Brief Fact Summary. The defendant printed an unfavorable story about Boss systems, and Boss brought a libelous action against the defendant.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. When reviewing factual findings of a district court, the Court of Appeals must use the clearly erroneous review.
Issue. Whether a Court of Appeals can use a de novo review of the factual findings of a District Court when the case concerns First Amendment issues.
Held. No. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) states that findings of fact shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous and due regard shall be given to the trial courts determination of witness creditability. The Court of appeals does acknowledge that they can not question the Trial Judges determination of creditability of the witness in this case; however they incorrectly conclude that because this case deals with findings of actual malice in statements made, it deserved a de-novo review of the record. Respondent states that this Court has held that in First Amendment cases the Court of Appeals judges should make an independent examination of the entire record to insure the judgment does not constitute a forbidden intrusion of First Amendment rights. In order to balance these principles this Court distinguishes the Court of Appeals ability to review ultimate facts, versus findings of law. The more independent review is to insure the law was followed, not that a fact was incorrectly interrupted.
A court will review to be sure that the speech in question actually falls within the unprotected category and to confine the perimeters of any unprotected category within acceptably narrow limits in an effort to ensure that protected expression will not be inhibited.View Full Point of Law
Justice White believes the court should allow the de novo standard of review for first amendment cases. A court of appeals with only the record before them can not make a better determination as to finding of malice and mens rea than the judge that was present when the witness was actually examined.
Discussion. One reason the court states it is important to have an independent review of the record in Freedom of Speech cases is to make sure the speech was correctly characterized as unprotected speech allowing punishment. Libelous speech is not protected speech.