Time, Inc v. Hill, No. 22

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRENNAN
Citation87 S.Ct. 534,385 U.S. 374,17 L.Ed.2d 456
Docket NumberNo. 22
Decision Date09 January 1967
PartiesTIME, INC., Appellant, v. James J. HILL. Re

385 U.S. 374
87 S.Ct. 534
17 L.Ed.2d 456
TIME, INC., Appellant,

v.

James J. HILL.

No. 22.
Reargued Oct. 18 and 19, 1966.
Decided Jan. 9, 1967.

[Syllabus from pages 374-375 intentionally omitted]

Page 375

Harold R. Medina, Jr., New York City, for appellant.

Richard M. Nixon, New York City, for appellee.

Page 376

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question in this case is whether appellant, publisher of Life Magazine, was denied constitutional protections of speech and press by the application by the New York courts of §§ 50—51 of the New York Civil Rights Law, McKinney's Consol. Laws, c. 61 to award appellee damages on allegations

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that Life falsely reported that a new play portrayed an experience suffered by appellee and his family.

The article appeared in Life in February 1955. It was entitled 'True Crime Inspires Tense Play,' with the subtitle, 'The ordeal of a family trapped by convicts gives Broadway a new thriller, 'The Desperate Hours." The text of the article reads as follows:

'Three years ago Americans all over the country read about the desperate ordeal of the James Hill family, who were held prisoners in thier home outside Philadelphia by three escaped convicts. Later they read about it in Joseph Hayes's novel, The Desperate Hours, inspired by the family's experience. Now they can see the story re-enacted in Hayes's Broadway play based on the book, and next year will see it in his movie, which has been filmed but is being held up until the play has a chance to pay off.

'The play, directed by Robert Montgomery and expertly acted, is a heart-stopping account of how a family rose to heroism in a crisis. LIFE photographed the play during its Philadelphia tryout, transported some of the actors to the actual house where the Hills were besieged. On the next page scenes from the play are re-enacted on the site of the crime.'

The pictures on the ensuing two pages included an enactment of the son being 'roughed up' by one of the convicts, entitled 'brutish convict,' a picture of the

Page 378

daughter biting the hand of a convict to make him drop a gun, entitled 'daring daughter,' and one of the father throwing his gun through the door after a 'brave try' to save his family is foiled.

The James Hill referred to in the article is the appellee. He and his wife and five children involuntarily became the subjects of a front-page news story after being held hostage by three escaped convicts in their suburban, Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, home for 19 hours on September 11—12, 1952. The family was released unharmed. In an interview with newsmen after the convicts departed, appellee stressed that the convicts had treated the family courteously, had not molested them, and had not been at all violent. The convicts were thereafter apprehended in a widely publicized encounter with the police which resulted in the killing of two of the convicts. Shortly thereafter the family moved to Connecticut. The appellee discouraged all efforts to keep them in the public spotlight through magazine articles or appearances on television.

In the spring of 1953, Joseph Hayes' novel, The Desperate Hours, was published. The story depicted the experience of a family of four held hostage by three escaped convicts in the family's suburban home. But, unlike Hill's experience, the family of the story suffer violence at the hands of the convicts; the father and son are beaten and the daughter subjected to a verbal sexual insult.

The book was made into a play, also entitled The Desperate Hours, and it is Life's article about the play which is the subject of appellee's action. The complaint sought damages under §§ 50—51 on allegations that the Life article was intended, to, and did, give the impression that the play mirrored the Hill family's experience, which, to the knowledge of defendant '* * * was false and untrue.' Appellant's defense was that

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the article was 'a subject of legitimate news interest,' 'a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public' at the time of publication, and that it was 'published in good faith without any malice whatsoever * * *.' A motion to dismiss the complaint for substantially these reasons was made at the close of the case and was denied by the trial judge on the ground that the proofs presented a jury question as to the truth of the article.

The jury awarded appellee $50,000 compensatory and $25,000 punitive damages. On appeal the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court ordered a new trial as to damages but sustained the jury verdict of liability. The court said as to liability:

'Although the play was fictionalized, Life's article portrayed it as a reenactment of the Hills' experience. It is an inescapable conclusion that this was done to advertise and attract further attention to the play, and to increase present and future magazine circulation as well. It is evident that the article cannot be characterized as a mere dissemination of news, nor even an effort to supply legitimate newsworthy information in which the public had, or might have a proper interest.' 18 A.D.2d 485, 489, 240 N.Y.S.2d 286, 290.

At the new trial on damages, a jury was waived and the court awarded $30,000 compensatory damages without punitive damages.2

The New York Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division 'on the majority and concurring opinions

Page 380

at the Appellate Division,' two judges dissenting. 15 N.Y.2d 986, 260 N.Y.S.2d 7, 207 N.E.2d 604. We noted probable jurisdiction of the appeal to consider the important constitutional questions of freedom of speech and press involved. 382 U.S. 936, 86 S.Ct. 392, 15 L.Ed.2d 348. After argument last Term, the case was restored to the docket for reargument, 384 U.S. 995, 86 S.Ct. 1911, 16 L.Ed.2d 1012. We reverse and remand the case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

I.

Since the reargument, we have had the advantage of an opinion of the Court of Appeals of New York which has materially aided us in our understanding of that court's construction of the statute. It is the opinion of Judge Keating for the court in Spahn v. Julian Messner, Inc., 18 N.Y.2d 324, 274 N.Y.S.2d 877, 221 N.E.2d 543 (1966). The statute was enacted in 1903 following the decision of the Court of Appeals in 1902 in Roberson v. Rochester Folding Box Co., 171 N.Y. 538, 64 N.E. 442, 59 L.R.A. 478. Roberson was an action against defendants for adorning their flour bags with plaintiff's picture without her consent. It was grounded upon an alleged invasion of a 'right of privacy,' defined by the Court of Appeals to be 'the claim that a man has the right to pass through this world, if he wills, without having his picture published * * * or his eccentricities commented upon either in handbills, circulars, catalogues, periodicals or newspapers * * *.' 171 N.Y., at 544, 64 N.E., at 443. The Court of Appeals traced the theory to the celebrated article of Warren and Brandeis, entitled The Right to Privacy, published in 1890. 4 Harv.L.Rev. 193.3 The

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Court of Appeals, however, denied the existence of such a right at common law but observed that '(t)he legislative body could very well interfere and arbitrarily provide that no one should be permitted for his own selfish purpose to use the picture or the name of another for advertising purposes without his consent.' 171 N.Y., at 545, 64 N.E., at 443. The legislature enacted §§ 50—51 in response to that observation.

Although 'Right of Privacy' is the caption of §§ 50—51, the term nowhere appears in the text of the statute itself. The text of the statute appears to proscribe only conduct of the kind involved in Roberson, that is, the appropriation and use in advertising or to promote the sale of goods, of another's name, portrait or picture without his consent.4 An application of that limited scope would present different questions of violation of the constitutional protections for speech and press. Compare Valentine v. Chrestensen, 316 U.S. 52, 62 S.Ct. 920, 86 L.Ed. 1262, with New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 265—266, 84 S.Ct. 710, 718—719, 11 L.Ed.2d 686.

The New York courts have, however, construed the statute to operate much more broadly. In Spahn the Court of Appeals stated that 'Over the years since the statute's enactment in 1903, its social desirability and remedial nature have led to its being given a liberal construction consonant with its over-all purpose * * *.' 18 N.Y.2d, at 327, 274 N.Y.S.2d, at 879, 221 N.E.2d, at 544. Specifically,

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it has been held in some circumstances to authorize a remedy against the press and other communications media which publish the names, pictures, or portraits of people without their consent. Reflecting the fact, however, that such applications may raise serious questions of conflict with the constitutional protections for speech and press, decisions under the statute have tended to limit the statute's application.5 '(E)ver mindful that the written word or picture is involved, courts have engrafted exceptions and restrictions onto the statute to avoid any conflict with the free dissemination of thoughts, ideas, newsworthy events, and matters of public interest.' Id., 18 N.Y.2d, at 328, 274 N.Y.S.2d, at 879, 221 N.E.2d, at 544—545.

In the light of questions that counsel were asked to argue on reargument,6 it is particularly relevant that the

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Court of Appeals made crystal clear in the Spahn opinion that truth is a complete defense in actions under the statute based upon reports of newsworthy people or events. The opinion states: 'The factual reporting of newsworthy persons and events is in the public interest and is protected.' 18 N.Y.2d, at 328, 274 N.Y.S.2d, at 879, 221 N.E.2d, at 545. 7 Constitutional questions which might

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arise if truth were not a defense are therefore of no concern. Cf. Garrison v. State...

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716 practice notes
  • Bedford v. Sugarman, No. 55358-1
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • May 4, 1989
    ...interests. "Exposure of the self to others in varying degrees is a concomitant of life in a civilized community." Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 388, 87 S.Ct. 534, 542, 17 L.Ed.2d 456 (1967). With respect to those aspects of personality, appearance and behavior that ordinarily would be e......
  • Babbitt v. United Farm Workers National Union, No. 78-225
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 5, 1979
    ...implications of causes of action for injurious falsehoods outside the area of defamation and the ground covered by Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 87 S.Ct. 534, 17 L.Ed.2d 456 (1967). Linn v. Plant Guard Workers, 383 U.S. 53, 86 S.Ct. 657, 15 L.Ed.2d 582 (1966), holding that application o......
  • Ali v. Playgirl, Inc., No. 78 Civ. 445.
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    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 3, 1978
    ...therefore do not embody those factual "matters of public interest" for which the Supreme Court expressed concern in Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 387-88, 87 S.Ct. 534, 17 L.Ed.2d 456 (1967). See Grant v. Esquire, Inc., 367 F.Supp. 876, 882-84 10 A New York court with personal jurisdicti......
  • United States v. Spock, No. 7205-7208.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • July 11, 1969
    ...S.Ct. 419, 19 L.Ed.2d 508 (1967); New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686 (1964); Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 87 S.Ct. 534, 17 L.Ed.2d 456 (1967); NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 83 S.Ct. 328, 9 L. Ed.2d 405 (1963); Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 4......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
713 cases
  • Bedford v. Sugarman, No. 55358-1
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • May 4, 1989
    ...interests. "Exposure of the self to others in varying degrees is a concomitant of life in a civilized community." Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 388, 87 S.Ct. 534, 542, 17 L.Ed.2d 456 (1967). With respect to those aspects of personality, appearance and behavior that ordinarily would be e......
  • Babbitt v. United Farm Workers National Union, No. 78-225
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 5, 1979
    ...implications of causes of action for injurious falsehoods outside the area of defamation and the ground covered by Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 87 S.Ct. 534, 17 L.Ed.2d 456 (1967). Linn v. Plant Guard Workers, 383 U.S. 53, 86 S.Ct. 657, 15 L.Ed.2d 582 (1966), holding that application o......
  • Ali v. Playgirl, Inc., No. 78 Civ. 445.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 3, 1978
    ...therefore do not embody those factual "matters of public interest" for which the Supreme Court expressed concern in Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 387-88, 87 S.Ct. 534, 17 L.Ed.2d 456 (1967). See Grant v. Esquire, Inc., 367 F.Supp. 876, 882-84 10 A New York court with personal jurisdicti......
  • United States v. Spock, No. 7205-7208.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • July 11, 1969
    ...S.Ct. 419, 19 L.Ed.2d 508 (1967); New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686 (1964); Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 87 S.Ct. 534, 17 L.Ed.2d 456 (1967); NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 83 S.Ct. 328, 9 L. Ed.2d 405 (1963); Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 4......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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  • Censorsed: Copyright's Festering Free-Speech Problem
    • United States
    • Landslide Nbr. 9-5, May 2017
    • May 1, 2017
    ...1, 4 (2001). 12. 537 U.S. 186, 221 (2003) (emphasis added). 13. N.Y. Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964). 14. Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374 (1967). 15. Cox Broad. Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469 (1975). 16. Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988). 17. Eldred , 537 U.S. a......
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    • ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The Nbr. 371-1, May 1967
    • May 1, 1967
    ...the pain, pleasureand satisfactions of life are to be found in6 Reinhold Niebuhr, op. cit., supra, note 2,at p. 181.7 Time, Inc. v. Hill, 87 S. Ct. 534 (1967),at p. 554, dissenting opinion, in which JusticeFortas was joined by Chief Justice Warrenand Justice Clark.8 Justice Rutledge in Thom......
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    • September 22, 2021
    ...367-69 (2010); Cent. Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n, 447 U.S. 557, 564 n.6 (1980). (48.) See, e.g., Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 386 (49.) See, e.g., Hustler Mag., Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46, 52-53, 56 (1988). (50.) See, e.g., Ariz. Free Enter. Club's Freedom Club ......

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