Farr v. Bramblett

Decision Date30 March 1955
Citation132 Cal.App.2d 36,281 P.2d 372
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesFredrick S. FARR et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. E. K. BRAMBLETT et al., Defendants and Respondents. Civ. 16114.

Thompson & Thompson, Monterey, Farr & Millard, Frederick S. Farr, Carmel, Elizabeth Palmer, Piedmont, for appellants.

Ross & Harris, Santa Barbara, Church & Abramson, Salinas, Norris Montgomery Clarence A. Rogers, Santa Barbara, for respondents.

DOOLING, Justice.

This is an action for libel by newspaper advertisements during the 1950 election campaign of defendant Bramblett as congressman for the Eleventh (now Thirteenth) Congressional District of California. With Bramblett active members of his campaign committee and of the Eleventh Congressional District Republican Committee are made defendants. Plaintiffs are Fredrick S. Farr, an attorney, and his wife, both at that time active in the campaign for the democratic candidate in that district, Marion R. Walker.

With respect to plaintiffs' fourth amended complaint the trial court granted motions to strike all allegations of general and exemplary damages, sustained general demurrers without leave to amend insofar as the complaint purported to set up actions for the recovery of general or exemplary damages and otherwise sustained special demurrers to each cause of action on the grounds of ambiguity, uncertainty and unintelligibility with ten days to amend. Plaintiffs declined to amend and appeal from the judgment of dismissal was entered accordingly. The basic facts alleged in the fourth amended complaint are that the defendants conspired to support the candidacy of defendant Bramblett and to oppose the candidacy of Marion R. Walker among other things by knowingly and maliciously annoying and degrading plaintiffs by the publication of false statements concerning them with the malicious intent to damage their reputations so as to further oppostion to their candidate Marion R. Walker.

In carrying out said conspiracy certain of the defendants acting for all composed an advertisement and had a matrix made of it reading as follows:

'Get the Reds out of America. Get America out of the Red.


'Look Behind You!

'Frederick S. Farr is listed as the 11th Democratic Congressional District Chairman. This is the man who is directing your campaign--who is putting words in your mouth.

'Is This the Same Frederick S. Farr who lived in San Francisco and was a subscriber to the Communist Peoples World? Is this the same Frederick S. Farr who with his wife was involved in the Communist Front organization, the American Friends of the Chinese People? (Cited twice by the California Un-American Activities Committee). It this the same Frederick S. Farr who was on the Voluntary defense committee for the notorious Raymond Schultz-Betty Morris case of the San Francisco 'peace poll', Co-Ordinating Council for Peace at the outbreak of the war?

'Is This the Reason why 3 elected members of the Monterey Democratic Central Committee resigned?

'Whose Advice would you take, Marion, if elected, 'in fighting Communism and keeping this nation free'?

'Voters! Heed Governor Warren's Warning * * * 'May I suggest that you carefully analyze the record of every candidate for public office, and determine his background and the identity of his supporters * * *' (1948)

'Marion R. Walker, these questions are asked at this date, giving you ample time to make a reply before election day, Nov. 7. In the interest of Americanism, we and the public want to know.

'11th Congressional District Republican Committee

'Harry Crean--S. V. Christierson to Congress

Nov. 7'


'E. K. 'Ernie' Bramblett

They caused said matrix to be displayed to the editors, publishers, managers and employees of eight named newspapers, thereby publishing the statements therein. There statements were untrue as alleged in detail; the defendants had no cause to believe them true, and made them with the intent to vex, annoy and injure plaintiffs and in a state of mind arising from hatred and ill will toward them.

They caused this advertisement to be published in six of the named newspapers, the advertisement appearing on the 1st or 2nd of November, 1950. On the 2nd of November plaintiffs' attorneys sent the following telegram to each of the defendants and to the editor of each of the papers which had published the advertisement:

'Monterey, California

November 2, 1950

'We Represent Frederick S. Farr and His Wife About Whom You Have Published False, Malicious and Libelous Statements In Paid Political Newspaper Advertisements By and On Behalf of Congressman E. K. Bramblett. These Statements Published Throughout the 11th Congressional District Accuse Mr. Farr and His Wife of Communist Activities Each Without Foundation In Fact. Perhaps In the Strain of Your Campaign, You Did Not Realize the Seriousness of These Charges, Consequently An Opportunity Will Be Afforded and Demand Is Made Upon You Individually and As a Member of the Bramblett Committee That You or Your Representative Meet In Our Office Before Five p. m. Today November 3rd To Arrange Full Details of Immediate and Satisfactory and Full Retraction of These False and Libelous Statements. Failing This, Immediate Proceedings Will Be Initiated.

'Thompson and Thompson,

Attorneys at Law

126 Bonifacio Street,

Monterey, California'

The next day plaintiff Fredrick S. Farr sent an additional telegram to the same informing them that no action was contemplated against any newspaper.

No correction followed. As early as November 4th, 1950, the original complaint in this action was filed. (The election day November 7, 1950 was in sight.)

After the above first telegram had been sent the defendant in pursuance of the same conspiracy and with the same malicious intent drew up a second advertisement and made advertising copy of it which read as follows:

'Is This a Reply To Our Questions?

'A few days ago we published a newspaper advertisement, asking Marion R. Walker the following questions about his campaign manager, Frederick S. Farr:

'1. Is this the same Frederick S. Farr who lived in San Francisco and was a subscriber to the Communist Peoples World?

'2. Is this the same Frederick S. Farr who with his wife was involved in the Communist Front organization, the American Friends of the Chinese People? (Cited twice by the California Un-American Activities Committee).

'3. Is this the same Frederick S. Farr who was on the Voluntary defense committee for the notorious Raymond Schultz-Betty Morris case of the San Francisco 'peace poll', Coordinating Council for Peace at the outbreak of the war?

'Why Did We Ask These Questions?

'Because certain documents in the files of the California Un-American Activities Committee, plus other documented sources, present conclusive evidence that a Frederick S. Farr has a record justifying the questions listed above.

'The evidence is clear!

'Mr. Farr's Answer is a threatened libel suit--but, in a statement to the Monterey Peninsula-Herald, he said in part, 'As for the American Friends of the Chinese People, it is true that my wife was a member and I attended several meetings.'

(Voters! See question Number 2 above)

'We have not accused anyone of being a Communist. Because of documented evidence we have asked the questions. We believe the voters should have the Truth!

'11th Congressional District Republican Committee

'Leon Harthorn--Paul Leavens' They caused this advertisement copy to be displayed on the 4th of November, 1950, to the editors etc. of four named newspapers, thereby publishing it. (There are again the allegations as to falsity, absence of probable cause, intent and state of mind with respect to the first advertisement.)

They caused this second advertisement to be published in two of the newspapers to which it was shown, which papers printed it on November 6, 1950.

The fourth amended complaint contains 80 causes of action 40 for plaintiff Mr. Farr and 40 similar ones for plaintiff Mrs. Farr. Each relates to one of twenty acts; 8 acts of displaying the matrix of the first advertisement to the personnel of 8 different newspapers; 6 acts of publishing the first advertisement in 6 of these newspapers; 4 acts of displaying the copy of the second advertisement to the personnel of 4 different newspapers and 2 acts of publishing the second advertisement in 2 of the these newspapers. Each such cause of action is duplicated, one alleging the advertisement without innuendo (as libel per se) the other adding an innuendo. Each of these 80 counts contain directly or by reference allegations for general damages, special damages and punitive damages.

Respondents in their brief assert the following grounds upon which they rely in support of the order sustaining the general demurrers (these are copied verbatim from the headings in their brief):

'A. The publication was a privileged communication.

'B. The publication, the basis of the alleged action for libel, was without malice.

'C. Plaintiffs failed to comply with the provisions of Section 48a of the Civil Code.

'D. Plaintiffs' original complaint was filed prematurely, and cannot be cured by amendment.

'E. Plaintiffs' causes of action, if any, are barred by the Statute of Limitations.'

We will first consider the specification numbered 'C', since insofar as it is good it is a complete defense to the action for general damages and renders the other specifications unimportant.

The question presented is in how far under the above alleged facts sec. 48a, Civil Code, prevents recovery of general and punitive damages in these several counts. There is no contention that if amendment in this respect had been permitted a stronger case for appellants could have been formulated.

Section 48a, Civil Code, reads insofar as applicable to the point: '1. In any action for damages for the publication of a libel in a...

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