Purvis v. Bremer's, Inc., 34672

Decision Date08 October 1959
Docket NumberNo. 34672,34672
Citation344 P.2d 705,54 Wn.2d 743
CourtWashington Supreme Court
PartiesRalph PURVIS, Appellant, v. BREMER'S, INC., a corporation; Edward Bremer; James McCallum and Jane Doe McCallum, his wife; Robert Phalen and Jane Doe Phalen, his wife; Jack Henry Rogers and Dorothy Rogers, his wife; Thor Romstad and Jane Doe Romstad, his wife; and Richard Rylander and Marian Rylander, his wife, Respondents.

Tonkoff, Holst & Hopp, Yakima, for appellant.

Helsell, Paul, Fetterman, Tedd & Hokanson, Seattle, for respondents Bremer's, Inc., and Edward Bremer.

Ursich & Jensen, Tacoma, for respondents McCallum.

Arthur & Hanley, Bremerton, for respondents Rogers.

DONWORTH, Judge.

This is an action for libel. Three separate demurrers, filed by defendants against the third amended complaint, were sustained. The plaintiff elected not to plead further, and the trial court entered judgment of dismissal. Plaintiff appeals.

The alleged libelous article is an advertisement which appeared in four newspapers of general circulation in Kitsap county during a political campaign in which the plaintiff was a candidate (and a successful one) for re-election to the state legislature. We set out the advertisement in haec verba.

'Taxpayers Beware Ralph Purvis Is Trying To Put His Hand In Your Pocket

'Just when the people of Kitsap County thought they had the Great PUD Deal laid quietly to rest, one Ralph Purvis, attorney and legislative watchdog for the PUD Lobby, has presented a bill. A big bill. Mr. Purvis says the Kitsap PUD owes him $10,500.00. He says it is for legal services--rendered several years ago.

'The taxpayers out of whom Purvis hopes to collect this windfall should understand something about the bill they have been handed by Mr. Purvis. Incidentally, Mr. Purvis wants these same taxpayers to send him to Olympia for a second term in the State House of Representatives.

'Mr. Purvis wants to go to Olympia with his fellow Democrat, Mr. Henry Brown, another PUD zealot who has cost Kitsap County taxpayers thousands of dollars. No wonder Mr. Brown and Mr. Purvis wish to go to Olympia as your representatives to fix up the PUD laws so they can milk the taxpayers of additional thousands.

'This latest assault on the public purse is so bold, so brazen, it must be clearly understood by the taxpayers who will have to pay the $10,500.00 claim if Mr. Purvis is successful in pressing it. It should be realized that the Kitsap PUD has no funds on hand to pay this Purvis claim. If it should come to pass that the PUD must pay the amount, it would be necessary for the PUD commissioners to make a tax levy against your homes and property to pay the bill. There is only one place the PUD can get any money--out of your hide by means of property taxes.

'The PUD of this county already has spent $66,547.95 of the public's money in foolhardy schemes. The Kitsap PUD today hasn't a dollar's worth of property to show for this lavish expenditure of your money. Now Mr. Purvis wants you to dig down deeper for $10,500.00 in lawyer fees. He wants to add insult to injury.

'Mr. Purvis has been associated with Mr. Guy Myers, the high-priced fiscal agent who was arranging the 107-million- dollar deal for Kitsap and several other PUD's to purchase the Puget Sound Power & Light Company.

'Mr. Myers' contract with the Kitsap PUD provided that he would have to pay all legal and engineering fees in connection with the deal. Mr. Purvis should look to Mr. Myers for his fee, if he has one coming, because everything Mr. Purvis did as a lawyer in connection with the Kitsap PUD was done to further the PUD purchase of the power company's properties.

'We feel that this effort of Purvis to collect a big fee on a 'dead horse' financial scheme should be exposed. We feel also that the public should be made fully aware of the part both Henry Brown and Ralph Purvis have played in this scheme, both in this county and in the legislature where both have served their PUD masters slavishly.

'We believe that a political campaign is indeed the proper time to bring these matters to the attention of the voters, so they can understand the issues at stake and judge the personalities and characters involved.

'Please read our advertisements the rest of the week in the Bremerton Sun to learn the amazing details of this latest PUD raid on the Kitsap County Treasury * * * sometimes known as 'The Ralph Purvis Relief Bill.'

'This series of advertisements Paid for by Kitsap County Young Republican Club

'Richard Rylander, Pres., and Robert Phalen, See'y.'

The third amended complaint alleged that the defendants James McCallum and Jack Henry Rogers were agents and employees of the defendants Bremer's, Inc., and Edward Bremer, and were acting in the scope and course of their employment, and that McCallum and Rogers, together with the defendants Thor Romstad, Robert Phalen, and Richard Rylander, and each of them, did, with malice, write and publish the advertisement in the four newspapers; and that it was false and untrue and was known by the defendants to be false and untrue.

It was further alleged that, at all times referred to in the third amended complaint, the plaintiff was an attorney engaged in the practice of law in Bremerton, Kitsap county, and a member of the state legislature; that all of the statements in said advertisement exposed the plaintiff to hatred and contempt, causing him mental anguish and distress, and deprived him of the benefit of public confidence, and injured him in the practice of his profession, thereby causing him special damages in the sum of $75,000, and general damage in the sum of $150,000.

There are three additional paragraphs in which the plaintiff alleges what the readers of the newspapers understood certain statements to mean, and these we shall consider in connection with a consideration of the various statements now claimed to be libelous per se.

Unless a publication constitutes a libel per se, special damages must be alleged and proven. In the present case, the general allegation that the publication has 'injured plaintiff in the practice of his profession, thereby causing plaintiff special damage in the sum of $75,000.00' is insufficient to place the issue of special damages before the court. The items of special damage must be stated with particularity. Denney v. Northwestern Credit Ass'n, 1909, 55 Wash. 331, 104 P. 769, 25 L.R.A.,N.S., 1021; Velikanje v. Millichamp, 1912, 67 Wash. 138, 120 P. 876; Fowler v. Curtis Publishing Co., 1950, 86 U.S.App.D.C. 349, 182 F.2d 377; see Annotation, 86 A.L.R. 848.

There being no proper allegation of special damages, unless the statements in the advertisement are libelous per se, the third amended complaint fails to state a cause of action.

There is a general allegation that the advertisement 'was false and untrue and was known to be false and untrue by the defendants.' The complaint, however, specifically admits the truth of some of the statements, and of some we have judicial knowledge, as shown by an opinion of this court. Purvis v. Public Utility District No. 1, 1957, 50 Wash.2d 204, 310 P.2d 233.

However, except as judicial knowledge or the allegations of the complaint establish the contrary, we must, for the purpose of passing upon the demurrer to the third amended complaint, assume the falsity of the statements contained in the advertisement. Yelle v. Cowles Publishing Co., 1955, 46 Wash.2d 105, 278 P.2d 671, 53 A.L.R.2d 1.

The statements in the advertisement, which the plaintiff urges to be libelous per se, which we have designated A through H, will be considered seriatim.

Following each statement we have inserted the plaintiff-appellant's contention with reference to that statement, supplemented with any allegations in the third amended complaint, by way of innuendo or explanatory background. This is not to be interpreted as the views of the court.

A. 'Taxpayers Beware Ralph Purvis Is Trying To Put His Hand In Your Pocket'

It is urged that those headlines are an insinuation that the plaintiff is not worthy of trust and confidence, and that his motive is to wrongfully take money which belongs to the taxpayers.

B. 'Just when the people of Kitsap County thought they had the Great PUD Deal laid quietly to rest, one Ralph Purvis, attorney and legislative watchdog for the PUD Lobby, has presented a bill. A big bill. Mr. Purvis says the Kitsap PUD owes him $10,500.00. He says it is for legal services--rendered several years ago.

'The taxpayers out of whom Purvis hopes to collect this windfall should understand something about the bill they have been handed by Mr. Purvis * * *.'

It is urged that the term 'legislative watchdog for the PUD Lobby' implies that he uses his position in the legislature to further the interests of the public utility districts rather than the interests of the people of his district, who elected him, and the people of the state as a whole, whose interests he has an obligation to serve. It implies that he is wanting in official integrity and fidelity to a public trust. It is urged that, while it appears from our opinion in Purvis v. Public Utility District No. 1, supra, that the plaintiff was attempting to collect a fee from the public utility district, and properly so, except to the extent that his claim was barred by the statute of limitations, the use of the word 'windfall' suggests that he is trying to collect something he did not earn or had no right to expect.

C. '* * * Incidentally, Mr. Purvis wants these same taxpayers to send him to Olympia for a second term in the State House of Representatives.'

While this statement was literally true at the time, it is said that, read in context with the entire advertisement, it says in effect: can you imagine the effrontery of this man, who is trying to put his hand in your pocket, who is lacking in official integrity, who is unworthy of public trust, and who is trying to collect windfalls from the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
31 cases
  • Taskett v. King Broadcasting Co.
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • 11 Febrero 1976
    ...element of civil libel, and is immaterial upon the issue of whether published words are defamatory.' Purvis v. Bremer's, Inc., 54 Wash.2d 743, 755, 344 P.2d 705, 712 (1959). See also, Pitts v. Spokane Chronicle Co., 63 Wash.2d 763, 388 P.2d 976 (1964); Luna de la Peunte v. Seattle Times Co.......
  • Life Designs Ranch, Inc. v. Sommer
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • 12 Noviembre 2015
    ...76 Wash.2d 733, 737, 458 P.2d 882 (1969) ; Grayson v. Curtis Publ'g Co., 72 Wash.2d 999, 436 P.2d 756 (1967) ; Purvis v. Bremer's, Inc., 54 Wash.2d 743, 751, 344 P.2d 705 (1959) ; Spangler v. Glover, 50 Wash.2d 473, 313 P.2d 354 (1957) ; Wood v. Battle Ground Sch. Dist., 107 Wash.App. 550, ......
  • Schmalenberg v. Tacoma News, Inc.
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • 2 Septiembre 1997
    ...by the alleged libel;" according to Supreme Court, "trial court's instructions adequately set forth the law"); Purvis v. Bremer's, Inc., 54 Wash.2d 743, 752, 344 P.2d 705 (1959) (after ruling that special damages had not been pled, court said, "The test actually is whether the language used......
  • Haueter v. Cowles Pub. Co.
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • 11 Junio 1991
    ...him of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse, or to injure him in his business or occupation. Purvis v. Bremer's, Inc., 54 Wash.2d 743, 751, 344 P.2d 705 (1959). When the published words are not libelous per se, special or actual damages must be alleged and proved. Purvis, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT