Brief Fact Summary.
Times published an article on suspected criminal activities between then-Congressman Flood and Medico based on confidential FBI documents that Time was allegedly unauthorized to receive. Medico sued for defamation.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Confidential FBI reports concern official proceedings and therefore fall under the fair report privilege, which protects the press from liability for defamatory statements so long as the account presents a fair and accurate summary of the proceedings.
Considerable controversy surrounds republication of defamations contained in pleadings on which no official action has been taken.View Full Point of Law
Times published an article on suspected criminal activities between then-Congressman Flood and Medico. Medico sued for defamation. Time moved for summary judgment based on the substantial truth of its article, which was based on confidential FBI documents that Time was allegedly unauthorized to receive.
Does a news magazine enjoy a privilege, under the common law of Pennsylvania, to publish a summary of FBI documents identifying the plaintiff as a member of an organized crime “family”?
Yes, a news magazine enjoys a privilege, under the common law of Pennsylvania, to publish a summary of FBI documents identifying the plaintiff as a member of an organized crime “family.”
Loss of enjoyment of life is an objective damage item distinct from conscious pain and suffering.
Tort damages compensate the wronged party for the actual loss sustained. Loss of enjoyment of life is at least as serious an impairment as loss of limb, which has always been treated as a compensable item under traditional tort principles.
Awareness should not be required, as the impairment exists independent of the victim’s ability to apprehend it, and it is totally acceptable for third parties to receive the compensation on behalf of the plaintiff who can no longer experience any enjoyment of life. It is grossly unfair to deny recovery to plaintiffs rendered completely without cognitive capacity but allow recovery to plaintiffs with a mere spark of awareness.
Damages for pain and suffering include a victim’s emotional responses, like frustration and anguish. In contrast, damages for loss of enjoyment of life covers the victim’s limitation of life’s activities and inability to participate in activities. Arguing that separation of the two damage items would be confusing and difficult to do is insulting to the jury.
At common law, a republisher of a defamatory statement with the same liability as the original publisher. In other words, if News Company A was held liable for publishing a defamatory statement about an individual, News Company B would also be held liable if it re-published the same defamatory statement. News Company B’s only recourse was the truth defense, meaning that News Company B would escape liability if it could prove the truth of the allegedly defamatory statement.
To mitigate the chilling effect of this problem, the fair report privilege was developed for the press to publish accounts of official proceedings or reports even if the publications contained defamatory statements so long as the account presented a fair and accurate summary of the proceedings. Instead of requiring the press to prove the truth of the allegedly defamatory statement, the fair report privilege puts the burden on the plaintiff to show that the publisher acted for the sole purpose of harming the person defamed.
The district court found that the FBI reports were not official because they were not generally open to the public. While this is a case of first impression, the closest case protected a news report that summarized a defamatory civil complaint that formed the basis for a TRO. If pleadings in civil cases are considered official, then so should FBI reports because they are made by government agents acting in their official capacities.
The Time article focused on organized crime, and the public has a legitimate interest in learning about organized criminal activities. Where Time accurately portrayed the FBI reports, there should be no claim of defamation.