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Veno v. Meredith - 357 Pa. Super. 85, 515 A.2d 571 (1986)

Rule:

Initially, it is the court's function and not the jury's to determine whether a given communication is capable of defamatory construction. If the court determines that the statement is capable of defamatory meaning, it is for the jury to determine whether it was so understood by the recipient. Conversely, if a court determines that a statement is not capable of a defamatory meaning, then it is proper for the court to sustain a demurrer.

Facts:

Appellants, reporter and editor, were discharged from their employment with appellee newspaper resulting from an article that portrayed a judge in an unfavorable light. Appellee newspaper published two editorials that apologized to the judge and indicated that the paper would remain truthful in its articles. Appellants filed suit alleging that they were libeled and illegally terminated. The court granted non-suit in favor of appellees, newspaper and owner, and against appellant editor. The case went to trial on the issues concerning the termination of employment. The case for appellant reporter went to the jury and a verdict was returned in his favor. On appeal of the denial of post-trial motions, the court affirmed, finding the editorials were not capable of defamatory meaning and stated an opinion that the tone of the article was not supported by the facts asserted in the article.

Issue:

Did the Appellants present sufficient facts from which a jury could conclude that the editorials are capable of a defamatory meaning?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court held that appellant editor did not present evidence tending to show that he gave his employer sufficient additional consideration for his position; therefore, his employment was at-will. The court found that discharge did not involve an infringement of a recognized public policy. The court affirmed the grant of non-suit in favor of appellee newspaper and owner, finding that appellants, reporter and editor, failed to demonstrate that the editorials of appellee newspaper were sufficient to conclude that appellants were defamed. The court found that there was no express contract limiting the ability of appellees to discharge. The court found that the discharge did not involve an infringement of a recognized public policy.

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