Cox v. Strickland

CourtSupreme Court of Georgia
Writing for the CourtGOBER
PartiesCOX v. STRICKLAND et al.
Decision Date10 August 1897

28 S.E. 655
101 Ga. 482

COX
v.
STRICKLAND et al.

Supreme Court of Georgia.

Aug. 10, 1897.


Libel — Complaint — Plea op Justification — Specific Charge —Right to Open and Close —Evidence—Character of Plaintiff—Malice —Libelous Advertisement.

1. A set of resolutions, adopted at a public meeting of citizens in a given county, signed by persons participating therein, and declaring that, in their opinion, a named person "is. either directly or indirectly, connected with" the perpetration of "a clandestine burning of property, " meaning a particular act of arson in that county, "because of [his] having been accused of numerous cases of like character in [another county] from whence he came, " in effect charges the person referred to with having committed the crime of arson in both counties; and where the petition in an action of libel, predicated upon the publication of such resolutions in a newspaper, by appropriate innuendoes, avers that it was the true intention and purpose of the defendants to so charge the plaintiff, it is incumbent upon them to meet the case thus made.

2. An answer in such case admitting the signing and publication of the resolutions, and that the defendants thereby "meant and intended to charge that the said plaintiff was, either directly or indirectly, connected with" the particular act of arson, and alleging that "the circumstantial evidence in the case which was the basis of said resolutions, and other evidence, justified the opinion so formed and expressed in said resolutions, and which they stand ready to prove in justification of the same, " was, in substance, a plea of justification as to this specific charge, (a) The answer filed in the present case, taken as a whole, also amounted to a plea of justification as to the charge imputing to the plaintiff guilt of arson in the county from which it was alleged he had removed, and should either have been so treated, or else the special demurrers to those portions of the an swer practically alleging the truth of this charge, but at the same time attempting to avoid justifying as to it, ought to have been sustained, (b) As the court, in its instructions to the jury, evidently did not thus treat the answer, but limited the justification set up by the defendants to the specific charge of arson above referred to, it was, in this view, erroneous to allow the defendants to open and conclude; for justification as to any part of libelous matter less than the whole does not entitle defendants in such cases to this privilege.

3. Publishing that another had frequently been accused of the crime of arson in one county, and in the publication adopting this accusation as the basis of charging him with having committed this crime in another county, can be justified only by proof of the truth of such accusation. It is not enough to show that rumors charged him with such an offense in the county first indicated, but it must be shown that he was actually guilty therein as charged, or else a plea of justification filed in resistance to an action for libel in such a case is not sustained.

4. The truth of the charge made may always be proved in justification of the libel or slander. Civ. Code, § 3839. This is true independently of the time when a knowledge of the truth came to the defendant.

5. The filing of a plea of justification in defense to an action for libel puts the plaintiff's character in issue, and the defendant has the right to show that the plaintiff's general character is bad, but cannot, in so doing, go into proof of special acts, or resort to general rumors by hearsay. The plaintiff, under the general rule, has the right, on cross-examination, to go into special facts to ascertain the nature and extent of the knowledge of the witness. Where a plaintiff's character is in issue, he has a right to sustain it by proof of his general good character, if he can.

6. In all actions for printed or spoken defamation, malice is inferred from the character of the charge. Such an inference may be rebutted, and proof establishing absence of malice will go in mitigation of damages, or, in cases of privileged communications, will be in bar of recovery. Malice is presumed where the printed language charges the plaintiff with a felony; and in such case the action cannot he wholly defeated by evidence negativing malice.

7. In a case where a publisher of a newspaper inserted libelous matter solely for pecuniary compensation, ana where it appears that the only object sought to be accomplished was the public defamation of the plaintiff, such publisher cannot justify on the ground that such matter was inserted as an advertisement. This would be in aggravation, rather than in mitigation, of damages, when a felony is charged, and the publication is not justified on the ground of its being an item of legitimate news printed as privileged matter.

8. Omitting reference to well-settled legal questions, the foregoing notes cover, substantially, the points presented by the present record; and, in so fir as the rulings, charges, and decisions complained of are at variance with what is here laid down, the trial court committed error. There should be a new trial, and it should be conducted in the light of the principles above announced.

(Syllabus by the Court.)

Error from superior court, Clinch county; L. A. Wilson, Judge pro hac vice.

Action by Horace Cox against J. B. Strickland and others for libel. There was a judgment for defendants, and plaintiff brings error. Reversed.

The following Is the official report:

Cox sued Powell, Strickland, the Valdosta Times Publishing Company, and many others

[28 S.E. 656]

for libel, In falsely and maliciously publishing in the Valdosta Times, of and concerning him, certain resolutions, set forth in the declaration, in which, among other things, it was stated that, at a meeting of citizens of a certain district of Clinch county, a committee appointed to draft suitable resolutions reported that there had been a clandestine burning of property in that district; that the citizens were firmly of the opinion that Cox was either directly or indirectly connected with it, because of his having been accused of numerous cases of like nature, in the vicinity of Mill-town, Berrien county, from whence he came, and because of circumstantial evidence being so strong against him in the present case; that it was respectfully asked that R. S. Thig-pen remove said Cox from his premises, the presence of Cox being detrimental and obnoxious to said citizens in the highest degree; that the Valdosta Times be furnished with a copy of the resolutions, together with the names of the citizens signing the same, with a request that the same be published in the Times, etc. These resolutions were adopted by the meeting, and signed by a large number of persons. By amendment, petitioner alleged that by the recital in the resolutions as to clandestine burning of property in said district, and statement of opinion that Cox was either directly or indirectly connected with the firing of said property, because of his having been accused of numerous cases of like nature in the vicinity of Milltown, Berrien county, and because of circumstantial evidence being so strong against him in the present case, defendants intended to charge petitioner with burning J. B. Strickland's gin and mill house, on the night of June 15, 1894; that, if said charge is true, petitioner would be guilty of arson, but he stands ready to prove that he is innocent of the charge, and that the same is a false and malicious defamation, etc.; further, where in said resolutions the opinion is expressed that Cox was guilty of being connected with the burning of Strickland's gin and mill house, because of his having been accused of numerous cases of like nature in the vicinity of Milltown, it was meant and intended to impress upon the minds of the public that petitioner had been guilty of numerous crimes of arson. He was never charged with arson but once, in the vicinity of Milltown. That was when he was charged with burning Bank's mill at Milltown, and he was tried for the same, and, after a most thorough and rigid prosecution, there was a verdict of not guilty, completely vindicating him. Notwithstanding this, defendants, who were neither present at the trial nor heard any of the evidence, assuming to know more about the facts than the jury who tried the case, have attempted to impress upon the public that petitioner was guilty of arson, which is untrue, etc.

Defendants pleaded not guilty. Further (second paragraph of the answer), they deny that they have injured petitioner by falsely and maliciously publishing in the Valdosta Times the resolutions set out in the petition. All of defendants who signed the resolutions admit signing the same and their publication in the Valdosta Times, "but the charges set out in the resolutions, and so expressed in them, were expressions of opinion by the defendants signing the same, and which were formed by them, and so expressed in them, upon circumstantial evidence"; and, when they were so signed and published, each of defendants was entirely free from all malice and ill will towards plaintiff, and their feelings were so expressed in the resolutions; and the resolutions as signed and published have not damaged petitioner in any amount, and were published as an advertisement, for a valuable consideration, by the Valdosta Times. Further (sixth paragraph of the answer), the language employed in the resolutions does not charge petitioner with arson, and there is only an expression of an opinion, and the same is not a false and malicious defamation, etc. Further (seventh paragraph), in the resolutions referred to, defendants meant and intended to charge that plaintiff was either directly or indirectly connected with the burning of J. B. Strickland's gin and mill house, which was burned on the night of June 15, 1894; and they say that the circumstantial evidence in the case, which...

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16 practice notes
  • Davis v. Macon Tel. Pub. Co., No. 35984
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 5 Marzo 1956
    ...632, 144 S.E. 821. "Talebearers are as bad as talemakers." Ivester v. Coe, 33 Ga.App. 620(6), 127 S.E. 790; Cox v. Strickland, 101 Ga. 482(3), 493, 28 S.E. 655; Brown v. McCann, 36 Ga.App. 812, 813, 138 S.E. 247; Atlanta News Publishing Co. v. Medlock, 123 Ga. 714, 51 S.E. 756, 3 ......
  • Dayton v. Drumheller
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • 14 Junio 1919
    ...to fall within the foregoing rule. (1 Cooley on Torts, 3d ed., p. 382; Clugston v. Garretson, 103 Cal. 441, 37 P. 469; Cox v. Strickland, 101 Ga. 482, 28 S.E. 655; Taylor v. Ellington, 46 La. Ann. 371, 15 So. 499; 1 Kinkead's Commentaries on Torts, p. 769, and cases cited in note 64.) The l......
  • State ex rel. Lentine v. State Board of Health, No. 31168.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • 6 Diciembre 1933
    ...is defined to be the peculiar qualities impressed by nature or habit on a person, which distinguishes him from others. Cox v. Strickland, 101 Ga. 482; Berneker v. State, 40 Neb. 810; Keith v. State, 152 S.W. 1029, 127 Tenn. 40; Greer v. Active, etc., 99 Conn. 266; Feibelman v. Fire Ins. Co.......
  • Diamond v. American Family Corp., Nos. 75091
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 18 Marzo 1988
    ...being no other reason or justification for so doing than the mere publication of the news." (Emphasis supplied.) Cox v. Strickland, 101 Ga. 482, 493 (3), 28 S.E. 655. This is our general law in Georgia and apparently the majority view in the United States. See: Atlanta News Publishing ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
19 cases
  • Davis v. Macon Tel. Pub. Co., No. 35984
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 5 Marzo 1956
    ...38 Ga.App. 632, 144 S.E. 821. "Talebearers are as bad as talemakers." Ivester v. Coe, 33 Ga.App. 620(6), 127 S.E. 790; Cox v. Strickland, 101 Ga. 482(3), 493, 28 S.E. 655; Brown v. McCann, 36 Ga.App. 812, 813, 138 S.E. 247; Atlanta News Publishing Co. v. Medlock, 123 Ga. 714, 51 S.E. 756, 3......
  • Dayton v. Drumheller
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • 14 Junio 1919
    ...to fall within the foregoing rule. (1 Cooley on Torts, 3d ed., p. 382; Clugston v. Garretson, 103 Cal. 441, 37 P. 469; Cox v. Strickland, 101 Ga. 482, 28 S.E. 655; Taylor v. Ellington, 46 La. Ann. 371, 15 So. 499; 1 Kinkead's Commentaries on Torts, p. 769, and cases cited in note 64.) The l......
  • State ex rel. Lentine v. State Board of Health, No. 31168.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • 6 Diciembre 1933
    ...is defined to be the peculiar qualities impressed by nature or habit on a person, which distinguishes him from others. Cox v. Strickland, 101 Ga. 482; Berneker v. State, 40 Neb. 810; Keith v. State, 152 S.W. 1029, 127 Tenn. 40; Greer v. Active, etc., 99 Conn. 266; Feibelman v. Fire Ins. Co.......
  • Diamond v. American Family Corp., Nos. 75091
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 18 Marzo 1988
    ...there being no other reason or justification for so doing than the mere publication of the news." (Emphasis supplied.) Cox v. Strickland, 101 Ga. 482, 493 (3), 28 S.E. 655. This is our general law in Georgia and apparently the majority view in the United States. See: Atlanta News Publishing......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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