Brown v. Independent Pub. Co.

Decision Date09 January 1914
CourtMontana Supreme Court

Appeal from District Court, Lewis and Clark County; J. Miller Smith Judge.

Action by Tom M. Brown, commonly called and known under his business and stage name of Tom Sontag, against the Independent Publishing Company. Judgment for defendant, and plaintiff appeals. Affirmed.

E. A Carleton, of Helena, for appellant.

Day & Mapes, of Helena, for respondent.

STARK District Judge.

This is an action brought by the plaintiff against the defendant publisher of the Helena Daily Independent, to recover damages alleged to have been sustained by him on account of the publication in said newspaper of two alleged libels.

In the first of the two causes of action set out in the amended complaint, the plaintiff alleges that at all times therein mentioned he was, and still is, commonly known and called by the name of "Tom Sontag," under which said name he advertises and does business, and that said name is his business and stage name; that the business of plaintiff was, and is, that of a professional wrestler; that he has been giving wrestling matches throughout the state of Montana and elsewhere for the profit or money to be made for himself out of the same, and that he has devoted all of his time to such business; that in such wrestling matches and exhibitions he would wrestle and engage in wrestling contests for the rewards and profits that he might derive thereby; that in carrying on said business it was necessary to advertise, and the plaintiff did advertise, such matches and exhibitions extensively in the public press, and by means thereof he had become well and favorably known to the general public, and that his success in said business has been to a very great extent due to the good reputation which plaintiff has always borne as an honorable man, and his reputation for honest and square dealing with the public; that plaintiff has always borne a good name and reputation for honesty and square dealing among all people where he has stopped and with whom he has come in contact, and that until the time of the publication of the article complained of has never been guilty of any base or immoral conduct and has never refused to pay his hotel bills, room rent, or other bills. It is then alleged that on May 28, 1912, the defendant published in said newspaper the following article:

"Tom Sontag is Under Arrest.

Word from Sheriff of Powell County Prompts Chief Flannery to Jail Wrestler.

By request of Sheriff Joseph Neville, of Powell county, Tom Sontag (meaning the plaintiff), the welterweight champion wrestler of Missoula, who managed an athletic program in which he took part of the Family Theatre Saturday night, was arrested at noon yesterday by Policeman Fred Mundt. The charge is malicious mischief and according to deputy sheriff James Mullin who came over from Deer Lodge on No. 6 this morning to take the wrestler back, Sontag refused to pay room rent when he was there but a short time ago. On returning from Deer Lodge, Sontag, as well as those who accompanied him from Helena, said they had but a $13 house at Deer Lodge, and it is the opinion of many of the local fans that the wrestler merely ran short of funds."

The particular portion complained of and alleged to be libelous is the statement: "Sontag refused to pay room rent when he was there but a short time ago." By innuendo it is alleged that by said statement the defendant meant "that plaintiff had defrauded his landlord of his room rent." It is further alleged that by reason of said publication, which was false and malicious, plaintiff is greatly prejudiced, discredited, and injured in his good name, fame, credit, and reputation, and is held up and brought into and exposed to public infamy, disgrace, contempt, hatred, and ridicule, and, by means of the writing or publishing of said libel as aforesaid, the peace and happiness of the plaintiff has been greatly disturbed, and he has suffered anxiety and distress of mind on account thereof, and that his said business has been seriously interfered with, damaged, and injured, and that his credit has been greatly injured in consequence thereof.

In the second cause of action the allegations are similar to those of the first, except that the publication complained of was made on May 29, 1912, and is an article apparently published at the instance of the plaintiff for the purpose of enabling him to deny the charge contained in the first publication, which he alleged to be untrue. To this amended complaint the defendant filed a general demurrer, which was sustained by the court. The plaintiff elected to stand upon his amended complaint, and judgment was thereupon rendered in favor of the defendant for its costs, from which judgment this appeal is prosecuted. The only question presented for consideration is whether the amended complaint states a...

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