Bryson v. News America Publications, Inc.

Decision Date24 October 1996
Docket NumberNo. 79712,79712
Citation672 N.E.2d 1207,220 Ill.Dec. 195,174 Ill.2d 77
Parties, 220 Ill.Dec. 195, 25 Media L. Rep. 1321 Kimberly BRYSON, Appellant, v. NEWS AMERICA PUBLICATIONS, INC., et al., Appellees.
CourtIllinois Supreme Court

Edwina Warner of Troutt, Alexander, Popit & Warner, Benton, for appellee News America Publications, Inc.

Robert Michael Drone, of Conger & Elliott, Carmi, for appellee Lucy Logsdon.

Chief Justice BILANDIC delivered the opinion of the court:

The plaintiff, Kimberly Bryson, brought an action against the defendants, News America Publications, Inc., and Lucy Logsdon. The plaintiff's two-count complaint alleged that she was defamed by the publication of an article entitled Bryson, which was written by defendant Logsdon and published by defendant News America in the March 1991 edition of Seventeen magazine.

The complaint was originally filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois on August 6, 1991, but that action was dismissed for lack of diversity jurisdiction. The plaintiff refiled her action in the circuit court of St. Clair County in June 1992. On the defendants' motion, the cause was transferred under the doctrine of forum non conveniens to Gallatin County, where both the plaintiff and the defendant Logsdon were domiciled. On September 17, 1993, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which sought to add two counts seeking damages for false light/invasion of privacy against the defendants.

The plaintiff subsequently filed a second-amended complaint, which was dismissed by the trial court and is the subject of this appeal. Each count of the second-amended complaint alleged that an article appeared in the March 1991 edition of Seventeen magazine that referred to the plaintiff as a "slut" and implied that she was an unchaste individual. The complaint alleged that this language and implication were false. Counts I through IV of the second-amended complaint sought damages for defamation. Counts V and VI sought damages for invasion of the plaintiff's privacy by portraying the plaintiff in a false light.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss counts I through IV of the second-amended complaint, pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1992)), for failure to state a cause of action for defamation. The defendants also moved to dismiss counts V and VI of the complaint under section 2-619 of the Code, on the ground that these counts, which alleged invasion of privacy, were barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court granted the defendants' motions and dismissed the second-amended complaint. The appellate court affirmed. No. 5-94-0328 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). We granted the plaintiff's petition for leave to appeal. 155 Ill.2d R. 315.

The plaintiff does not appeal from that portion of the appellate court decision which affirmed the transfer of the cause to Gallatin County on forum non conveniens grounds. She appeals only that part of the decision that affirmed the dismissal of her complaint in its entirety.

FACTS

A short story entitled Bryson, written by defendant Logsdon, was published by the defendant News America in the March 1991 issue of Seventeen magazine as part of a group of stories entitled New Voices in Fiction. The story, written in the style of a first-person narrative, recounts a conflict between the unidentified speaker and her high school classmate, Bryson. According to the speaker, Bryson, "[a] platinum-blond, blue-eye-shadowed, faded-blue-jeaned, black polyester-topped shriek" who lives "on the other side of town" was "after" her. In the course of describing events that led up to an after-school fight between Bryson and the speaker, the speaker discusses an incident that occurred two months earlier:

"About two months ago Bryson was at a bonfire with these two guys that nobody knew. One had a tattoo, and they were all drinking. Lots. Who knows what guys like that made Bryson do. The next day she came into school with a black eye. Beth Harper looked at her too long, and Bryson slammed her up against a glass door and cracked her one clean in the mouth.

Later that afternoon, as Bryson shouted down the hallways like always, I remembered what a slut she was and forgot about the sorriness I'd been holding onto for her."

The story continues as the speaker describes the fight that ensues between the speaker and Bryson. A footnote at the end of the story identifies the author, Lucy Logsdon, as a "native of southern Illinois."

The plaintiff's second-amended complaint, which was dismissed by the trial court, contained six counts. Each count alleges that the March 1991 edition of Seventeen magazine, including the article entitled Bryson, was published to the general public. The counts further allege that defamatory language appeared in that magazine "in that the article referred to the [p]laintiff as a 'slut' and implied that the [p]laintiff was an 'unchaste' individual." Each count further alleges that this language and implication were false and that each defendant permitted a false statement to appear through "malice or actual negligence."

Counts I and II, which attempt to state a cause of action for defamation per se against each defendant, allege damage to the plaintiff's reputation and seek appropriate compensatory relief, as well as punitive damages. Counts III and IV also attempt to state a cause of action for defamation, but allege that the damage to the plaintiff's reputation caused her to suffer pecuniary loss in the form of lost business opportunities and/or lost employment. Counts V and VI, which attempt to state a cause of action for invasion of privacy/false light against each defendant, assert that the article placed the plaintiff in a false light in the community which would be objectionable to a reasonable person. These counts further alleged that the false light in which the plaintiff was placed caused her to suffer pecuniary losses stemming from lost business opportunities and/or employment and sought compensatory, as well as punitive, damages.

ANALYSIS

We first consider whether the trial court properly dismissed counts I through IV of the plaintiff's complaint, which attempt to state a cause of action for defamation against the defendants. As previously noted, the defendants moved to dismiss these counts pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1994)). A section 2-615 motion attacks the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Such a motion does not raise affirmative factual defenses but alleges only defects on the face of the complaint. Urbaitis v. Commonwealth Edison, 143 Ill.2d 458, 475, 159 Ill.Dec. 50, 575 N.E.2d 548 (1991). In ruling on a section 2-615 motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint and all reasonable inferences which can be drawn therefrom. McGrath v. Fahey, 126 Ill.2d 78, 90, 127 Ill.Dec. 724, 533 N.E.2d 806 (1988); Schaffer v. Zekman, 196 Ill.App.3d 727, 731, 143 Ill.Dec. 916, 554 N.E.2d 988 (1990). In making this determination, the court is to interpret the allegations of the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. McGrath v. Fahey, 126 Ill.2d 78, 90, 127 Ill.Dec. 724, 533 N.E.2d 806 (1988). The question presented by a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a cause of action is whether sufficient facts are contained in the pleadings which, if established, could entitle the plaintiff to relief. Urbaitis v. Commonwealth Edison, 143 Ill.2d 458, 475, 159 Ill.Dec. 50, 575 N.E.2d 548 (1991). A cause of action should not be dismissed on the pleadings unless it clearly appears that no set of facts can be proved under the pleadings which will entitle the plaintiff to recover. Reuben H. Donnelley Corp. v. Brauer, 275 Ill.App.3d 300, 211 Ill.Dec. 779, 655 N.E.2d 1162 (1995).

I. Defamation

With these general principles in mind, we consider the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint. A statement is considered defamatory if it tends to cause such harm to the reputation of another that it lowers that person in the eyes of the community or deters third persons from associating with her. Kolegas v. Heftel Broadcasting Corp., 154 Ill.2d 1, 10, 180 Ill.Dec. 307, 607 N.E.2d 201 (1992); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 559 (1977). A statement or publication may be defamatory on its face. However, even a statement that is not defamatory on its face may support a cause of action for defamation if the plaintiff has pled extrinsic facts that demonstrate that the statement has a defamatory meaning. See, e.g., Morrison v. Ritchie & Co., 4 Fraser, Sess. Cas., 645, 39 Scot.L.Rep. 432 (1902) (report that plaintiff gave birth to twins considered defamatory, where plaintiff proved, as extrinsic fact, that some readers knew that the plaintiff had been married only one month).

Here, counts I and II of the plaintiff's complaint attempt to state a cause of action for defamation per se. Only certain limited categories of defamatory statements are deemed actionable per se. If a defamatory statement is actionable per se, the plaintiff need not plead or prove actual damage to her reputation to recover. Owen v. Carr, 113 Ill.2d 273, 277, 100 Ill.Dec. 783, 497 N.E.2d 1145 (1986). Rather, statements that fall within these actionable per se categories are thought to be so obviously and materially harmful to the plaintiff that injury to her reputation may be presumed. Owen, 113 Ill.2d 273, 100 Ill.Dec. 783, 497 N.E.2d 1145. If a defamatory statement does not fall within one of the limited categories of statements that are actionable per se, the plaintiff must plead and prove that she sustained actual damage of a pecuniary nature ("special damages") to recover. See Kolegas, 154 Ill.2d 1, 180 Ill.Dec. 307, 607...

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    • August 8, 2014
    ...could add any new claims that would relate back to the original pleading under 735 ILCS 5/2-616(b). [ Bryson v. New America Publications, 174 Ill2d 77, 672 NE2d 1207, 220 Ill Dec 195 (1996).] • On 2/9/90, plaintiff filed a complaint in state court. On 2/13/91, the court granted plaintiff’s ......
  • Statutes of Limitations
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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Illinois Pretrial Practice. Volume 1 - 2016 Contents
    • August 10, 2016
    ...could add any new claims that would relate back to the original pleading under 735 ILCS 5/2-616(b). [ Bryson v. New America Publications, 174 Ill2d 77, 672 NE2d 1207, 220 Ill Dec 195 (1996).] • On 2/9/90, plaintiff filed a complaint in state court. On 2/13/91, the court granted plaintiff’s ......
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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Illinois Pretrial Practice - Volume 1
    • May 1, 2020
    ...could add any new claims that would relate back to the original pleading under 735 ILCS 5/2-616(b). [ Bryson v. New America Publications, 174 Ill2d 77, 672 NE2d 1207, 220 Ill Dec 195 (1996).] • On 2/9/90, plaintiff filed a complaint in state court. On 2/13/91, the court granted plaintiff’s ......
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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Illinois Pretrial Practice. Volume 1 - 2018 Contents
    • August 9, 2018
    ...could add any new claims that would relate back to the original pleading under 735 ILCS 5/2-616(b). [ Bryson v. New America Publications, 174 Ill2d 77, 672 NE2d 1207, 220 Ill Dec 195 (1996).] • On 2/9/90, plaintiff filed a complaint in state court. On 2/13/91, the court granted plaintiff’s ......
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