Law School Case Brief
Time, Inc. v. Hill - 385 U.S. 374, 87 S. Ct. 534 (1967)
The constitutional protections for speech and press preclude the application of a New York statute to redress false reports of matters of public interest in the absence of proof that the defendant published the report with knowledge of its falsity or in reckless disregard of the truth.
In 1952 Plaintiff Hill and his family were held hostage in their home by some escaped convicts, but were ultimately released unharmed without any violence having occurred. They later moved away, and Hill discouraged further publicity efforts about the incident, which had caused extensive involuntary notoriety. A novel about a hostage incident but depicting considerable violence later appeared, and was subsequently made into a play, these portrayals having been shaped by several incidents. Defendant Life magazine published an account of the play, relating it to the Hill incident, describing the play as a re-enactment, and using as illustrations photographs of scenes staged in the former Hill home. Alleging that the Life article gave the knowingly false impression that the play depicted the actual hostage incident, Hill sued for damages under a New York statute providing a cause of action to a person whose name or picture is used by another without consent for purposes of trade or advertising.
Life maintained that the article concerned a subject of general interest and was published in good faith. The trial court instructed the jury that liability under the statute depended upon a finding that the Life article was published, not to disseminate news, but as a fictionalized version of the Hill incident and for the purpose of advertising the play or increasing the magazine's circulation. The court also instructed the jury that punitive damages were justified if the jury found that Life falsely connected Hill with the play knowingly or through failure to make a reasonable investigation and that personal malice need not be found if there was reckless or wanton disregard of Hill's rights. The jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages. Though liability was sustained on appeal, the Appellate Division ordered a new trial as to damages, at which only compensatory damages were awarded, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The New York courts have limited the reach of the statute as applied to reports of newsworthy persons or events, and have made it clear since reargument here that truth is a complete defense. However, the New York courts allow recovery under the statute when such reports are "fictitious."
Was Time, Inc. denied constitutional protections of speech and press by the application of N.Y. Civ. Rights Law §§ 50-51 to award Hill damages on allegations that Time, Inc. falsely reported that a new play portrayed an experience suffered by Hill and his family?
The Supreme Court held that the constitutional protections for speech and press precluded the application of the statute to redress false reports of matters of public interest in the absence of proof that appellant published the report with knowledge of its falsity or in reckless disregard of the truth. The Court noted that the evidence could have supported either a jury finding of innocent or merely negligent misstatement by appellant, or a finding of Lifes reckless disregard of the truth or actual knowledge of falsity. The jury instruction given by the lower court, however, failed to confine the jury to a verdict of liability based upon a finding that the statements in the article were made with knowledge of their falsity or in reckless disregard of the truth.
Access the full text case
Not a Lexis+ subscriber? Try it out for free.
Be Sure You're Prepared for Class