477 U.S. 242 (1986), 84-1602, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 84-1602
Citation:477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202, 54 U.S.L.W. 4755
Party Name:Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.
Case Date:June 25, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 242

477 U.S. 242 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202, 54 U.S.L.W. 4755

Anderson

v.

Liberty Lobby, Inc.

No. 84-1602

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 1986

Argued December 3, 1985

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

Syllabus

In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, it was held that, in a libel suit brought by a public official (extended by later cases to public figures), the First Amendment requires [106 S.Ct. 2507] the plaintiff to show that, in publishing the alleged defamatory statement, the defendant acted with actual malice. It was further held that such actual malice must be shown with "convincing clarity." Respondents, a nonprofit corporation described as a "citizens' lobby" and its founder, filed a libel action in Federal District Court against petitioners, alleging that certain statements in a magazine published by petitioners were false and derogatory. Following discovery, petitioners moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, asserting that, because respondents were public figures, they were required to prove their case under the New York Times standards, and that summary judgment was proper because actual malice was absent as a matter of law in view of an affidavit by the author of the articles in question that they had been thoroughly researched and that the facts were obtained from numerous sources. Opposing the motion, respondents claimed that an issue of actual malice was presented because the author had relied on patently unreliable sources in preparing the articles. After holding that New York Times applied because respondents were limited-purpose public figures, the District Court entered summary judgment for petitioners on the ground that the author's investigation and research and his reliance on numerous sources precluded a finding of actual malice. Reversing as to certain of the allegedly defamatory statements, the Court of Appeals held that the requirement that actual malice be proved by clear and convincing evidence need not be considered at the summary judgment stage, and that, with respect to those statements, summary judgment had been improperly granted, because a jury could reasonably have concluded that the allegations were defamatory, false, and made with actual malice.

Held: The Court of Appeals did not apply the correct standard in reviewing the District Court's grant of summary judgment. Pp. 247-257.

(a) Summary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is "genuine," that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. At the summary judgment stage, the trial judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and

Page 243

determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. There is no such issue unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. In essence, the inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury, or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Pp. 247-252.

(b) A trial court ruling on a motion for summary judgment in a case such as this must be guided by the New York Times "clear and convincing" evidentiary standard in determining whether a genuine issue of actual malice exists, that is, whether the evidence is such that a reasonable jury might find that actual malice had been shown with convincing clarity. Pp. 252-256.

(c) A plaintiff may not defeat a defendant's properly supported motion for summary judgment in a libel case such as this one without offering any concrete evidence from which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in his favor, and by merely asserting that the jury might disbelieve the defendant's denial of actual malice. The movant has the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of fact, but the plaintiff is not thereby relieved of his own burden of producing in turn evidence that would support a jury verdict. Pp. 256-257.

241 U.S.App.D.C. 246, 746 F.2d 1563, vacated and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 257. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 268.

Page 244

WHITE, J., lead opinion

[106 S.Ct. 2508] JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 279-280 (1964), we held that, in a libel suit brought by a public official, the First Amendment requires the plaintiff to show that, in publishing the defamatory statement, the defendant acted with actual malice -- "with knowledge that it was false, or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." We held further that such actual malice must be shown with "convincing clarity." Id. at 285-286. See also Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 342 (1974). These New York Times requirements we have since extended to libel suits brought by public figures as well. See, e.g., Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 (1967).

This case presents the question whether the clear-and-convincing-evidence requirement must be considered by a court ruling on a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in a case to which New York Times applies. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that that requirement need not be considered at the summary judgment stage. 241 U.S.App.D.C. 246, 746 F.2d 1563 (1984). We granted certiorari, 471 U.S. 1134 (1985), because that holding was in conflict with decisions of several other Courts of Appeals, which had held that the New York Times requirement of clear and convincing evidence must be considered on a motion for summary judgment.1 We now reverse.

I

Respondent Liberty Lobby, Inc., is a not-for-profit corporation and self-described "citizens' lobby." Respondent Willis Carto is its founder and treasurer. In October, 1981,

Page 245

The Investigator magazine published two articles: "The Private World of Willis Carto" and "Yockey: Profile of an American Hitler." These articles were introduced by a third, shorter article entitled "America's Neo-Nazi Underground: Did Mein Kampf Spawn Yockey's Imperium, a Book Revived by Carto's Liberty Lobby?" These articles portrayed respondents as neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, racist, and Fascist.

Respondents filed this diversity libel action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that some 28 statements and 2 illustrations in the 3 articles were false and derogatory. Named as defendants in the action were petitioner Jack Anderson, the publisher of The Investigator, petitioner Bill Adkins, president and chief executive officer of the Investigator Publishing Co., and petitioner Investigator Publishing Co. itself.

Following discovery, petitioners moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. In their motion, petitioners asserted that, because respondents are public figures, they were required to prove their case under the standards set forth in New York Times. Petitioners also asserted that summary judgment was proper because actual malice was absent as a matter of law. In support of this latter assertion, petitioners submitted the affidavit of Charles Bermant, an employee of petitioners and the author of the two longer articles.2 In this affidavit, Bermant stated that he had spent a substantial amount of time researching [106 S.Ct. 2509] and writing the articles, and that his facts were obtained from a wide variety of sources. He also stated that he had at all times believed, and still believed, that the facts contained in the articles were truthful and accurate. Attached to this affidavit was an appendix in which Bermant detailed the sources for each of the statements alleged by respondents to be libelous.

Page 246

Respondents opposed the motion for summary judgment, asserting that there were numerous inaccuracies in the articles and claiming that an issue of actual malice was presented by virtue of the fact that, in preparing the articles, Bermant had relied on several sources that respondents asserted were patently unreliable. Generally, respondents charged that petitioners had failed adequately to verify their information before publishing. Respondents also presented evidence that William McGaw, an editor of The Investigator, had told petitioner Adkins before publication that the articles were "terrible" and "ridiculous."

In ruling on the motion for summary judgment, the District Court first held that respondents were limited-purpose public figures, and that New York Times therefore applied.3 The District Court then held that Bermant's thorough investigation and research and his reliance on numerous sources precluded a finding of actual malice. Thus, the District Court granted the motion and entered judgment in favor of petitioners.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed as to 21 and reversed as to 9 of the allegedly defamatory statements. Although it noted that respondents did not challenge the District Court's ruling that they were limited-purpose public

Page 247

figures, and that they were thus required to prove their case under New York Times, the Court of Appeals nevertheless held that, for the purposes of summary judgment, the requirement that actual malice be proved by clear and convincing evidence, rather than by a preponderance of the evidence, was irrelevant: to defeat summary judgment, respondents did not have to show that a jury could find actual malice with "convincing clarity." The court based this conclusion on a perception that to impose the greater evidentiary burden at summary judgment

would change the threshold summary judgment...

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