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1 of 8 DOCUMENTS

 

 

Hustler Magazine and Larry C. Flynt, Petitioners v. Jerry Falwell

 

No. 86-1278

 

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

 

485 U.S. 46; 108 S. Ct. 876; 99 L. Ed. 2d 41; 1988 U.S. LEXIS 941; 56 U.S.L.W. 4180; 14 Media L. Rep. 2281

 

December 2, 1987, Argued 

February 24, 1988, Decided

 

PRIOR HISTORY: ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT.

 

 

DISPOSITION:  797 F. 2d 1270, reversed.

 

 

CASE SUMMARY:

 

 

PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Petitioner magazine sought review of the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, affirming an award of monetary damages to respondent, a nationally known minister, for intentional infliction of emotional distress arising from the publication of an advertisement parody.

 

OVERVIEW: Respondent brought suit against petitioner for libel, slander, and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising from the publication of his caricature in an ad parody. The jury awarded damages on the intentional infliction of emotional distress charge, and the court of appeals affirmed the award. Petitioner sought certiorari claiming the damages were inconsistent with the First Amendment. On review, the Court found that respondent, as a public figure, was required to show that the statements published in the advertisement parody were made with actual malice or reckless disregard of the truth. The Court found that the award of damages was inconsistent with the Court’s longstanding refusal to allow damages just because a particular form of speech may have had an adverse emotional impact on the audience. The judgment of the Court of Appeals was accordingly reversed.

 

OUTCOME: The judgment was reversed because respondent was required to show that petitioner acted with malice or recklessness in publication of statements in an advertisement parody.

 

CORE TERMS: parody, emotional distress, public figures, infliction, cartoon, emotional distress, actual facts, outrageous, offensive, magazine, actual malice, caricature, emotional, inflict, reckless, speaker’s, libel, times, recover damages, nationally, discourse, privacy, cartoonist, public affairs, public officials, libel claim, breathing space, outrageousness, publisher, utterance

 

LexisNexis(R) Headnotes

 

Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Scope of Freedom

[HN1] The freedom to speak one’s mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty — and thus a good unto itself — but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole.

 

Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Defamation > General Overview

Torts > Intentional Torts > Defamation > Public Figures > Voluntary Public Figures

[HN2] The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that a public figure may hold a speaker liable for the damage to reputation caused by publication of a defamatory falsehood, but only if the statement was made with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.

 

Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Defamation > Public Figures

Torts > Intentional Torts > Defamation > Public Figures > Voluntary Public Figures

[HN3] Even though falsehoods have little value in and of themselves, they are nevertheless inevitable in free debate, and a rule that would impose strict liability on a publisher for false factual assertions would have an undoubted chilling effect on speech relating to public figures that does have constitutional value.

 

Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Defamation > General Overview

Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Scope of Freedom

Torts > Intentional Torts > Defamation > General Overview

[HN4] Generally speaking the law does not regard the intent to inflict emotional distress as one which should receive much solicitude, and it is quite understandable that most if not all jurisdictions have chosen to make it civilly culpable where the conduct in question is sufficiently outrageous. But in the world of debate about public affairs, many things done with motives that are less than admirable are protected by the First Amendment.

 

Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Scope of Freedom

Torts > Intentional Torts > Defamation > General Overview

[HN5] Outrageousness in the area of political and social discourse has an inherent subjectiveness about it which would allow a jury to impose liability on the basis of the jurors’ tastes or views, or perhaps on the basis of their dislike of a particular expression. An outrageousness standard thus runs afoul of the Court’s longstanding refusal to allow damages to be awarded because the speech in question may have an adverse emotional impact on the audience.

 

Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Defamation > General Overview

Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Scope of Freedom

[HN6] The fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it. Indeed, if it is the speaker’s opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection. For it is a central tenet of the First Amendment that the government must remain neutral in the marketplace of ideas.

 

Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Defamation > General Overview

Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Scope of Freedom

[HN7] It is firmly settled that the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.

 

Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Scope of Freedom

Criminal Law & Procedure > Criminal Offenses > Miscellaneous Offenses > Disruptive Conduct > Disorderly Conduct & Disturbing the Peace > Elements

[HN8] Speech that is vulgar, offensive, and shocking is not entitled to absolute constitutional protection under all circumstances.

 

Constitutional Law > Bill of Rights > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Scope of Freedom

[HN9] The Supreme Court has long recognized that not all speech is of equal First Amendment importance.

 

Torts > Intentional Torts > Defamation > General Overview

Torts > Intentional Torts > Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress > General Overview

[HN10] Public figures and public officials may not recover for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress by reason of publications without showing in addition that the publication contains a false statement of fact which was made with “actual malice,” i.e., with knowledge that the statement was false or with reckless disregard as to whether or not it was true.

 

 

 

DECISION: First Amendment held to prohibit public figure from recovering damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress as result of parody, absent showing of false statement of fact which was made with actual malice.

 

 

SUMMARY: A magazine of nationwide circulation, parodying a series of liquor advertisements in which celebrities speak about their “first time,” published an advertisement parody–labeled on the bottom, in small print, as an “ad parody not to be taken seriously”–in which a nationally known minister and commentator on politics and public affairs was presented as recalling, in a supposed interview, that his “first time” was during a drunken incestuous rendezvous with his mother in an outhouse. The minister, claiming that the publication of the ad parody entitled him to damages for libel, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, brought a diversity action against the magazine and its publisher in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The District Court directed a verdict for the magazine on the invasion-of-privacy claim, and the jury found for the magazine on the libel claim based on its finding that the ad parody could not reasonably be understood as describing actual facts or events. However, the jury found for the minister on the emotional distress claim and awarded him substantial compensatory and punitive damages, and the District Court denied the magazine’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. In affirming the District Court’s judgment with regard to the emotional distress claim, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held (1) that in the context of such a claim, the rule of New York Times Co. v Sullivan (1964) 376 US 254, 11 L Ed 2d 686, 84 S Ct 710–which held that, under the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution, defendants may be held liable for defamation of public figures only if the defamatory falsehood was published with “actual malice”–is satisfied if it is found that the defendant’s intentional or reckless misconduct caused the distress complained of, and does not require a public figure to prove the defendant’s knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of the truth; and (2) that it is irrelevant whether the ad parody was a constitutionally protected statement of opinion rather than a statement of fact, since the only issue on this claim is whether the publication was sufficiently outrageous to constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress (797 F2d 1270).

On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court reversed. In an opinion by Rehnquist,Ch. J., joined by Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens, O’Connor, and Scalia, JJ., it was held (1) that the free speech guaranties of the First Amendment prohibit public figures and public officials from recovering for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress by reason of the publication of a caricature, such as the ad parody in question, unless it is shown that the publication contains a false statement of fact which was made with actual malice, that is, with knowledge that the statement was false or with reckless disregard as to whether it was true; and (2) that the minister in question thus could not recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress, since (a) he is a public figure, and (b) the Supreme Court accepted the jury’s finding that the ad parody could not reasonably be understood as describing actual facts.

White, J., concurred in the judgment, expressing the view (1) that the decision in New York Times Co. v Sullivan, supra, had little to do with this case since the ad parody in question was found to contain no assertion of fact, but (2) that the judgment below penalizing the ad parody could not be squared with the First Amendment.

White, J., did not participate.

 

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