Capps v. Watts, No. 20734

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtRHODES; LEWIS
Citation271 S.C. 276,246 S.E.2d 606
PartiesDonald C. CAPPS, Respondent, v. Henry F. WATTS, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 20734
Decision Date03 August 1978

Page 606

246 S.E.2d 606
271 S.C. 276
Donald C. CAPPS, Respondent,
v.
Henry F. WATTS, Appellant.
No. 20734.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Aug. 3, 1978.

Page 608

[271 S.C. 279] William H. Davidson, and Donald V. Richardson, III, and Charles E. Carpenter, Jr., of Richardson, Plowden, Grier & Howser, Columbia, for appellant.

Robert F. Fuller, of Rogers, McDonald, McKenzie, Fuller & Rubin, Columbia, for respondent.

RHODES, Justice:

This appeal involving an action for libel is from an order of the lower court overruling the defendant's demurrer to the complaint. The defendant contends that his reference to the plaintiff as a "paranoid sonofabitch" does not, on its face, give rise to a cause of action, the words being simply words of abuse and scurrility. He further asserts that, even if these words can be construed as libelous by reason of extrinsic circumstances, they are not actionable without the pleading of special damage and that the plaintiff has failed to plead such special damage as is legally sustainable. Finding that this language is, by reason of the extrinsic circumstances, reasonably susceptible of libelous construction, and is actionable without pleading special damage, we sustain the overruling of the demurrer.

[271 S.C. 280] The allegations set out in the complaint which are material to our disposition of this appeal are as follows: The plaintiff, who is legally blind, has long been involved in activities directed toward the improvement of the quality of life for blind individuals. He serves currently as First Vice-President of both the National and State Chapters of the National Federation of the Blind, an eleemosynary corporation organized and existing for the purpose of promulgating programs and assisting in the administration of existing programs for the welfare of blind citizens.

As a result of these activities, the plaintiff has been associated with the defendant in such work, the defendant being Executive Director of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind, a State agency. The plaintiff and defendant on occasion have taken opposing public and private positions with regard to the implementation and administration of programs for the blind. In June 1977, the defendant, while being interviewed by a newspaper reporter who was preparing a series of newspaper articles on the work of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind, acknowledged that he had previously referred to the plaintiff as a "paranoid sonofabitch", stating: "I don't believe I ever called Don Capps (the plaintiff)

Page 609

a paranoid bastard. I called him a paranoid sonofabitch". He further told the reporter she could quote him and the statement was subsequently included in an article which appeared in The State newspaper.

The complaint alleges that the defendant's remarks are libelous and that, in addition to general damages to plaintiff's reputation, he has incurred special damage in that his wife has suffered emotional distress and was required to consult a physician and take prescription medications, the expense of which is the responsibility of the plaintiff.

The appellant contends the plaintiff has failed to state a cause of action because (1) the words "paranoid sonofabitch" are not libelous on their face, being mere words of abuse and scurrility, and (2) even if the words are capable [271 S.C. 281] of a defamatory meaning when viewed in light of the extrinsic circumstances, there is no allegation of legally cognizable special damage, an allegation of legally cognizable special damage, he alleges, being necessary to maintain an action for libel per quod.

Given these exceptions, our inquiry is twofold and we must determine: (1) Whether the words complained of are libelous either on their face or by reason of extrinsic facts; and (2), if the words are libelous on their face or by reason of extrinsic facts, whether they are actionable. If a publication is not both libelous and actionable, a cause of action for libel cannot lie. McGregor v. State Co., 114 S.C. 48, 103 S.E. 84 (1920) (elements of actionable libel).

To be libelous the words, on their face or by reason of extrinsic facts, must tend to impeach the reputation of the plaintiff, McGregor v. State Co., supra, or, as often stated, they must tend to injure reputation, See Prosser, Law of Torts, p. 739 (4th Ed. 1971); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 559 (1977). To be actionable, the libel, as a result of its tendency to impeach or injure the plaintiff's reputation, must thereby injure him. McGregor v. State Co., supra. The injury, if any, which results from the libel is in the form of "general damages" or "special damage". "General damages" are those damages which the law presumes, without proof, to have resulted from the publication of the libel. "Special damage" is actual damage and must be pled and proved. Damages in at least one of these forms must be present to render a libel actionable. If the libelous publication is actionable without the pleading and proof of special damage, it is said to be "actionable per se". If special damage must be pled to maintain an action, the defamation is "actionable per quod".

Turning to the present case we must first determine whether the defendant's characterization of the plaintiff is capable of a libelous meaning. We agree with [271 S.C. 282] the defendant that the words "paranoid sonofabitch" are...

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23 practice notes
  • Eastern Air Lines, Inc. v. Gellert, No. 80-2376
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • October 4, 1983
    ...Francis, 121 N.Y. 199, 23 N.E. 1127 (1890) (statement that plaintiff, a bank clerk, suffered mental derangement). See also Capp v. Watts, 271 S.C. 276, 246 S.E.2d 606 We conclude, therefore, that there was evidence from which a jury properly could have found that Eastern, through its agent ......
  • Holtzscheiter v. Thomson Newspapers, Inc., No. 24842.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • September 22, 1998
    ...An example of defamation per quod is "A had a baby" where the extrinsic fact is that A is unmarried. See Capps v. Watts, 271 S.C. 276, 246 S.E.2d 606 Whether the majority in Holtzscheiter I held the phrase "There was simply no family support to encourage [Shannon] to continue......
  • Parrish v. Allison, No. 4322.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 19, 2007
    ...and proof, and is always a question of law for the court." Holtzscheiter, 332 S.C. at 510, 506 S.E.2d at 502; Capps v. Watts, 271 S.C. 276, 246 S.E.2d 606 (1978), If the defamation is actionable per se, the law presumes the defendant acted with common law malice and that the plaintiff ......
  • Goodwin v. Kennedy, No. 3379.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 6, 2001
    ...does not appear that anyone who heard the words alleged spoken understood them in a defamatory sense." Id. at 972. In Capps v. Watts, 271 S.C. 276, 246 S.E.2d 606 (1978), the South Carolina Supreme Court stated that "the words `paranoid sonofabitch' are words of abuse and scurrili......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
23 cases
  • Eastern Air Lines, Inc. v. Gellert, No. 80-2376
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • October 4, 1983
    ...Francis, 121 N.Y. 199, 23 N.E. 1127 (1890) (statement that plaintiff, a bank clerk, suffered mental derangement). See also Capp v. Watts, 271 S.C. 276, 246 S.E.2d 606 We conclude, therefore, that there was evidence from which a jury properly could have found that Eastern, through its agent ......
  • Holtzscheiter v. Thomson Newspapers, Inc., No. 24842.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • September 22, 1998
    ...An example of defamation per quod is "A had a baby" where the extrinsic fact is that A is unmarried. See Capps v. Watts, 271 S.C. 276, 246 S.E.2d 606 Whether the majority in Holtzscheiter I held the phrase "There was simply no family support to encourage [Shannon] to continue......
  • Parrish v. Allison, No. 4322.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 19, 2007
    ...and proof, and is always a question of law for the court." Holtzscheiter, 332 S.C. at 510, 506 S.E.2d at 502; Capps v. Watts, 271 S.C. 276, 246 S.E.2d 606 (1978), If the defamation is actionable per se, the law presumes the defendant acted with common law malice and that the plaintiff ......
  • Goodwin v. Kennedy, No. 3379.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 6, 2001
    ...does not appear that anyone who heard the words alleged spoken understood them in a defamatory sense." Id. at 972. In Capps v. Watts, 271 S.C. 276, 246 S.E.2d 606 (1978), the South Carolina Supreme Court stated that "the words `paranoid sonofabitch' are words of abuse and scurrili......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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