Greenbelt Co-op. Pub. Ass'n v. Bresler, No. 97

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtBefore HAMMOND; BARNES; In regard to the defense of fair comment; In New York Times; In Butts and Walker, federal constitutional protection was extended to publications in regard to the activities of 'public figures.' The opinion of the Court in Butt
Citation253 Md. 324,252 A.2d 755
PartiesGREENBELT COOPERATIVE PUBLISHING ASSOCIATION, Inc., et al. v. Charles S. BRESLER.
Docket NumberNo. 97
Decision Date02 May 1969

Page 324

253 Md. 324
252 A.2d 755
GREENBELT COOPERATIVE PUBLISHING ASSOCIATION, Inc., et al.
v.
Charles S. BRESLER.
No. 97.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
May 2, 1969.

Page 328

[252 A.2d 757] Roger A. Clark, Washington, D. C., (Royall, Koegel, Rogers & Wells, Washington, D. C. and David Reich, Rockville, on the brief) for appellants.

Abraham Chasanow, Greenbelt, for appellee.

Before HAMMOND, C. J., and MARBURY, BARNES, FINAN and SINGLEY, JJ.

BARNES, Judge.

This appeal involves a judgment, entered upon the verdict of a jury by the Circuit Court for Prince George's County (Mathias, J.) for $17,500 damages ($5,000 compensatory and $12,500 punitive) in favor of Charles S. Bresler, appellee and plaintiff below, for libel, against the appellants and defendants below, Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Association, Inc. (Publishing Association) publisher of the Greenbelt News Review (News Review), and its president, Alfred M. Skolnik.

Inasmuch as the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, Bresler, we must review the facts in the light most favorable to him, where those facts are in dispute or where more than one inference may be drawn from them. Campfield v. Crowther, 252 Md. 88, 249 A.2d 168 (1969); Cassell v. Pfaifer, 243 Md. 447, 453, 221 A.2d 668, 671 (1966). Accordingly, we note that there was sufficient evidence in the record from which the jury could have found the following facts: The News Review is the only newspaper published in the City of Greenbelt. Its circulation consists of approximately 4,500 copies each week, of which only about 75 are paid subscriptions which are mailed; the remaining copies are delivered without charge to every house in Greenbelt. Mr. Skolnik is not only president of the Publishing Association, but also writes many of its feature articles and editorials. He is also one of the five members of the editorial board which reviews and edits all of the material published. His wife, Elaine Skolnik, writes many of the feature articles as well as a weekly column and is one of several housewives who serve

Page 329

as reporters. The Skolniks are well-educated persons, Mr. Skolnik holding three degrees, B.A., M.A. and Ph.D., and Mrs. Skolnik [252 A.2d 758] having attended college for three and one-half years.

The News Review published a number of articles and editorials concerning Mr. Bresler which are alleged to be false, malicious and libelous. The two principal articles which used the word 'blackmail' with reference to Mr. Bresler related to the proposed zoning of two tracts of land (Parcels 1 and 2) in which he owned a 16 1/3 per cent interest. Bresler and his associates had requested, and the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) Master Plan had recommended R-30 (Townhouse) zoning for both tracts, but this zoning was vigorously opposed by Greenbelt Homes, Inc., the large mutual housing cooperative in Greenbelt, (GHI) and a group known as 'Citizens for A Planned Greenbelt' (CFPG). CFPG had approximately 650 Greenbelt residents as members, and had no requirement for membership other than the payment of $1.00. Mrs. Skolnik is one of the twenty members of the Steering Committee of CFPG, which operates as its executive body. Both Mr. Skolnik and his wife, Elaine, attended meetings of the Steering Committee.

The Skolniks are also members of GHI by reason of having purchased the perpetual use of one of the original Greenbelt row houses. GHI at one time owned all of the land now owned by Bresler and his associates, but sold it at a profit instead of developing it. GHI owns the wooden row houses which sell for between $5,000 and $10,000 and which are located in front of Parcels 1 and 2. It opposed the R-30 zoning for Parcels 1 and 2, even though it was building townhouses on its own property. It advertises regularly in the News Review. Charles Schwan is president of GHI and is a friend of the Skolniks. He serves with Mrs. Skolnik on the CFPG Steering Committee and is chairman of the CFPG Membership Committee.

The evidence at the trial, which began on January 3, 1968, indicated that in 1961 and 1962 the relations between Bresler and the City Council of Greenbelt were cordial. A rather glowing article appeared in The Washington Post of October 6, 1962, by John B. Willmann, its Real Estate Editor, under the headline 'Vast Private Developments Planned In 25-Year-Old Greenbelt

Page 330

Community', in which the proposed activities of Mr. Bresler as a developer are set out in some detail. It was indicated that he had acquired 450 acres of land in Greenbelt for nearly $2,000,000, and with a partner was beginning the first group of 61 homes. The total planning and zoning, however, which had been worked out with the Greenbelt officials, called for some 800 single-family dwellings and 350 townhouses in the areas north and south of Greenbelt. 'Two years ago', the article stated, Mr. Bresler had 'built and then sold, the 87-unit Greenbelt Apartments-a three-quarter-million-dollar project.' The article stated:

'There are now nearly 2000 row house and apartment living units in Greenbelt and more than a hundred residents are 'plank owners' in the community that was called Tugwelltown when it was conceived as a New Deal experiment. More than 8000 persons live in Greenbelt today and nearly that many more would be added over the next several years by the developments planned by Bresler.

'Meanwhile, Greenbelt will also grow with the development of Springhill Lake, a Community Builders' project on a 390-acre tract in the northwest section of the town. Ground was broken this summer for a planned community that eventually will be a $50-million development of town houses and high-and-low rise apartments totaling some 5000 living units.'

In 1964, however, the relations apparently had become somewhat strained inasmuch as in the News Review of May 7, 1964, in an article written by Mr. Skolnik reporting what had happened at the meeting of the City Council of Greenbelt on May 5, it was stated that Councilman Simonson 'also observed that much debris had been left along [252 A.2d 759] the shoreline, including a spreading patch of tar-oil, as the result of the construction of Lakeside Extended by the developer Charles Bresler.' Further discussion was then reported and the article continued:

'It took the better part of two hours before the council and the audience decided that it made much more sense to stop attacking each other and concentrate

Page 331

on a common target-Bresler-who wasn't there. The council rapidly agreed, with the full approval of a tired audience, to get off a letter to Bresler notifying him that unless all material and debris now encroaching upon city land is removed within a specified time, the city will remove the debris at the developer's expense. Councilman Dave Champion dissented on the grounds that the city has already received assurances from Bresler that this would be done. The council and audience remained skeptical.'

On June 2, 1964, Mr. and Mrs. Bresler and the Suburban Trust Company, mortgagee, executed and recorded among the land records of Prince George's County, a release of covenants previously entered into with the City of Greenbelt in 1962. These covenants allegedly placed on the 50 acre Charlestowne Village Terrace a limitation of the density to 7 units an acre.

By April 22, 1965, as reported in the News Review of that date, an active campaign was in progress for membership in CFPG, the principal goal of which was "to preserve the fundamental character of Greenbelt as a low-density, planned residential community." In an article by Mr. Skolnik in the same issue bearing the headline 'CITY BATTLES BRESLER ON 2 FRONTS; SETS SPRING CLEAN-UP FOR MAY 3-17', it was stated that: 'Another confrontation is looming between the city council and the local developer, Charles Bresler and associates.' The article recites that a subdivision plat for section 2 of Charlestowne Village was filed with MNCPPC calling for 260 units 'in excess of the number agreed upon in the covenant entered into between the city and Bresler at the time the land was rezoned.' The article further stated the MNCPPC had approved the subdivision plat as it only looked to the zoning of the land and 'does not take into consideration private agreements between municipalities and developers.' It was further stated that the 'city and Bresler will also be at odds this week when the suit filed by the city against Ivy Homes, Inc. and Boxwood Village, Inc. comes before the circuit court,' involving an alleged excess of rain water resulting from the rough

Page 332

grading of the land. The article continued: 'Further disillusionment of the community with the developer was seen at the council meeting when new residents of Lakeside Extended complained that the developer was not removing unsightly debris accumulated from building operations.'

We now come to the two articles in the News Review which form the principal basis for the libel action.

In the News Review of October 14, 1965, the first article containing the following relevant portions appeared:

'SCHOOL SITE STIRS UP COUNCIL REZONING DEAL OFFER DEBATED

by Dorothy Sucher

'Delay in construction of a new Greenbelt high school is the lever by which a local developer is pressuring the city to endorse his bid for higher density rezoning of two large tracts of land; so citizens heard at a well-attended special meeting of the City Council on Monday night, Oct. 11.

'For the past nine months, the Board of Education has been trying to acquire land owned by Consolidated Syndicates, [252 A.2d 760] Inc. (Charles Bresler-Theodore Lerner), for a high school site. * * *

'Some time ago, it became known that the developer would agree on the price, provided the city would help him obtain higher density rezoning for two of his tracts (Parcels 1 and 2, totaling 230 acres) near the center of Greenbelt. If the city refused, he threatened to delay...

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16 practice notes
  • Collins v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., No. 143, Sept. Term, 2009.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • December 1, 2010
    ...made in light of the instruction in its entirety, meaning, we do not take phrases out of context. Greenbelt Coop. Publ'g Ass'n v. Bresler, 253 Md. 324, 364, 252 A.2d 755, 778 (1969), rev'd on other grounds, 398 U.S. 6, 90 S.Ct. 1537, 26 L.Ed.2d 6...
  • American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO v. U.S. Postal Service, AFL-CIO
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • October 2, 1987
    ...the article to be a literal transcription of what was said at the meeting. See Greenbelt Coop. Publishing Page 324 Ass'n v. Bresler, 253 Md. 324, 347, 252 A.2d 755 (1969), rev'd, 398 U.S. 6, 90 S.Ct. 1537, 26 L.Ed.2d 6. Instead, the Court held the publication protected because no one readin......
  • Berkey v. Delia, No. 15
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • March 26, 1980
    ...also Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Ass'n v. Bresler, 398 U.S. 6, 14, 90 S.Ct. 1537, 1542, 26 L.Ed.2d 6 (1970), reversing this Court, 253 Md. 324, 252 A.2d 755, and holding that use of the word "blackmail" under the circumstances was "no more than rhetorical hyperbole, a vigorous epithet ......
  • Black v. Leatherwood Motor Coach Corp., No. 1320
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1991
    ...to the additional instruction as given. Thus, this issue is not preserved for our review. Greenbelt Coop. Publishing Ass'n v. Bresler, 253 Md. 324, 380, 252 A.2d 755 (1969), rev'd on other grounds, 398 U.S. 6, 90 S.Ct. 1537, 26 L.Ed.2d 6 (1970); Morris v. Peace, 14 Md.App. 681, 687, 288 A.2......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
16 cases
  • Collins v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., No. 143, Sept. Term, 2009.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • December 1, 2010
    ...made in light of the instruction in its entirety, meaning, we do not take phrases out of context. Greenbelt Coop. Publ'g Ass'n v. Bresler, 253 Md. 324, 364, 252 A.2d 755, 778 (1969), rev'd on other grounds, 398 U.S. 6, 90 S.Ct. 1537, 26 L.Ed.2d 6...
  • American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO v. U.S. Postal Service, AFL-CIO
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • October 2, 1987
    ...the article to be a literal transcription of what was said at the meeting. See Greenbelt Coop. Publishing Page 324 Ass'n v. Bresler, 253 Md. 324, 347, 252 A.2d 755 (1969), rev'd, 398 U.S. 6, 90 S.Ct. 1537, 26 L.Ed.2d 6. Instead, the Court held the publication protected because no one readin......
  • Berkey v. Delia, No. 15
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • March 26, 1980
    ...also Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Ass'n v. Bresler, 398 U.S. 6, 14, 90 S.Ct. 1537, 1542, 26 L.Ed.2d 6 (1970), reversing this Court, 253 Md. 324, 252 A.2d 755, and holding that use of the word "blackmail" under the circumstances was "no more than rhetorical hyperbole, a vi......
  • Black v. Leatherwood Motor Coach Corp., No. 1320
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1991
    ...to the additional instruction as given. Thus, this issue is not preserved for our review. Greenbelt Coop. Publishing Ass'n v. Bresler, 253 Md. 324, 380, 252 A.2d 755 (1969), rev'd on other grounds, 398 U.S. 6, 90 S.Ct. 1537, 26 L.Ed.2d 6 (1970); Morris v. Peace, 14 Md.App. 681, 687, 288 A.2......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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