Carter-Clark v. Random House

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New York)
Citation768 N.Y.S.2d 290,196 Misc.2d 1011
Decision Date02 October 2003
PartiesDARIA CARTER-CLARK, Plaintiff,<BR>v.<BR>RANDOM HOUSE, INC., et al., Defendants.

196 Misc.2d 1011
768 N.Y.S.2d 290

DARIA CARTER-CLARK, Plaintiff,
v.
RANDOM HOUSE, INC., et al., Defendants.

October 2, 2003.


[196 Misc.2d 1012]

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, New York City (Elizabeth A. McNamara and Gregory A. Welch of counsel), for defendants.

Regina L. Darby, New York City, for plaintiff.

OPINION OF THE COURT

RICHARD F. BRAUN, J.

Plaintiff raises five causes of action in her second amended verified complaint: three for libel, one pursuant to Civil Rights Law § 77, and a fifth solely for punitive damages. Defendants move for summary judgment dismissing the second amended complaint.

In 1996, defendant Random House, Inc. published a book entitled "Primary Colors," with the subtitle "A Novel of Politics." The stated name of the author was "Anonymous." The anonymity of the author of this best seller led to great speculation as to who had written the book. Defendant Joseph Klein eventually disclosed that he was the author. The book was about a character named Governor Jack Stanton, who was from a southern state and running for United States President. The book was widely believed to be based on the first presidential primary campaign of President Bill Clinton in 1991-1992, and defendant Joe Klein admitted that it was.

Plaintiff claims that some people whom she knows who have read the book believe that one of the characters in the book was based on her, which has caused damage to her reputation. On the second page of the book, Governor Stanton goes to a library in Harlem where there is a librarian who misses a step on the stairs, and Governor Stanton reaches out to help her. The character's name is Ms. Baum. She runs an adult literacy program at the library and is on the regional board of the teachers' union. Soon after, there is a scene in the book where Governor Stanton and Ms. Baum are coming out of the bedroom in his hotel suite. Governor Stanton is buttoning his open shirt. Ms. Baum is "arranging herself," and described as seeming "a bit dazed" and trying "to maintain the appearance of propriety." Ms. Baum is a minor character who only appears in nine pages of the book.

In real life, President Clinton made a campaign appearance at a library in Harlem where plaintiff worked. She was not a librarian like Ms. Baum, but rather a site advisor. Unlike Ms. Baum, plaintiff did not run an adult literacy program and was not on the regional board of the teachers' union. She had some

[196 Misc.2d 1013]

similarities to the minimal physical description of Ms. Baum in the book. Plaintiff, defendants, and President Clinton all agreed on a prior motion before this court that plaintiff and President Clinton never had any intimate relationship (see Carter-Clark v Random House, Inc., 2002 NY Slip Op 50464[U], *2).

One of the staples of our free society is that one must be able to speak and publish freely. That is recognized by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and New York Constitution, article I, § 8. However, the tort of libel bars "the publication of a statement about an individual that is both false and defamatory." (Brian v Richardson, 87 NY2d 46, 51 [1995].) Such a claim must be based "on published assertions of fact." (Id. [citations omitted].) Where a work of fiction contains the alleged defamatory statement, to be tortious it must be "of and concerning [the] plaintiff." (See Springer v Viking Press, 60 NY2d 916, 917 [1983]; Julian v America Bus. Consultants, 2 NY2d 1, 14 [1956].) It is for the court to determine whether the character in a fictional work refers to the plaintiff in a defamation action (see Springer, 60 NY2d at 917; Allen v Gordon, 86 AD2d 514, 515 [1st Dept 1982], affd for reasons stated below 56 NY2d 780 [1982]), whether particular words constitute defamation (Aronson v Wiersma, 65 NY2d 592, 593 [1985]), and whether there are such similarities between the character and the plaintiff that would lead a person who knows the plaintiff and reads the book to...

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6 practice notes
  • Greene v. Paramount Pictures Corp., No. 14–CV–1044 (JS)(SIL).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • September 30, 2015
    ...element in light of the "profound" dissimilarities "both in manner of living and in outlook"), and Carter–Clark v. Random House, Inc., 196 Misc.2d 1011, 1014–15, 768 N.Y.S.2d 290, 294 (Sup.Ct.N.Y.County 2003) (different names and occupations and "very sketchy physical characterization" held......
  • Greene v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 14-CV-1044(JS)(SIL)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • September 30, 2015
    ...element in light of the "profound" dissimilarities "both in manner of living and in outlook"), and Carter-Clark v. Random House, Inc., 196 Misc. 2d 1011, 1014-15, 768 N.Y.S.2d 290, 294 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. County 2003) (different names and occupations and "very sketchy physical characterization" ......
  • Greenberg v. Spitzer, 800004/2018
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New York)
    • November 12, 2020
    ...early as possible in order to limit the waste of resources of both the defendants and the courts" ( Carter-Clark v. Random House, Inc. , 196 Misc 2d 1011 [Sup Ct, NY County 2011], citing Immuno A.G. v. Moor-Jankowski , 145 AD2d 114, 128 [1st Dept], affd 74 NY2d 548 [1989], rearg denied 75 N......
  • Peters v. Stelios Coutsodontis, Gen. Mar. Enters. Corp., Index No. 600482/200
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New York)
    • July 11, 2016
    ...the party opposing the motion must show that there is a question(s) of fact that requires a trial." Carter-Clark v. Random House, Inc., 768 N.Y.S.2d 290, 293 (2003). "Summary judgment should be granted, where appropriate, to defendants in libel actions in order to prevent harassment and coe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Greene v. Paramount Pictures Corp., No. 14–CV–1044 (JS)(SIL).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • September 30, 2015
    ...element in light of the "profound" dissimilarities "both in manner of living and in outlook"), and Carter–Clark v. Random House, Inc., 196 Misc.2d 1011, 1014–15, 768 N.Y.S.2d 290, 294 (Sup.Ct.N.Y.County 2003) (different names and occupations and "very sketchy physical characterization" held......
  • Greene v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 14-CV-1044(JS)(SIL)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • September 30, 2015
    ...element in light of the "profound" dissimilarities "both in manner of living and in outlook"), and Carter-Clark v. Random House, Inc., 196 Misc. 2d 1011, 1014-15, 768 N.Y.S.2d 290, 294 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. County 2003) (different names and occupations and "very sketchy physical characterization" ......
  • Greenberg v. Spitzer, 800004/2018
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New York)
    • November 12, 2020
    ...early as possible in order to limit the waste of resources of both the defendants and the courts" ( Carter-Clark v. Random House, Inc. , 196 Misc 2d 1011 [Sup Ct, NY County 2011], citing Immuno A.G. v. Moor-Jankowski , 145 AD2d 114, 128 [1st Dept], affd 74 NY2d 548 [1989], rearg denied 75 N......
  • Peters v. Stelios Coutsodontis, Gen. Mar. Enters. Corp., Index No. 600482/200
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New York)
    • July 11, 2016
    ...the party opposing the motion must show that there is a question(s) of fact that requires a trial." Carter-Clark v. Random House, Inc., 768 N.Y.S.2d 290, 293 (2003). "Summary judgment should be granted, where appropriate, to defendants in libel actions in order to prevent harassment and coe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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