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Dun & Bradstreet v. Greenmoss Builders - 472 U.S. 749

Rule:

The rule of Gertz does not apply where the false and defamatory statements involved do not involve matters of public concern.

Facts:

Petitioner, who was in the business of composing and selling financial reports about businesses, mistakenly reported that respondent had filed for bankruptcy. The report was sent to several of petitioner's subscribers. Petitioner issued a corrective statement, but refused to divulge the names of those that received the report. Respondent brought a defamation suit and the jury awarded respondent presumed and punitive damages. However, a new trial was ordered because the court was dissatisfied with its jury instructions regarding petitioner's knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth. The Supreme Court of Vermont reversed, holding that respondent was not required to show actual malice to recover presumed and punitive damages because petitioner was a nonmedia entity. Petitioner challenged the ruling.

Issue:

Does recovery of presumed and punitive damages in defamation cases without a showing of actual malice violate the First Amendment when defamatory statements do not involve matters of public concern?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

On certiorari the Court affirmed, holding that because respondent was a private party, and because petitioner's false and defamatory statements against respondent did not involve matters of public concern, respondent was not required to show petitioner acted with actual malice when making the defamatory statements to recover presumed and punitive damages.

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