Grant v. Reader's Digest Ass'n

Decision Date28 January 1946
Docket NumberNo. 46.,46.
Citation151 F.2d 733
PartiesGRANT v. READER'S DIGEST ASS'N, Inc.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

Osmond K. Fraenkel, of New York City, for appellant.

Patrick H. Sullivan, of New York City, for appellee.

Before L. HAND, SWAN, and CLARK, Circuit Judges.

Writ of Certiorari Denied January 28, 1946. See 66 S.Ct. 492.

L. HAND, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from a judgment dismissing a complaint in libel for insufficiency in law upon its face. The complaint alleged that the plaintiff was a Massachusetts lawyer, living in that state; that the defendant, a New York corporation, published a periodical of general circulation, read by lawyers, judges and the general public; and that one issue of the periodical contained an article entitled "I Object To My Union in Politics," in which the following passage appeared:

"And another thing. In my state the Political Action Committee has hired as its legislative agent one, Sidney S. Grant, who but recently was a legislative representative for the Massachusetts Communist Party."

The innuendo then alleged that this passage charged the plaintiff with having represented the Communist Party in Massachusetts as its legislative agent, which was untrue and malicious. Two questions arise: (1) What meaning the jury might attribute to the words; (2) whether the meaning so attributed was libellous. So far as the wrong consisted of publishing the article in New York, the decisions of the courts of that state are authoritative for us under now familiar principles. As to publication in another state, a question might arise whether we must follow the decisions of that state or any decisions of New York which determined what effect in such cases the courts of New York give to the decisions of another state. No such question comes up upon this motion; and we leave it open. The innuendo added nothing to the meaning of the words, and, indeed, could not. Hays v. American Defense Society, 252 N. Y. 266, 169 N.E. 380. However, although the words did not say that the plaintiff was a member of the Communist Party, they did say that he had acted on its behalf, and we think that a jury might in addition find that they implied that he was in general sympathy with its objects and methods. The last conclusion does indeed involve the assumption that the Communist Party would not retain as its "legislative representative" a person who was not in general accord with its purposes; but that inference is reasonable and was pretty plainly what the author wished readers to draw from his words. The case therefore turns upon whether it is libellous in New York to write of a lawyer that he has acted as agent of the Communist Party, and is a believer in its aims and methods.

The interest at stake in all defamation is concededly the reputation of the person assailed; and any moral obliquity of the opinions of those in whose minds the words might lessen that reputation, would normally be relevant only in mitigation of damages. A man may value his reputation even among those who do not embrace the prevailing moral standards; and it would seem that the jury should be allowed to appraise how far he should be indemnified for the disesteem of such persons. That is the usual rule. Peck v. Tribune Co., 214 U.S. 185, 29 S.Ct. 554, 53 L.Ed. 960, 16 Ann.Cas. 1075; Restatement of Torts, § 559. The New York decisions define libel, in accordance with the usual rubric, as consisting of utterances which arouse "hatred, contempt, scorn, obloquy or shame," and the like. Triggs v. Sun Publishing & Printing Ass'n, 179 N. Y. 144, 153, 71 N.E. 739, 66 L.R.A. 612, 103 Am.St.Rep. 841, 1 Ann.Cas. 326; Sydney v. MacFadden Newspaper Publishing Corp., 242 N.Y. 208, 211, 212, 151 N.E. 209, 44 A. L.R. 1419; Kimmerle v. New York Evening Journal, Inc., 262 N.Y. 99, 102, 186 N.E. 217; Katapodis v. Brooklyn Spectator, Inc., 287 N.Y. 17, 20, 38 N.E.2d 112; Balabanoff v. Hearst Consolidated Publications, 294 N.Y. 351, 356, 62 N.E.2d 599; Sweeney v. Schenectady Union Publishing Co., 2 Cir., 122 F.2d 288. However, the opinions at times seem to make it a condition that to be actionable the words must be such as would so affect "right-thinking" people; and in Kimmerle v. New York Evening Journal, Inc., supra, 262 N.Y. 99, 102, 103, 186 N.E. 217 that was the turning point of the decision. The same limitation has apparently been recognized in England (Mycroft v. Sleight, 90 L.J.K.B. 883); and it is fairly plain that there must come a point where that is true. As was said in Mawe v. Piggott, Irish Rep. 4 Comm.Law, 54, 62, among those "who were themselves criminal or sympathized with crime," it would expose one "to great odium to represent him as an informer or prosecutor or...

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46 cases
  • Jointrefugee Committee v. Grath National Council Offriendship v. Grath International Workers Order v. Grath
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • April 30, 1951
    ...C.' See also, Spanel v. Pegler, 7 Cir., 160 F.2d 619, 171 A.L.R. 699; Wright v. Farm Journal, 2 Cir., 158 F.2d 976; Grant v. Reader's Digest Ass'n, 2 Cir., 151 F.2d 733; Mencher v. Chesley, 297 N.Y. 94, 75 N.E.2d 257; Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts § 91; 171 A.L.R. 709—710, Note. 13.......
  • United States v. Rosenberg
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • February 25, 1952
    ...and others have recognized that the Communist label yields marked ill-will for its American wearer. See, e. g., Grant v. Readers Digest Association, 2 Cir., 151 F.2d 733; Mencher v. Chesley, 297 N.Y. 94, 100, 75 N.E.2d 257. Whether and how much of that kind of evidence should come into a tr......
  • Beauharnais v. People State of Illinois v. 28 8212 29, 1951
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • April 28, 1952
    ...For the common-law definition, applicable in the twenty jurisdictions first noted above, see L. Hand, J., in Grant v. Reader's Digest Ass'n, 2 Cir., 151 F.2d 733, 735, where he speaks of defining libel 'in accordance with the usual rubric, as consisting of utterances which arouse 'hatred, c......
  • Julian v. American Business Consultants, Inc.
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • July 11, 1956
    ...hold the victim up to public shame, scorn and ridicule. Cf. Spanel v. Pegler, 7 Cir., 160 F.2d 619, 171 A.L.R. 699; Grant v. Reader's Digest Ass'n, 2 Cir., 151 F.2d 733, 735. Quite apart from all this, however, the particular circumstances of this case bring into play a much stricter standa......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Ethical Complexities in Defamation and False Light Claims
    • United States
    • The Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy No. 20-3, July 2022
    • July 1, 2022
    ...The court held, however, that the accusation was not defamatory, because the ordinary 11. Id . 12. Grant v. Reader’s Digest Ass’n, Inc., 151 F.2d 733 (2d Cir. 1945), cert. denied , 326 U.S. 797 (1946). 13. Id . at 735. 14. Id . 15. Id . at 734. 16. SMOLLA, supra note 3, citing PROSSER AND K......

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