Torts II, Pages 885–886

Grant v. Reader's Digest Ass'n

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 1945

Facts:

Defendant published an article which falsely said that plaintiff, a lawyer, had recently been a legislative representative for the Massachusetts Communist Party. Plaintiff sued for libel.

Procedural History:

Trial court dismissed plaintiff's complaint.

Issue:

Is it libelous to say that a lawyer was an agent of the Communist Party and a believer therein?

Rule:

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[L]ibel . . . consist[s] of utterances which arouse 'hatred, contempt, scorn, obloquy or shame,' and the like.

Reasoning:

While libel excludes words that would affect only certain people who are not "right-thinking"—such as saying that one is hard on crime alienating him from criminals—this exception does not go so far as to excuse defendant's language. Imputing someone of poverty is actionable, even though "right-thinking people" should not shun someone for being poor. Likewise, accusing someone of being a communist agent or sympathizer is actionable because some people will shun one for that, regardless of whether or not it is right.

Holding:

Yes, it is libelous to say that a lawyer was an agent of the Communist Party and a believer therein. Reversed.

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