Herron v. Tribune Pub. Co., Inc., 52341-0

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Citation108 Wn.2d 162,736 P.2d 249
Docket NumberNo. 52341-0,52341-0
Parties, 14 Media L. Rep. 1097 Don HERRON and Patricia Herron, husband and wife, Appellants, v. The TRIBUNE PUBLISHING CO., INC., d/b/a Tacoma News Tribune; Richard Sypher and Jane Doe Sypher, husband and wife, Respondents.
Decision Date07 May 1987

Page 162

108 Wn.2d 162
736 P.2d 249, 14 Media L. Rep. 1097
Don HERRON and Patricia Herron, husband and wife, Appellants,
The TRIBUNE PUBLISHING CO., INC., d/b/a Tacoma News Tribune;
Richard Sypher and Jane Doe Sypher, husband and
wife, Respondents.
No. 52341-0.
Supreme Court of Washington,
En Banc.
May 7, 1987.

Page 163

[736 P.2d 251] Rovai, McGoffin, Turner, Larkin & Miller, John A. Miller, Tacoma, for appellants.

Gordon, Thomas, Honeywell, Malanca, Peterson & Daheim, Valen H. Honeywell, Tacoma, for respondents.

[736 P.2d 252] PEARSON, Chief Justice.

This case is a defamation action brought by former Pierce County Prosecutor Don Herron 1 against The Tribune Publishing Company and one of its reporters for a series of articles published in the Tacoma News Tribune (Tribune) in August 1979. The trial court granted the defendants' summary judgment motion for dismissal, and the plaintiffs appealed. We accepted certification pursuant to RCW 2.06.030, and we affirm. The principal issues here are whether the plaintiffs provided the trial court with evidence of actual malice sufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion and, if so, whether any privilege attached to the newspaper articles based on their reporting on the contents of a recall petition. We hold that with one exception the plaintiffs did not meet their burden of proof on the element of actual malice and that in the one instance where

Page 164

they raised a triable inference of actual malice the defendants are protected by a conditional privilege.

In August 1979, a local citizen named Ronald Lopp filed a recall petition against Don Herron, at that time the Pierce County Prosecutor. Tribune reporter Richard Sypher and other Tribune staff wrote articles and an editorial discussing the contents of the petition and the circumstances surrounding the allegations it contained. 2 The articles appeared daily for approximately 1 week, beginning on the date that Lopp filed the petition. The portions of the petition that received the most coverage and that are complained of on appeal are allegations that Herron was ineffective as Prosecuting Attorney, abused his prosecutorial discretion, and engaged in harassment and discriminatory prosecution. The Tribune articles reported, in addition to the petition's contents, extrinsic facts germane to these allegations. The plaintiffs complain specifically of the newspaper's discussion of (1) the sentencing of George Dutcher; (2) the dismissal of an assault charge against Richard Caliguri; (3) the prosecution of Lopp for possession of stolen property; and (4) the petition's imputation of criminal activity to Herron.

Approximately 10 months after the plaintiffs filed their complaint and shortly after the defendants moved for summary judgment, the plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to add new causes of action and an additional defendant. The new claims, also in defamation, concerned additional Tribune articles, some published prior to the filing of the original complaint and at least one succeeding it. This second set of articles did not pertain to the recall petition charges. The trial court denied the motion to

Page 165

amend but granted the plaintiffs a continuance to respond to the summary judgment motion. The purpose of the continuance was to give the plaintiffs an opportunity to depose members of the Tribune staff on the issue of the employees' state of mind during the publication of the second set of articles, for such evidence could bear on the defendants' state of mind at the time of the first set of articles. The plaintiffs now appeal the denial of leave to amend along with their appeal of the adverse summary judgment, and we address the amendment first.

The standard of review of a trial court's denial of a motion to amend a pleading is "manifest abuse of discretion." Del Guzzi Constr. Co. v. Global Northwest, Ltd., 105 Wash.2d 878, 719 P.2d 120 (1986); Caruso v. Local Union 690 of Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 100 Wash.2d 343, 670 P.2d 240 (1983).

CR 15(a) provides in relevant part:

[A] party may amend his pleading only by leave of court or by written consent [736 P.2d 253] of the adverse party; and leave shall be freely given when justice so requires.

The purposes of Rule 15 are to "facilitate a proper decision on the merits", Caruso, at 349, 670 P.2d 240 and to provide each party with adequate notice of the basis of the claims or defenses asserted against him. Pierce County Sheriff v. Civil Serv. Comm'n, 98 Wash.2d 690, 695, 658 P.2d 648 (1983). See generally 6 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice § 1471 (1971); Trautman, Pleading Principles and Problems in Washington, 56 Wash.L.Rev. 687, 711-14 (1981). Leave to amend should be freely given "except where prejudice to the opposing party would result." Caruso, 100 Wash.2d at 349, 640 P.2d 240; see also 6 C. Wright & A. Miller, at § 1473.

The factors a court may consider in determining prejudice include undue delay and unfair surprise. Caruso, at 349-51, 640 P.2d 240; see also Tagliani v. Colwell, 10 Wash.App. 227, 233, 517 P.2d 207 (1973) (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 83 S.Ct. 227, 230, 9 L.Ed.2d 222 (1962)). A court may consider whether the amendment to the complaint is likely

Page 166

to result in jury confusion, the introduction of remote issues, or a lengthy trial. 6 C. Wright & A. Miller, at § 1487. The timing of a motion to amend pleadings--in terms of the progress of the litigation--may result in prejudice but otherwise is not dispositive. Caruso, 100 Wash.2d at 349-50, 670 P.2d 240. Similarly, the fact that the material in the amended pleading could have been included in the original pleading will not preclude amendment, absent prejudice to the nonmoving party. Caruso v. Local Union 690 of Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, supra. In all cases, "the touchstone for denial of an amendment is the prejudice such amendment would cause the nonmoving party." Del Guzzi, 105 Wash.2d at 888, 719 P.2d 120.

The language of CR 15(a) does not limit amended complaints to those transactions or occurrences forming the basis of the original pleadings. On the contrary, construing CR 15 as a whole and in particular with CR 15(c), Rule 15(a) would appear to permit amended complaints based on new or additional transactions or occurrences. CR 15(c) governs the "relation back" of amended pleadings and states: "Whenever the claim or defense asserted in the amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth ... in the original pleading, the amendment relates back to the date of the original pleading." CR 15 thus seems to contemplate added claims or defenses which do not arise out of the same occurrence set forth in the original pleading; such claims would not "relate back".

Although amendments pertaining to new transactions are permitted, those which pertain to the original claims are more likely to be granted. Appellate decisions permitting amendments have emphasized that the moving parties in those cases were merely seeking to assert a new legal theory based upon the same circumstances set forth in the original pleading. See, e.g., Foman v. Davis, supra, 371 U.S. at 182, 83 S.Ct. at 230. ("[T]he amendment would have done no more than state an alternative theory for recovery.... If the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon by a plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, he ought to be afforded an opportunity to test his claim on the merits."); Caruso, 100 Wash.2d at 350-51, 670 P.2d 240 (original

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complaint claimed tortious business interference based on defamatory publications, and amended complaint raised claim in defamation based on same publications; "petitioner had notice of a possible issue of defamation at the time of the original complaint", and thus was not prejudiced in preparing his defense, contacting witnesses, and otherwise securing evidence); Adams v. Allstate Ins. Co., 58 Wash.2d 659, 364 P.2d 804 (1961); Estate of Randmel v. Pounds, 38 Wash.App. 401, 685 P.2d 638 (1984); Tagliani v. Colwell, supra. See generally 6 C. Wright & A. Miller, at § 1487 nn. 50, 51 and cases cited therein. For a discussion of the general tendency to deny motions to amend based on new facts or occurrences, see 61A Am.Jur.2d Pleading §§ 322, 324 & 328.

[736 P.2d 254] The judicial preference for those amendments based on the underlying circumstances set forth in the original complaint--as compared with amendments raising new claims based on new factual issues--is consistent with the policies behind CR 15. When an amended complaint pertains to the same facts alleged in the original pleading, denying leave to amend may hamper a decision on the merits. When the amended complaint raises entirely new concerns, the plaintiff's right to relief based on the facts in the original complaint is unaffected. Moreover, the defendant in the latter case is more likely to suffer prejudice because he has not been provided with notice of the circumstances giving rise to the new claim and may have to renew discovery.

In the instant case, the amended complaint asserted new causes of action in defamation growing out of distinct and separate publications. The subject matter of the new publications was not the same as the subject matter of the publications giving rise to the original complaint, so the truth or falsity of the first set of publications would shed no light on the truth or falsity of the second set.

The plaintiffs nevertheless maintain that the second set of publications goes to the issue of malice raised in the original complaint. However, the amended complaint goes further than offering the publications as evidence and adds

Page 168

entirely new claims. Moreover, the trial judge granted the plaintiffs a continuance to lengthen the time for discovery, and he refused to limit the subject matter of discovery to only those publications discussed in the original complaint: the judge expressly...

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