Arnold v. Sharpe

Decision Date05 February 1979
Docket NumberNo. 103,103
Citation251 S.E.2d 452,296 N.C. 533
PartiesBetty B. ARNOLD v. Max W. SHARPE and Community Bank of Carolina.
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court

Smith, Patterson, Follin, Curtis, James & Harkavy by Norman B. Smith, Michael K. Curtis, Greensboro, and Melinda Lawrence, Raleigh, for plaintiff-appellee.

Nichols, Caffrey, Hill, Evans & Murrelle by William L. Stocks and Robert D. Albergotti, Greensboro, for defendants-appellants.

BRANCH, Justice.

A motion for a directed verdict pursuant to Rule 50(a) presents the same question as did a motion for nonsuit prior to the adoption of the New Rules of Civil Procedure. The question is whether the evidence presented is sufficient to carry the case to the jury. Kelly v. Harvester Co., 278 N.C. 153, 179 S.E.2d 396 (1971). In passing on this motion, the trial judge must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, and conflicts in the evidence together with inferences which may be drawn from it must be resolved in favor of the non-movant. The motion may be granted only if the evidence is insufficient to justify a verdict for the non-movant as a matter of law. Kelly v. Harvester Co., supra.

There are three classes of libel. They are: (1) publications obviously defamatory which are called libel Per se ; (2) publications susceptible of two interpretations one of which is defamatory and the other not; and (3) publications not obviously defamatory but when considered with innuendo, colloquium, and explanatory circumstances become libelous, which are termed libels Per quod. In an action upon the second class, it is for the jury to determine whether, under the circumstances, the publication was defamatory and was so understood by those who saw it. In publications which are libelous Per quod, the innuendo and special damages must be alleged and proved. Flake v. News Co., 212 N.C. 780, 195 S.E. 55 (1938). Here we are not concerned with the second class since the language allegedly published was clear and unambiguous. Neither do we further consider libel Per quod since plaintiff failed to prove special damages. We are, however, concerned with the question of whether there was a publication of a libel Per se and, therefore, deem it necessary to further define that term.

Libel Per se is the publication, expressed in writing or printing, or by signs and pictures which when considered alone without innuendo tends to subject one to ridicule, public hatred, contempt or disgrace, or tends to impeach one in his trade or profession. It is not essential that the words involve an imputation of crime, moral turpitude or immoral conduct. Kindley v. Privette, 241 N.C. 140, 84 S.E.2d 660 (1954); Flake v. News Co., supra; Broadway v. Cope, 208 N.C. 85, 179 S.E. 452 (1935). When a publication is libelous Per se, a prima facie presumption of malice and a conclusive presumption of legal injury arise entitling the victim to recover at least nominal damages without proof of special damages. Stewart v. Check Corp., 279 N.C. 278, 182 S.E.2d 410 (1971).

The only evidence of libel offered by plaintiff consisted of the words from a document which the witness Mary Jane Moore furtively observed while Mr. Sharpe was away from his desk. She testified:

. . . I stepped to the desk and I did not touch the document. I glanced down at it. To the best of my knowledge and recollection, it said something to the effect that she gossiped and she could not get along well with employees and that she was a troublemaker . . . .

The Court of Appeals in holding that this language constituted libel Per se relied on several North Carolina cases. The most supportive cases are Pentuff v. Park, 194 N.C. 146, 138 S.E. 616 (1927), and Kindley v. Privette, supra.

In Kindley, the pastor of Southside Baptist Church of Concord, North Carolina, said in essence that plaintiff, a minister and member of that church, had been a disorderly member thereof in the sense that he was unwilling to cooperate in maintaining peace and the right spirit in the church but caused trouble amounting to a continuous upheaval and disruption of the peace and harmony of the church. This Court held this language to be libelous Per se.

In Pentuff, a newspaper editorial was held to be libelous Per se which said of plaintiff, an ordained minister, " ' "There has not, to our knowledge appeared in public within the memory of the present generation of North Carolinians, a more ignorant man . . . or one less charitable towards men who might honestly disagree with him." ' "

In instant case, the alleged libel was a short excerpt from a document of about a page and a half. The remainder of the document might well have reflected the writer's opinion that even with her failings, plaintiff was a skilled, efficient and loyal employee. Therefore, on this record, we cannot say...

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  • Smith v. McDonald
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of North Carolina
    • April 28, 1983
    ...saw it. In publications which are libelous per quod, the innuendo and special damages must be alleged and proved. Arnold v. Sharpe, 296 N.C. 533, 251 S.E.2d 452, 455 (1979). 3 Flake v. Greensboro News Co., 212 N.C. 780, 195 S.E. 55, 60 (1938). In Flake, the Supreme Court of North Carolina i......
  • Cannon v. Peck
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • June 8, 2022
    ...libels per quod. " Renwick v. News & Observer Publ'g Co. , 310 N.C. 312, 312 S.E.2d 405, 408 (1984) (quoting Arnold v. Sharpe , 296 N.C. 533, 251 S.E.2d 452, 455 (1979) ). For libel per se claims, North Carolina law "presumes that general damages actually, proximately, and necessarily resul......
  • Agriss v. Roadway Exp., Inc.
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    • November 20, 1984 write of employee that she was troublemaker and gossip and could not get along with others), rev'd on other grounds, 296 N.C. 533, 251 S.E.2d 452 (1979). We hold that the words "opening company mail," as applied to appellant and circulated among his fellow employees, were capable of a de......
  • Araya v. Deep Dive Media, LLC, Civil Action No. 5:12–CV–163.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of North Carolina
    • August 20, 2013
    ...person must be the plaintiff” is so ingrained a universal principle of common law libel that it is beyond dispute. Arnold v. Sharpe, 296 N.C. 533, 251 S.E.2d 452, 456 (1979). This principal is more commonly and succinctly referred to as the “of and concerning” element. N.Y. Times Co., 376 U......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Chapter 16 DEFAMATION
    • United States
    • North Carolina Bar Association Elements of Civil Causes of Action in North Carolina (NCBA)
    • Invalid date
    ...Sys., 164 N.C. App. 349, 595 S.E.2d 778 (2004); Tyson v. L'eggs Prods., Inc., 84 N.C. App. 1, 351 S.E.2d 834 (1987).[4] Arnold v. Sharpe, 296 N.C. 533, 251 S.E.2d 452 (1979).[5] Id. See also Chapman v. Byrd, 124 N.C. App. 13, 475 S.E.2d 734, review denied, 345 N.C. 751, 485 S.E.2d 50 (state......
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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Litigating Employment Discrimination Cases. Volume 1-2 Volume 1 - Law
    • May 1, 2023
    ...lie unless the plaintiff can prove that the allegedly defamatory communication was about him. As the court stated in Arnold v. Sharpe , 296 N.C. 533, 251 S.E.2d 452 (N.C. 1979): In order for defamatory words to be actionable, they must refer to some ascertained or ascertainable person and t......

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