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Law School Case Brief

Davis v. Ross - 107 F.R.D. 326 (S.D.N.Y. 1985)

Rule:

The rule in New York is that evidence of defendant's wealth cannot be brought out upon trial unless and until the jury brings in a special verdict that plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages against defendant. Discovery of defendant's net wealth will become necessary only in the event plaintiff obtains such a special verdict.

Facts:

Plaintiff Davis commenced a libel suit against the defendant Diana Ross, seeking compensatory and punitive damages based on a letter written and disseminated by Ross Plaintiff sought to obtain information concerning Ross' net worth and annual income. Davis argues that this material is discoverable because evidence of a defendant's wealth is relevant in an action for punitive damages.

Issue:

Can the plaintiff compel discovery of defendant’s net worth in a defamation suit?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court held that under applicable New York law, evidence of a defendant's wealth could not be brought out upon trial unless and until the jury brought in a special verdict that the plaintiff was entitled to punitive damages and discovery of a defendant's net worth was not appropriate until then. Further, even if general damages in an action for libel per se were presumed, a defendant must be permitted to rebut the presumption.

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