J.H. Desnick v. Am. Broad. Cos.

44 F.3d 1345 (7th Cir. 1995)



Illinois does not provide a remedy for fraudulent promises, or promissory fraud, unless they are part of a scheme to defraud. The distinction between a mere promissory fraud and a scheme of promissory fraud is elusive, and has caused considerable uncertainty. 


Defendant television network, producer, and star reporter produced a program on Medicare fraud involving the elderly and unnecessary cataract surgeries. The program featured plaintiff ophthalmic clinic and ophthalmologists. Plaintiffs were unaware that the segment would include undercover surveillance by test patients. Plaintiffs claimed that their defamation charge should not have been dismissed because the program accused plaintiff ophthalmologists of tampering with equipment to get positive diagnoses for cataracts, thereby damaging their professional reputation. Plaintiff's alleged  fraud in the defendants' gaining entry to the Chicago office and being permitted while there to interview staff and film a cataract operation, and in their obtaining of defendants' informational videotape. The alleged fraud consists of a series of false promises by the defendants--that the broadcast segment would be fair and balanced and that the defendants would not use "ambush" interviews or undercover surveillance tactics in making the segment. Since the promises were given in exchange for plaintiff's permission to do things calculated to enhance the value of the broadcast segment, they were, one might have thought, supported by consideration and thus a basis for a breach of contract suit. 



Were defendants' actions fraudulent in the sense that it caused plaintiff harm?




We cannot see how the plaintiffs could have been harmed by the false promises. We may assume that had the defendants been honest, plaintiff would have refused to admit the ABC crew to the Chicago premises or given them the videotape. But none of the negative parts of the broadcast segment were supplied by the visit to the Chicago premises or came out of the informational videotape, and plaintiff could not have prevented the ambush interview or the undercover surveillance. The socalled fraud was harmless.

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