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Citation. 538 U.S. 1032
Brief Fact Summary. Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. (Petitioner) sent a report to five subscribers, regarding the credit rating of Greenmoss Builders, Inc. (Respondent). The report was proven false, and Defendant brought suit for libel, based on the harm it incurred as a result of the erroneous report.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The First Amendment does not protect the speech of a non-media party, when its actions create slander and/or libel against another private party.
Issue. Whether the first amendment rights of the maker of an expression, concerning public issue, preclude it from being sued for libel, when it is not a media defendant?
* In reaching its conclusion, the Court focused on content, form, and context, in considering whether the Defendant’s speech was protected by the First Amendment. In this case, the Court found that the Defendant, a private subscription service, was not reporting on an issue of public concern when it made its report regarding the Plaintiff, and as such, it could not seek protection under the First Amendment.
Dissent. Justice Brennan dissented, noting that although this type of speech is not central to the meaning of the First Amendment, punitive damage awards should be restrained.
Discussion. While the First Amendment affords media defendants great protection, when they are reporting on issues of “public concern”, non-media defendants cannot use that same protection when their actions cause damages to private parties.