Woodcock v. Journal Pub. Co., Inc., Nos. 14894

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtBefore PETERS; CALLAHAN; In this opinion PETERS; BERDON
Citation646 A.2d 92,230 Conn. 525
PartiesCarla C. WOODCOCK v. JOURNAL PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC., et al.
Decision Date02 August 1994
Docket NumberNos. 14894,14895

Page 92

646 A.2d 92
230 Conn. 525
Carla C. WOODCOCK
v.
JOURNAL PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC., et al.
Nos. 14894, 14895.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued May 4, 1994.
Decided Aug. 2, 1994.

Page 93

[230 Conn. 526] Richard C. Robinson, with whom, on the brief, was Clifford J. Grandjean, Hartford, for appellant in the first case (defendant Green Manor Corp.).

Wesley W. Horton, Hartford and David F. Sherwood, Glastonbury, with whom were Karen L. Murdoch, Hartford and, on the brief, Susan M. Cormier and Michael S. Taylor and Tanya Feliciano, certified legal interns, for appellants in the second case (named defendant et al.).

William F. Gallagher, with whom, on the brief, were Elizabeth A. Gallagher and Thomas P. Barrett, New Haven, for the appellee in both cases (plaintiff).

Before [230 Conn. 525] PETERS, C.J., and CALLAHAN, BERDON, KATZ and PALMER, JJ.

[230 Conn. 526] CALLAHAN, Associate Justice.

The defendants in this libel action have appealed from the trial court's denial of their motions to set aside the verdict and for judgment notwithstanding[230 Conn. 527] the verdict in favor of the plaintiff, Carla C. Woodcock. The plaintiff, a member of the South Windsor planning and zoning commission from 1987 to 1989, filed a four count libel action against the defendants. The first count of the complaint alleged that the Journal Publishing Company, Inc., the publisher of the Journal Inquirer newspaper, the Green Manor Corporation, a shareholder of the Journal Publishing Company, and Thomas Puleo, a reporter for the newspaper, had published a series of defamatory articles about the plaintiff during the years 1988 and 1989 in the Journal Inquirer. The second count alleged that the defendants had failed to disclose underlying facts known to them that would have changed the defamatory tone of the articles. The third count alleged that the Journal Publishing Company had caused further defamatory statements to be published in 1992, while the libel case was pending. The fourth count alleged that William Bellock, a developer, had made defamatory statements to employees of the Journal Inquirer that were incorporated into an article, and that he had also written a defamatory letter to the editor.

The jury found for the plaintiff concerning some, but not all, of the articles referred to in the first count of her complaint but found for the defendants on the second count. The jury also found for the plaintiff on the third

Page 94

and fourth counts of her complaint. The jury's verdict on the fourth count was limited to the defamatory statement attributed to Bellock in an article published in the Journal Inquirer. The jury awarded the plaintiff general damages in the amount of $245,000 against the Journal Publishing Company, $245,000 against the Green Manor Corporation, $10,000 against Puleo and $5000 against Bellock, and also awarded her special damages in the amount of $750 against the Journal Publishing Company and $750 against the Green Manor Corporation. In addition, the jury found that the [230 Conn. 528] plaintiff was entitled to punitive damages, which the court later set at $121,369.77.

The trial court denied the defendants' motions to set aside the verdict and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The Journal Publishing Company, Puleo and Bellock filed a joint appeal, and the Green Manor Corporation filed a separate appeal, from the judgment of the trial court to the Appellate Court, and we transferred the appeal to this court pursuant to Practice Book § 4023 and General Statutes § 51-199(c).

In its separate appeal, the Green Manor Corporation also appealed from the trial court's denial of a motion to amend its answer to the plaintiff's complaint. In its answer, the Green Manor Corporation mistakenly admitted that it owned and operated the Journal Inquirer, when in fact it was only a stockholder in the corporation that owned the newspaper. The Green Manor Corporation filed a motion to amend its answer on February 24, 1993, at the close of the plaintiff's case, to reflect the fact that the Green Manor Corporation merely owned stock in the Journal Publishing Company but was not involved in the operation of the newspaper. The trial court denied the motion. Because we conclude that the evidence does not establish that the defendants published the articles in question with actual malice, it is unnecessary to reach the Green Manor Corporation's claims. 1

[230 Conn. 529] The jury could reasonably have found the following facts. The plaintiff was elected to the South Windsor planning and zoning commission (commission) in November, 1987. At a public hearing on November 10, 1987, the first public hearing that the plaintiff had attended as a commission member, Bellock presented to the commissioner an application for a subdivision. At the hearing, several members of the public expressed concern that increased traffic in the area of the proposed subdivision would result if it were approved. Some opposition also was voiced against Bellock's plan to place the entrance to the subdivision on Foster Street. The commission members decided to postpone their decision on Bellock's subdivision application to obtain an opinion from the town attorney as to whether Felt Road, a potential alternative access point to the subdivision, was a town road.

The commission met again on February 2, 1988, to vote on Bellock's subdivision application, with the plaintiff and other commission members Raymond Hallowell, Louise Evans, Joel Nadel and David Sorenson in attendance. The town attorney had previously identified Felt Road as a town road. During the meeting, the plaintiff suggested modifying the subdivision site plan by placing the entrance to the subdivision on Felt Road. 2

Page 95

Chairperson Hallowell indicated that in order for the plaintiff's suggestion to be considered, Bellock's [230 Conn. 530] application would have to be denied and Bellock would have to resubmit a modified application showing the entrance to the subdivision on Felt Road. The plaintiff thereafter moved to deny Bellock's subdivision application, which motion was seconded by commission members Nadel and Sorenson. Nadel, however, subsequently withdrew his second and refrained from voting on the plaintiff's motion because he had not attended the public hearing in November, 1987. 3

The plaintiff's motion to deny Bellock's subdivision application was passed by the commission by a vote of three to one, with commission member Evans voting against the motion. Although commission members Hallowell and Sorenson voted to deny Bellock's subdivision application, neither one had commented favorably on the plaintiff's modification proposal. In fact, just prior to voting on the plaintiff's motion to deny Bellock's subdivision application, Hallowell and Sorenson had explained to the plaintiff that an entrance to the subdivision on Felt Road would violate commission regulations.

[230 Conn. 531] The Journal Inquirer published the first of a series of articles concerning the plaintiff on June 23, 1988. The first article alleged that the plaintiff had proposed modifying Bellock's subdivision application to the commission in order to benefit Robert Sheridan, an adjacent landowner. 4 Thomas Puleo, prior to writing that article, had discussed the circumstances surrounding the plaintiff's motion and vote with the plaintiff, her husband, Bellock, a local lawyer with zoning experience, Sheridan's attorney, commission chairperson Hallowell, and several other people. Puleo's initial source for his story was Peter DeMallie, Bellock's engineer. DeMallie provided Puleo with information concerning an alleged relationship between the plaintiff and Sheridan and between Sheridan and the plaintiff's in-laws. Puleo testified that, in writing the articles concerning the plaintiff, he had used the information that he had received from DeMallie insofar as he was able to corroborate it. Puleo also testified that, in researching the published articles, he had examined the land records relating to a mortgage transaction between Sheridan and the plaintiff's mother-in-law. In addition, he testified that he had read the minutes and had listened to the tapes of the November 10, 1987 public hearing and the February 2, 1988 meeting and had reviewed the subdivision application.

A subheadline on the first page of the June 23, 1988 edition of the Journal Inquirer, which referred the reader to a story on page twenty-two, read "Developer claims Woodcock aim to aid business associate." A further subheadline, immediately preceding the article on page twenty-two, stated "Woodcock accused of seeking changes to benefit business associate." The first paragraph of the article indicated that the plaintiff had [230 Conn. 532] "urged the commission to alter [Bellock's] subdivision application in a way that would have provided development advantages to Robert J. Sheridan, an adjacent property

Page 96

owner who has had business relationships with the Woodcock family." The plaintiff claimed that the subheadlines were defamatory solely because Sheridan was not a business associate of hers. The plaintiff made no claim of libel with regard to the statement in the body of the article that her proposal to modify the subdivision application was spurred by a desire to benefit a business associate of the plaintiff's family. In fact, there was testimony at trial that Sheridan had maintained personal and business relations with the plaintiff's in-laws 5 and had played golf with the plaintiff's husband, John Woodcock III, "on occasion." In addition, Sheridan had made contributions to both the plaintiff's and her husband's campaigns for public office. Puleo conceded that the subheadlines were inaccurate but testified that he had not written the subheadlines and had never made an effort to correct them because he had not noticed the error. The jury found the subheadlines libelous and the defendants Journal Publishing Company,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
50 practice notes
  • Holmes v. Town of E. Lyme, Civil No. 3:09cv2088 (JBA).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • 30 Marzo 2012
    ...131]... probable falsity ... or entertained serious doubts as to the truth of [the] publication.” Woodcock v. Journal Publishing Co., 230 Conn. 525, 646 A.2d 92 (1994) (citing St. Amant v. Thompson, 390 U.S. 727, 730, 88 S.Ct. 1323, 20 L.Ed.2d 262 (1968)). The “publication” element is also ......
  • Dickinson v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Civil Action No. 3:04cv312(JCH).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • 5 Mayo 2006
    ...that defendants made a false statement "even though they doubted the statement's veracity") (citing Woodcock v. Journal Publishing Co., 230 Conn. 525, 527, 646 A.2d 92 (1994); Torosyan, 234 Conn. at 30, 662 A.2d 89; Bleich, 196 Conn. at 504, 493 A.2d 236). "Whether the privilege has been lo......
  • Gambardella v. Apple Health Care, Inc., No. 17977.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 19 Mayo 2009
    ...it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Woodcock v. Journal Publishing Co., 230 Conn. 525, 535, 646 A.2d 92 (1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1149, 115 S.Ct. 1098, 130 L.Ed.2d 1066 (1995), citing New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 ......
  • Normand Josef Enterprises, Inc. v. Connecticut Nat. Bank, No. 14901
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 2 Agosto 1994
    ...and the lack of explanation in its concomitant notice did not offend public policy, implicate the concept of unfairness or cause the type [230 Conn. 525] of substantial injury that CUTPA was designed to address. Cheshire Mortgage Service, Inc. v. Montes, supra, 223 Conn. at 105-106, 612 A.2......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
50 cases
  • Holmes v. Town of E. Lyme, Civil No. 3:09cv2088 (JBA).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • 30 Marzo 2012
    ...131]... probable falsity ... or entertained serious doubts as to the truth of [the] publication.” Woodcock v. Journal Publishing Co., 230 Conn. 525, 646 A.2d 92 (1994) (citing St. Amant v. Thompson, 390 U.S. 727, 730, 88 S.Ct. 1323, 20 L.Ed.2d 262 (1968)). The “publication” element is also ......
  • Dickinson v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Civil Action No. 3:04cv312(JCH).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • 5 Mayo 2006
    ...that defendants made a false statement "even though they doubted the statement's veracity") (citing Woodcock v. Journal Publishing Co., 230 Conn. 525, 527, 646 A.2d 92 (1994); Torosyan, 234 Conn. at 30, 662 A.2d 89; Bleich, 196 Conn. at 504, 493 A.2d 236). "Whether the privilege has been lo......
  • Gambardella v. Apple Health Care, Inc., No. 17977.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 19 Mayo 2009
    ...it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Woodcock v. Journal Publishing Co., 230 Conn. 525, 535, 646 A.2d 92 (1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1149, 115 S.Ct. 1098, 130 L.Ed.2d 1066 (1995), citing New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 ......
  • Normand Josef Enterprises, Inc. v. Connecticut Nat. Bank, No. 14901
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 2 Agosto 1994
    ...and the lack of explanation in its concomitant notice did not offend public policy, implicate the concept of unfairness or cause the type [230 Conn. 525] of substantial injury that CUTPA was designed to address. Cheshire Mortgage Service, Inc. v. Montes, supra, 223 Conn. at 105-106, 612 A.2......
  • 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