Strada v. Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtBefore SPEZIALE; SPEZIALE; The plaintiff has failed to show a need for those sources. The plaintiff's request for identity of sources was denied by the trial court, Henebry
Citation193 Conn. 313,477 A.2d 1005
Decision Date29 May 1984
Parties, 10 Media L. Rep. 2165 William E. STRADA, Jr. v. CONNECTICUT NEWSPAPERS, INC., et al.

Page 1005

477 A.2d 1005
193 Conn. 313, 10 Media L. Rep. 2165
William E. STRADA, Jr.
v.
CONNECTICUT NEWSPAPERS, INC., et al.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued Feb. 1, 1984.
Decided May 29, 1984.

Page 1006

[193 Conn. 314] James A. Wade, Hartford, with whom was Timothy F. Bannon, Hartford, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Francis J. McNamara, Jr., Stamford, with whom was Robert P. Dolian, Stamford, for the appellees (defendants).

Before [193 Conn. 313] SPEZIALE, C.J., and PETERS, HEALEY, PARSKEY and GRILLO, JJ.

[193 Conn. 314] SPEZIALE, Chief Justice.

The plaintiff, William E. Strada, Jr., brought this libel action because of an allegedly libelous newspaper article published by the defendants. 1 This issue on the plaintiff's appeal is whether the trial court erred in granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment. We find no error.

In 1970, the plaintiff was elected to the state Senate for the 27th Senatorial District. The plaintiff was reelected by substantial margins of votes for three consecutive terms and during the last two terms of office he was deputy majority leader of the state Senate. In 1978, the plaintiff was defeated in his bid for a fifth term of office. On October 31, 1978, seven days before that election, the allegedly libelous article that is the subject of this action appeared in a Stamford newspaper, The Advocate. 2 The plaintiff believes that this article caused his defeat in the 1978 election and contends that the article caused him to suffer substantial pecuniary loss, injured his name and reputation, diminished his ability to practice law and his effectiveness as an elected public official, and caused his family great emotional distress and embarrassment.

[193 Conn. 315] In his complaint the plaintiff alleged that the article contained many false statements of fact, instances of innuendo that "reflected adversely on the reputation of the Plaintiff," and incorrect attributions of quotations. After the close of pleadings and two and one half years of discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment. On September 28, 1982, the trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants after concluding that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact in the complaint and that the defendants were entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. The court found that "each claimed falsehood is either true, substantially true or a privileged opinion" and that "there can be no libel by innuendo if the challenged communication is true and concerns public officers and public affairs even though a false implication may reasonably be drawn by the public." 3

The plaintiff has appealed from this judgment claiming error: (1) in the trial court's granting of summary judgment when there were genuine disputes as to material facts relating to the falsity and malicious intent of statements made in the article; and (2) in the trial court's holding that "there can be no libel by innuendo if

Page 1007

the challenged communication is true and concerns public officers and public affairs even though a false implication may reasonably be drawn by the public." 4

[193 Conn. 316] I

Before a party will be held liable for libel, there must be an unprivileged publication of a false and defamatory statement. Letter Carriers v. Austin, 418 U.S. 264, 284, 94 S.Ct. 2770, 2781, 41 L.Ed.2d 745 (1974). Truth is an absolute defense to an allegation of libel. Goodrich v. Waterbury Republican-American, Inc., 188 Conn. 107, 112, 448 A.2d 1317 (1982). The plaintiff has alleged that certain passages in the article are false or give rise to false innuendo. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground that the statements in the article were substantially true, privileged opinion, and privileged statements concerning a public official and public events so that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact."

Summary judgment is a method of resolving litigation when "the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to [193 Conn. 317] judgment as a matter of law." Practice Book § 384; Burns v. Hartford Hospital, 192 Conn. 451, 455, 472 A.2d 1257 (1984). Although the party seeking summary judgment has the burden of showing the nonexistence of any material fact; D.H.R. Construction Co., v. Donnelly, 180 Conn. 430, 434, 429 A.2d 908 (1980); a party opposing summary judgment must substantiate its adverse claim by showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact together with the evidence disclosing the existence of such an issue. Burns v. Hartford Hospital, supra; Practice Book §§ 380, 381. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Town Bank & Trust Co. v. Benson, 176 Conn. 304, 309, 407 A.2d 971 (1978).

In support of its motion for summary judgment the defendants submitted to the trial court the deposition testimony of the plaintiff and other persons. The affidavits, depositions, and exhibits submitted by both parties showed that the statements of fact and quotations in the article were true or substantially true.

The first half of the article dealt with the application of attorney James Guarnieri for the job of assistant prosecutor. See Appendix. The article states that the plaintiff, in an "attempt" to secure the job for Guarnieri, "first" proposed Guarnieri's name and asked a local judge to "intervene"

Page 1008

on Guarnieri's behalf as a "favor" to the plaintiff. The plaintiff challenges the truth of those statements. Our examination of the record, and particularly the plaintiff's own deposition, shows that the article is substantially true. " 'Facts do not cease to be facts because they are mixed with the fair and expectant comment of the story teller, who adds to the recital a little touch by his piquant pen.' Briarcliff Lodge Hotel, Inc. v. Citizen-Sentinel Publishers, Inc., 260 N.Y. 106, 118-19, 183 N.E. 193 (1932); [193 Conn. 318] accord, Miller v. News Syndicate Co., 445 F.2d 356, 358 (2d Cir.1971)." Goodrich v. Waterbury Republican-American, Inc., supra, 188 Conn. 123-24, 448 A.2d 1317.

The plaintiff testified in his deposition that he did meet with a local judge who the plaintiff knew would be involved in the selection process and did ask whether that judge could support Guarnieri for the position of Stamford assistant prosecutor. The plaintiff stated that he had the intention of assisting Guarnieri. Although Guarnieri had submitted his application prior to the plaintiff's contact with the local judge, the local judge first heard Guarnieri's name from the plaintiff. In fact, the plaintiff did not even know at the time he met with the local judge whether Guarnieri had formally applied for the position. The trial court did not err in finding that it was substantially true that the plaintiff "first" proposed Guarnieri's name.

The plaintiff contends that he did not ask the local judge "to intervene on behalf of Guarnieri." The plaintiff was present to assist Guarnieri if he could and when the local judge offered to contact the chief prosecutor the plaintiff agreed. It would be absurd not to understand that exchange as the plaintiff seeking support for Guarnieri and the local judge calling the chief prosecutor as a "favor" to the plaintiff, as the defendants stated. The trial court was correct in finding that the report of the events concerning the plaintiff's meeting with the local judge was substantially true.

The plaintiff also contends that certain statements of fact and quotations relating to events subsequent to his discussion with the local judge are false. On the basis of the evidence submitted by both parties, the trial court did not err in finding that the defendants' description[193 Conn. 319] of the events subsequent to the plaintiff's discussion with the local judge was substantially true. 5

Page 1009

The remainder of the article concerned the plaintiff's relationship with reputed criminals, their businesses, or associates. The factual basis of the remainder of the [193 Conn. 320] article, with the exception of one factual error concerning a Superbowl trip, is likewise supported by the evidence, in large part by the plaintiff's own deposition: John DePoli is a "reputed gangster," and the plaintiff has visited his restaurant and been on trips with DePoli. 6 The plaintiff admits that he has been questioned by government agents about DePoli's activities. The plaintiff objects to the article's characterization of his relationship with DePoli as "friendly," yet repeatedly characterizes that relationship himself as "he's a friend as opposed to an enemy." 7 The plaintiff's law firm represented a company owned in part by an alleged racketeer in a legal dispute with a state agency and the plaintiff personally called the agency in an attempt to resolve the matter. The plaintiff did appear at the sentencing of an alleged major racketeer to give emotional support to the family.

"[A]ny 'deviations from or embellishments upon' the information obtained from the primary sources relied upon were minuscule and can be attributed to the leeway afforded an author who attempts to recount and popularize an ... event." Meeropol v. Nizer, 381 F.Supp. 29, 35 (S.D.N.Y.1974), aff'd 560 F.2d 1061 (2d Cir.1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1013, 98 S.Ct. 727, 54 L.Ed.2d 756 (1978). The author's job is not simply to copy statements verbatim, "but to interpret and [193 Conn. 321] rework them into the whole." Ryan v. Brooks, 634 F.2d 726, 733 (4th Cir.1980). "A fussy insistence upon literal accuracy 'would condemn the press to an arid, dessicated recital of bare facts.' " Loeb v. Globe Newspaper Co., 489 F.Supp. 481, 486 (D.Mass.1980), quoting Time, Inc. v. Johnston, 448 F.2d 378, 384 (4th Cir.1971).

In this article comprising in excess of 1000 words, the one factual error is contained in the following...

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188 practice notes
  • Gupta v. New Britain General Hosp., No. 15487
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • December 31, 1996
    ...review proceeds from a view of the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See, e.g., Strada v. Connecticut Newspapers, Inc., 193 Conn. 313, 317, 477 A.2d 1005 (1984). In July, 1985, the hospital appointed the plaintiff to serve as a resident physician in the second year of its ......
  • Woodcock v. Journal Pub. Co., Inc., Nos. 14894
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 2, 1994
    ...complex legal process and generating reams of discovery concerning the defendant's state of mind. Strada v. Connecticut Newspapers, Inc., 193 Conn. 313, 316 n. 4, 477 A.2d 1005 (1984); see also Charles Parker Co. v. Silver City Crystal Co., 142 Conn. 605, 612, 116 A.2d 440 (1955) ("if the a......
  • Nolan v. Borkowski, No. 1323
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 15, 1988
    ...summary judgment bears the burden of proving the absence of a dispute as to any material fact. Strada v. Connecticut Newspapers, Inc., 193 Conn. 313, 317, 477 A.2d 1005 (1984). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. D.H.R. Construction Co. v. Donnelly......
  • Diesen v. Hessburg, No. C2-88-1345
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • May 11, 1990
    ...such organizing and editing of the articles were within the Newspaper's discretion. See, e.g., Strada v. Connecticut Newspapers, Inc., 193 Conn. 313, 326, 477 A.2d 1005, 1012 While Prosser recognizes "if the defendant juxtaposes a series of facts so as to imply a defamatory connection betwe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
187 cases
  • Gupta v. New Britain General Hosp., No. 15487
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • December 31, 1996
    ...review proceeds from a view of the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See, e.g., Strada v. Connecticut Newspapers, Inc., 193 Conn. 313, 317, 477 A.2d 1005 (1984). In July, 1985, the hospital appointed the plaintiff to serve as a resident physician in the second year of its ......
  • Woodcock v. Journal Pub. Co., Inc., Nos. 14894
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 2, 1994
    ...complex legal process and generating reams of discovery concerning the defendant's state of mind. Strada v. Connecticut Newspapers, Inc., 193 Conn. 313, 316 n. 4, 477 A.2d 1005 (1984); see also Charles Parker Co. v. Silver City Crystal Co., 142 Conn. 605, 612, 116 A.2d 440 (1955) ("if the a......
  • Nolan v. Borkowski, No. 1323
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 15, 1988
    ...summary judgment bears the burden of proving the absence of a dispute as to any material fact. Strada v. Connecticut Newspapers, Inc., 193 Conn. 313, 317, 477 A.2d 1005 (1984). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. D.H.R. Construction Co. v. Donnelly......
  • Diesen v. Hessburg, No. C2-88-1345
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • May 11, 1990
    ...such organizing and editing of the articles were within the Newspaper's discretion. See, e.g., Strada v. Connecticut Newspapers, Inc., 193 Conn. 313, 326, 477 A.2d 1005, 1012 While Prosser recognizes "if the defendant juxtaposes a series of facts so as to imply a defamatory connection betwe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • LIBEL BY OMISSION OF EXCULPATORY LEGAL DECISIONS.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 97 Nbr. 1, November 2021
    • November 1, 2021
    ...Woman Hurt by Gunshot, MEM. PRESS-SCIMITAR, June 5, 1971). (6) Id. (7) Id. at 419. (8) See, e.g., Strada v. Conn. Newspapers, Inc., 477 A.2d 1005, 1010-12 (Conn. 1984) (describing libel by implication or by (9) Wiest v. E-Fense, Inc., 356 F. Supp. 2d 604, 610 (E.D. Va. 2005); see also, e.g.......

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