Lesesne v. Willingham, Civ. A. No. 2047.

CourtU.S. District Court — District of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtNelson, Mullins & Grier, of Columbia, S. C., for defendant
Citation83 F. Supp. 918
PartiesLESESNE v. WILLINGHAM et al.
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 2047.
Decision Date25 April 1949

83 F. Supp. 918

LESESNE
v.
WILLINGHAM et al.

Civ. A. No. 2047.

United States District Court E. D. South Carolina, Columbia Division.

April 25, 1949.


83 F. Supp. 919
COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED
83 F. Supp. 920
McLeod & Singletary, of Columbia, S. C., for plaintiff

Nelson, Mullins & Grier, of Columbia, S. C., for defendant.

WYCHE, District Judge.

The plaintiff sues the defendant Western Union Telegraph Company and H. G. Willingham for libel based upon the telegraph company's acceptance, transmission and delivery of two telegrams over its usual and customary channels of local transmission in the City of Columbia, South Carolina.

The telegram upon which plaintiff's first cause of action is grounded is as follows:

"LDA6 NL PD Columbia SoCar 26 1946

Oct 26 PM 10 45

Thomas P. Lesesne

2207 Murray St Columbia So Car

Although you are an administrative assistant of the South Carolina State Board of Health and a New Deal tick that does not give you license to run through the streets of Columbia and kill women Turn over in bed and regret your wrong doings. Although you have tried to kill the case with political pull we are determined to pull you out into the spot light —

H. G. Willingham."

Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Edition, Unabridged, defines the word "tick" as follows: "1. Any of numerous arachnids of the order Acarida but larger than the ordinary mites, which attach themselves to a man and many animals and birds, and suck their blood. Their young have six legs, the adults eight. Some species are vectors of specific diseases of man and other animals. Ixodidae is the typical family. 2. Any of certain degraded parasitic dipterous insects, as the bird ticks, sheep tick, and bat ticks. 3. An offensive person; a pest."

The telegram upon which plaintiff's second cause of action is founded is as follows:

"CM6 NL PD Columbia SoCar Oct 27

Dr James A Hayne —

You nor no other Democratic politician is going to be big enough to fix the death that occurred at Wheat and Wood Streets

83 F. Supp. 921
caused by your admistrative assistant Thomas Lesesne. I have reported this to the Civil Rights Section of the United States Dept of Justice. After receiving cover all tactics from Highway Patrol and Columbia Police Dept

H G Willingham. 902A"

The amended complaint alleges as to the first cause of action, "that the Defendant, Western Union Telegraph Company did accept said telegram for transmission and did willfully transmit same over its usual and customary channels of local transmission, thereby publishing it to those (of) its employees who had occasion to handle same, well knowing that it was apparently not privileged and was libelous and defamatory upon its face, in that it charged and impugned this Plaintiff, among other things, with the commission of a serious crime, and in the course of such transmission of the said telegram to this Plaintiff, did deliver it as (at) his home where it was first opened and read by his wife, * * *. That the defamatory and libelous statements as contained in the above quoted telegram were willfully, wantonly, maliciously and unlawfully uttered, written and published by the Defendants of and concerning this Plaintiff," etc. (Emphasis added.)

The amended complaint alleges as to the second cause of action, "that the Defendant, Western Union Telegraph Company, did accept said telegram for transmission and did willfully transmit same, thereby publishing it to those persons participating in its transmission, well knowing that it was apparently not privileged and that it was libelous and defamatory upon its face in that it charged and impugned this Plaintiff, among other things, with the commission of a serious crime and in the course of its transmission did forward and deliver same to the addressee, Dr. James A. Hayne, by whom it was read and then referred to Dr. Ben F. Wyman as Director of the South Carolina Health Department. That the defamatory and libelous statements as contained in the above quoted telegram were willfully, wantonly, maliciously and unlawfully uttered, written and published by the Defendants of and concerning this Plaintiff and that in consequence thereof and as the proximate result therefrom, this Plaintiff has been caused to suffer" etc. (Emphasis added.)

The case is now before me upon defendant Western Union Telegraph Company's motion to dismiss as to it upon the ground that the complaint fails to state a claim against this defendant upon which relief can be granted.

Both telegrams were transmitted within the City of Columbia, South Carolina. I must, therefore, be governed by the law of South Carolina in disposing of the motion.

It seems to be well settled in this State that any words which falsely or maliciously charge the commission of a crime, or which distinctly assume or imply one has committed a crime, or which raise a strong suspicion in the minds of hearers or readers, that one has committed a crime, or which plainly and falsely charge the contraction of a contagious disease, adultery or a want of chastity, or unfitness in the way of a profession or trade, or any written or printed words which tend to degrade a person, that is, to reduce his character or reputation in the estimation of his friends or acquaintances, or the public, or to disgrace him, or to render him odious, contemptible, or ridiculous, are actionable per se. Duncan v. Record Publishing Company, 145 S.C. 196, 143 S.E. 31; Turner v. Montgomery Ward & Co., 165 S.C. 253, 163 S.E. 796; Lily v. Belk's Department Store, 178 S.C. 278, 182 S.E. 889; Galloway v. Cox, 172 S.C. 101, 172 S.E. 761, 762; Sandifer v. Electrolux Corporation, 4 Cir., 172 F.2d 548, 550. In the last cited case it was said by the Circuit Court of Appeals of the Fourth Circuit: "And as a logical matter it should be immaterial whether the commission of a crime is charged positively and directly by words of clear and unmistakeable meaning or only indirectly and by means of innuendo. So long as the words are understood by third persons to make the charge, the effect from the standpoint of damage done may be calculated to be the same. "It has, in fact, been noted several times by the South Carolina courts that a hidden charge made by insinuation and innuendo may inflict graver injury and injustice than a direct and specific accusation which, if false, may be more easily met and refuted."

83 F. Supp. 922

But the defendant contends that the amended complaint shows on its face that the two telegrams were privileged, and therefore, as a matter of law, are not actionable, unless plaintiff can prove actual malice.

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14 practice notes
  • Holtzscheiter v. Thomson Newspapers, Inc., No. 24842.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • September 22, 1998
    ...acquaintances, or the public, or to disgrace him, or to render him odious, contemptible, or ridiculous...." Lesesne v. Willingham, 83 F.Supp. 918, 921 (E.D.S.C.1949). In other words, if the trial judge can legally presume, because of the nature of the statement, that the plaintiff's re......
  • FLEMINGN v. Rose, No. 3101.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 17, 2000
    ...him odious, contemptible, or ridiculous...." Holtzscheiter II, 332 S.C. at 510, 506 S.E.2d at 502 (quoting Lesesne v. Willingham, 83 F.Supp. 918, 921 (E.D.S.C.1949)). In other words, if the trial judge can legally presume, because of the nature of the statement, that the plaintiff's re......
  • Bakala v. Krupa, 9:18-cv-2590-DCN-MGB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • August 10, 2021
    ...of a contagious disease, adultery or a want of chastity or unfitness in the way of a professional trade. Lesesne v. Willingham, 83 F.Supp. 918 (D.S.C. 1949); Matthews v. U.S. Rubber Co., 219 F.Supp. 831, aff'd 332 F.2d 597 (4th Cir. 1963). If the statement is actionable per se, then “the pl......
  • Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai B'rith, Pac. SWRO v. FCC, No. 20770.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • September 30, 1968
    ...affirmed, 6 Cir., 254 F.2d 242 (1958) (radio station sued for libel for one of its newscasts); cf. Lesesne v. Willingham, E.D. S.C., 83 F.Supp. 918 (1949) (Western Union liable for transmission of telegram where it knew it was libelous); see cases collected in Remmers, Recent Legislative Tr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • Holtzscheiter v. Thomson Newspapers, Inc., No. 24842.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • September 22, 1998
    ...acquaintances, or the public, or to disgrace him, or to render him odious, contemptible, or ridiculous...." Lesesne v. Willingham, 83 F.Supp. 918, 921 (E.D.S.C.1949). In other words, if the trial judge can legally presume, because of the nature of the statement, that the plaintiff's re......
  • FLEMINGN v. Rose, No. 3101.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 17, 2000
    ...him odious, contemptible, or ridiculous...." Holtzscheiter II, 332 S.C. at 510, 506 S.E.2d at 502 (quoting Lesesne v. Willingham, 83 F.Supp. 918, 921 (E.D.S.C.1949)). In other words, if the trial judge can legally presume, because of the nature of the statement, that the plaintiff's re......
  • Bakala v. Krupa, 9:18-cv-2590-DCN-MGB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • August 10, 2021
    ...of a contagious disease, adultery or a want of chastity or unfitness in the way of a professional trade. Lesesne v. Willingham, 83 F.Supp. 918 (D.S.C. 1949); Matthews v. U.S. Rubber Co., 219 F.Supp. 831, aff'd 332 F.2d 597 (4th Cir. 1963). If the statement is actionable per se, then “the pl......
  • Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai B'rith, Pac. SWRO v. FCC, No. 20770.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • September 30, 1968
    ...affirmed, 6 Cir., 254 F.2d 242 (1958) (radio station sued for libel for one of its newscasts); cf. Lesesne v. Willingham, E.D. S.C., 83 F.Supp. 918 (1949) (Western Union liable for transmission of telegram where it knew it was libelous); see cases collected in Remmers, Recent Legislative Tr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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