Public figures and public officials may not recover for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress by reason of publications without showing in addition that the publication contains a false statement of fact which was made with "actual malice," i.e., with knowledge that the statement was false or with reckless disregard as to whether or not it was true.
A magazine of nationwide circulation, parodying a series of liquor advertisements in which celebrities speak about their "first time," published an advertisement parody--labeled on the bottom, in small print, as an "ad parody not to be taken seriously"--in which a nationally known minister and commentator on politics and public affairs was presented as recalling, in a supposed interview, that his "first time" was during a drunken incestuous rendezvous with his mother in an outhouse. The minister, claiming that the publication of the ad parody entitled him to damages for libel, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, brought a diversity action against the magazine and its publisher in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The jury awarded monetary damages on the intentional infliction of emotional distress charge, and the court of appeals affirmed the award. The magazine sought certiorari claiming the damages were inconsistent with the First Amendment.
Was the award for monetary damages to a public figure for intentional infliction of emotional distress proper actual malice or reckless disregard of the truth?
On review, the Court found that respondent, as a public figure, was required to show that the statements published in the advertisement parody were made with actual malice or reckless disregard of the truth. The Court found that the award of damages was inconsistent with the Court's longstanding refusal to allow damages just because a particular form of speech may have had an adverse emotional impact on the audience. The judgment of the Court of Appeals was accordingly reversed.