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Auvil v. CBS 60 Minutes


    Citation. Auvil v. CBS “60 Minutes”, 1996 U.S. LEXIS 2831, 517 U.S. 1167, 116 S. Ct. 1567, 134 L. Ed. 2d 666, 64 U.S.L.W. 3726 (U.S. Apr. 29, 1996)

    Brief Fact Summary. In a segment, CBS 60 Minutes (Defendant) told the public that a chemical sprayed on Plaintiff’s apples was dangerous. Plaintiffs sued Defendant for product disparagement.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. For a product disparagement claim to be actionable, Plaintiff must prove, inter alia, the falsity of the disparaging statements.

    Facts. Defendant aired a segment on daminozide, a chemical growth regulator sprayed on apples. The broadcast was largely based on a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report. Scientific research had indicated that daminozide breaks down into a carcinogen. Following Defendant’s broadcast, consumer demand for apples decreased dramatically. The apple growers and others dependent upon apple production lost millions of dollars and many growers lost their homes and livelihoods. In 1990, eleven growers (Plaintiffs) sued Defendant, the NRDC and a public relations firm used by NRDC for product disparagement. The district court held that Plaintiffs failed to prove the falsity of the message conveyed by Defendant’s broadcast. Plaintiffs appealed.

    Issue. In order to prove product disparagement, must Plaintiffs show that the statements were false?

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    * For a product disparagement claim to be actionable, Plaintiff must prove, inter alia, the falsity of the disparaging statements. In this case, Plaintiffs offered evidence showing that no studies have been conducted to test the relationship between ingestion of daminozide and incidence of cancer in humans. Such evidence, however, is insufficient to show a genuine issue for trial regarding the broadcast’s assertions that daminozide is a potential carcinogen.
    * Plaintiffs also offered evidence that no scientific study has been conducted on cancer risks to children from the use of pesticides. However, Defendant’s statement was that the daminozide found on apples is more harmful to children because they ingest more apple products per unit of body weight than do adults. Thus, Plaintiff’s evidence does not create a genuine issue as to the falsity of Defendant’s assertion that daminozide is more harmful to children.
    * Despite their inability to prove that statements made during the broadcast were false, Plaintiff assert that summary judgment is improper because a jury could find that the broadcast contained a false message. Plaintiff’s assertion is unprecedented. The Restatement states that a product disparagement plaintiff has the burden of proving the falsity of the statement, not the message.

    Discussion. In this case, summary judgment was properly granted to Defendants because Plaintiffs failed to introduce any evidence that the statements themselves were false.



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