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Defamation

Applying these standards, we consider that the proof presented to show actual malice lacks the convincing clarity which the constitutional standard demands, and hence that it would not constitutionally sustain the judgment for respondent under the proper rule of law. The case of the individual petitioners requires little discussion. Even assuming that they could constitutionally be found to have authorized the use of their names on the advertisement, there was no evidence whatever that they were aware of any erroneous statements or were in any way reckless in that regard. The judgment against them is thus without constitutional support.

As to the Times, we similarly conclude that the facts do not support a finding of actual malice. The statement by the Times’ Secretary that, apart from the padlocking allegation, he thought the advertisement was ‘substantially correct,’ affords no constitutional warrant for the Alabama Supreme Court’s conclusion that it was a ‘cavalier ignoring of the falsity of the advertisement (from which), the jury could not have but been impressed with the bad faith of The Times, and its maliciousness inferable therefrom.’ The statement does not indicate malice at the time of the publication; even if the advertisement was not ‘substantially correct’-although respondent’s own proofs tend to show that it was-that opinion was at least a reasonable one, and there was no evidence to impeach the witness’ good faith in holding it. The Times’ failure to retract upon respondent’s demand, although it later retracted upon the demand of Governor Patterson, is likewise not adequate evidence of malice for constitutional purposes. Whether or not a failure to retract may ever constitute such evidence, there are two reasons why it does not here. First, the letter written by the Times reflected a reasonable doubt on its part as to whether the advertisement could reasonably be taken to refer to respondent at all. Second, it was not a final refusal, since it asked for an explanation on this point-a request that respondent chose to ignore. Nor does the retraction upon the demand of the Governor supply the necessary proof. It may be doubted that a failure to retract which is not itself evidence of malice can retroactively become such by virtue of a retraction subsequently made to another party. But in any event that did not happen here, since the explanation given by the Times’ Secretary for the distinction drawn between respondent and the Governor was a reasonable one, the good faith of which was not impeached.

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