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Grant v. Reader’s Digest Ass’n

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Brief Fact Summary. An article was published by the Defendant, Reader’s Digest Ass’n (Defendant), claiming that the Plaintiff, Grant (Plaintiff), represented the Communist party. Plaintiff brought a libel suit. The trial court dismissed the suit for insufficiency in law on the face of the claim.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. It is not necessary that the majority of people would find an article to be damaging to Plaintiff’s reputation so long as some people would reasonably find in damaging.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Any difference is one of degree only: those who would take it ill of a lawyer that he was a member of the Party, might no doubt take it less so if he were only what is called a fellow-traveler; but, since the basis for the reproach ordinarily lies in some supposed threat to our institutions, those who fear that threat are not likely to believe that it is limited to party members.

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Facts. The Defendant published an article alleging that Plaintiff represented the Communist Party in Massachusetts. Plaintiff brought a libel suit claiming that the article was untrue and malicious. The trial court dismissed the complaint for insufficiency in law upon its face.

Issue. Was the trial court correct to determine as a matter of law that it is not libelous in New York to write that a lawyer has acted as an agent of the communist party and is a believer of its aims?

Held. No. Judgment reversed and remanded.
* The interest at stake is that of the person assailed. This person may value his reputation amongst those who do not embrace the prevailing moral standards. It is not enough to say that “right-thinking” people would not believe this article to be damaging to plaintiff’s reputation. So long as some people feel so, it is sufficient to consider the cause of action, even if these people may be “wrong-thinking.”

Discussion. Even if the thinking is that of a small part of the community, there must be an element of discredit or disgrace in order for the cause to be actionable.

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