Charles Parker Co. v. Silver City Crystal Co.

Decision Date26 July 1955
Citation116 A.2d 440,142 Conn. 605
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesThe CHARLES PARKER COMPANY v. The SILVER CITY CRYSTAL COMPANY et al. Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut

Denis T. O'Brien, Jr., with whom were Denis T. O'Brien, 3d, and Richard C. Harpham, Meriden, for plaintiff.

Fleming James, Jr., New Haven, with whom were David H. Jacobs and, on the brief, William A. Jacobs, Meriden, for defendants.

Before BALDWIN, O'SULLIVAN, WYNNE and DALY, JJ., and PHILLIPS, Superior Court Judge.

BALDWIN, Justice.

The plaintiff, The Charles Parker Company, brought this action against the defendants, The Silver City Crystal Company and Joseph N. DePaola, claiming damages for defamation. The trial court has reserved the cause upon stipulated facts for the advice of this court. The questions propounded which we deem it necessary to answer are contained in a footnote. 1

The stipulated facts are as follows: The plaintiff is a Connecticut corporation engaged in the manufacturing business in Meriden. The defendant Silver City Crystal Company, hereinafter referred to as the defendant company, is a Connecticut corporation and owns and operates, under a license issued by the federal communications commission, radio station WMMW in Meriden. Its station has a frequency sufficiently strong to make its signals heard throughout Connecticut and in some of the surrounding states. The defendant Joseph N. DePaola was, on November 29, 1949, the legally qualified candidate on the Democratic ticket for the office of mayor of Meriden in an election to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of December, 1949. On November 29, 1949, DePaola broadcast from the radio station of the defendant company a political speech in which he said, concerning the plaintiff: 'This famous firm is now ninety per cent out of production and is up for sale. How many jobs will disappear? The staggering total of one thousand.' On November 30, 1949, the plaintiff gave written notice to the defendant company that the statement made by DePaola was false and demanded a retraction, which the defendant company, in writing, refused to make. The plaintiff's demand was published in the Meriden papers and came to the attention of DePaola. In a political broadcast on the evening of November 30, 1949, from the radio station of the defendant company, DePaola, referring to his statement of the previous day, stated: 'I stand by what I said in yesterday's radio broadcast.' The statements made by DePaola were read from prepared manuscripts which had been submitted to the defendant company at least twenty-four hours before each broadcast. Since the institution of this action, the plaintiff has unsuccessfully demanded, in writing, a retraction from DePaola. The statements broadcast by DePaola from the radio station of the defendant company, the plaintiff's demand upon the defendant company for a retraction, and its refusal were published in the Meriden morning and evening papers, which, at that time, had a combined circulation of more than 20,000.

On the days when the alleged defamation was made, the plaintiff employed upward of 326 persons, many of whom were disturbed about the possibility of becoming unemployed. The statements made by DePaola from the radio station of the defendant company came to the attention of bankers, suppliers and customers with whom the plaintiff was doing business, as well as of Dun and Bradstreet, a credit rating firm with a Connecticut office in Hartford. Although the plaintiff was subjected to expense in instituting and prosecuting this litigation, it incurred no special damages except as appears in the pleadings and stipulation. In an amendment to the complaint the plaintiff alleged as special damage that the language used would reasonably convey the impression that the plaintiff, because of lack of managerial skill or business integrity, had suffered a 90 per cent reduction in its volume of business, would be unable to continue in business and was up for sale and that 1000 employees had lost or would lose their jobs; that the language used tended to lower the plaintiff's trade reputation, thereby adversely affecting its business gains, alienating its customers, endangering its labor relations and depressing its credit, all to its harm in its business operations. DePaola, in making the alleged defamatory broadcasts, believed and relied upon statements made to him by members of a political advisory committee, consisting of four lawyers and two accountants, and others, among whom was the treasurer of a small loan company, who, in turn, had relied upon a news item published in a trade journal.

In the course of the mayoralty campaign, both Republican and Democratic town committees bought radio time for political speeches over the facilities of the defendant company. No officer or employee of the plaintiff was a candidate for public office or made any speeches or public appearances in behalf of any candidate during the campaign. When the alleged defamatory broadcasts were made, § 315 of the federal Communications Act of 1934 was in full force and effect as follows: 'If any licensee shall permit any person who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use a broadcasting station, he shall afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates for that office in the use of such broadcasting station, and the [Federal Communications] Commission shall make rules and regulations to carry this provision into effect: Provided, That such licensee shall have no power of censorship over the material broadcast under the provisions of this section. No obligation is hereby imposed upon any licensee to allow the use of its station by any such candidate.' 48 Stat. 1088, 47 U.S.C.A. § 315. The defendants were not motivated by any feeling of animosity or ill will toward the plaintiff or any of its people. They made no attempt to investigate the verity of the statements made. At the time of the broadcast, the plaintiff was not 90 per cent out of production and was not up for sale, and 1000 employees did not subsequently lose their jobs.

The first question is whether the acts complained of are to be tested by the law of libel or the law of slander. The statements complained of were read by DePaola from a prepared manuscript and were broadcast by the facilities of the defendant company. If the statements were defamatory, the acts in question constitute libel. Sorensen v. Wood, 123 Neb. 348, 355, 243 N.W. 82, 82 A.L.R. 1098 and note, 1106, 1109; Hartmann v. Winchell, 296 N.Y. 296, 300, 73 N.E.2d 30, 171 A.L.R. 759 and note, 765, 780; Restatement, 3 Torts, § 568, comment f; Salmond, Torts (10th Ed.) § 98. The case of Meldrum v. Australian Broadcasting Co., [1932] V.L.R. 425, 432, decided by the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, holding that such a broadcast constitutes slander, appears to represent only a minority viewpoint. A distinction between defamatory words spoken and defamatory words printed and published has prevailed for many years. We have been urged to disregard it as an anachronism. The reasons for it appeal to us as still valid. 'Many things that are defamatory may be said with impunity through the medium of speech. Not so, however, when speech is caught upon the wing and transmuted into print. What gives the sting to the writing is its permanence of form. The spoken word dissolves, but the written one abides and 'perpetuates the scandal." Ostrowe v. Lee, 256 N.Y. 36, 39, 175 N.E. 505, 506. There is a specific criminal statute against publishing a libel but not against uttering a slander. General Statutes § 8518; see Salmond, Torts (10th Ed.) p. 871; 33 Am.Jur. 42, § 6. If one deliberately commits defamatory words to writing or printing and then publishes them by reading them aloud or by circulating copies, as in a newspaper, to others, the offense is much more serious and the result much more permanent than if the words were simply spoken.

Reading a defamatory letter in the presence of others has been held to be libel. Snyder v. Andrews, 6 Barb., N.Y., 43, 46; Forrester v. Tyrrell, 9 T.L.R. 257, 57 J.P. 532 (C.A.), cited with approval in Hartmann v. Winchell, supra, 296 N.Y. at page 299, 73 N.E.2d 30. The basis of the distinction between libel and slander is the written or printed word or passage. Having been reduced to permanent form and published, the written or printed word has greater capabilities of harm. We can see no difference between the reading of defamatory words from a prepared manuscript to a group of people within the presence of the reader, which constitutes libel, and reading defamatory words from a prepared manuscript to be broadcast by the facilities of a radio station. The latter simply carries the defamatory words farther because the defamer has used a medium for dissemination which reaches listeners far beyond the ordinary limits of the human voice. The law of libel is applicable to the case at bar.

Question 3 asks whether the alleged defamatory statement is actionable without proof of special damage: in short, was it libelous per se? When a libel is expressed in clear and unambiguous terms, the question whether it is libelous per se is one of law for the court. Proto v. Bridgeport Herald Corporation, 136 Conn. 557, 565, 72 A.2d 820; Flanagan v. McLane, 87 Conn. 220, 222, 87 A. 727, 88 A. 96. Likewise, if the alleged defamatory words could not reasonably be considered defamatory in any sense, the matter becomes an issue of law for the court. Burns v. Telegram Publishing Co., 89 Conn. 549, 552, 94 A. 917; Donaghue v. Gaffy, 54 Conn. 257, 266, 7 A. 552. Libel is actionable per se if it charges 'improper conduct or lack of skill or integrity in one's profession or business and is of such a nature that it is calculated to cause injury to one in his profession or business.' Proto v. Bridgeport Herald Corporation, supra, 136 Conn. at page 566, 72 A.2d at page 826; Corsello v. Emerson Bros., Inc., 106 Conn....

To continue reading

Request your trial
63 cases
  • Gambardella v. Apple Health Care, Inc., No. 17977.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • May 19, 2009
    ...qualified privilege protects a defendant in a defamation case, the court must resolve two inquiries. Charles Parker Co. v. Silver City Crystal Co., 142 Conn. 605, 616, 116 A.2d 440 (1955). The first is whether the privilege applies, which is a question of law over which our review is plenar......
  • Powell v. Jones-Soderman
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
    • January 14, 2020
    ...enough to overcome liability for defamation. Gambardella , 291 Conn. at 638, 969 A.2d 736 (citing Charles Parker Co. v. Silver City Crystal Co. , 142 Conn. 605, 618, 116 A.2d 440 (1955) ). Jones-Soderman must also have had "grounds for such belief." Id. Here, she did not. Jones-Soderman's o......
  • Torosyan v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • July 4, 1995
    ...whether there was malice in fact ... in uttering and broadcasting the alleged defamatory matter." Charles Parker Co. v. Silver City Crystal Co., 142 Conn. 605, 615, 116 A.2d 440 (1955); see also Bleich v. Ortiz, 196 Conn. 498, 504, 493 A.2d 236 We agree with the defendant that communication......
  • Hartwig v. Albertus Magnus College
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
    • March 13, 2000
    ...A.2d 50, 54 (1996) (quoting W. Prosser & W. Keeton, Torts (5th Ed. 1984) § 111, p. 771); see also Charles Parker Co. v. Silver City Crystal Co., 142 Conn. 605, 611-12, 116 A.2d 440 (1955). The distinction, however, is irrelevant to the Court's Establishment Clause ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT