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Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. v. Greenmoss Builders, Inc.

Citation. 472 U.S. 749, 105 S.Ct. 2939, 86 L.Ed.2d 593 (1985).
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Citation. 472 U.S. 749, 105 S.Ct. 2939, 86 L.Ed.2d 593 (1985).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiffs credit was incorrectly reported by Defendant. Plaintiff sued for defamation, alleging the false report injured his reputation.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The standard set forth in Gertz protecting media does not apply to nonmedia publications such as credit reports. Nonmedia publications utilize common law standard.


Defendant sent Plaintiff’s credit report to five subscribers, indicating that the Plaintiff had filed for voluntary bankruptcy. The credit report was both false and grossly misrepresented Plaintiff’s assets and liabilities. Plaintiff brought a defamation action, arguing the false report damaged his reputation.


Whether the Gertz standard applies to matters not of public concern.


No. The Gertz standard does apply to matters not of public concern. As such, presumed and punitive damages in defamation cases absent a showing of actual malice do not violate the First Amendment when the defamatory statement do not involve matters of public concern.


Justice Brennan

The credit report at issue here surely involves a subject matter of sufficient public concern requiring the protections provided under Gertz. The special harms caused by inaccurate credit reports, the lack of public sophistication, and fact that such reports contain statements readily susceptible of verification all may justify appropriate regulation designed to prevent social losses caused by false credit reports. I would reverse and remand as well as require a showing of actual malice.


Justice Burger

Gertz was ill-conceived and agree should be overruled.

Justice White

Gertz was erroneously decided. Common law rules should have been retained where plaintiff is not a public official or public figure.


We have long recognized that not all speech is of equal First Amendment importance. Here, the First Amendment interest is less important than the one weighed in Gertz. Whether speech is a matter of public concern must be determined by the expression’s content, form, and context. Applied here, these factors indicate that a credit report concerns no public issue. It was speech solely in the individual interest of the speaker and its specific business audience. Judgement affirmed.

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