here, the Court held that the challenged communication fell within the sphere of legitimate public concern; however, the publisher exercised reasonable methods to insure accuracy. The Court held that the mere fact that the word "trio" was mistakenly substituted for the word "duo" did not, of itself, result in liability. The Court held that a limited number of typographical errors were inevitable.

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