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Brief for the Petitioners


On April 19, 1960, the respondent, one of three elected Commissioners of the City of Montgomery, Alabama, instituted this action in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County against The New York Times, a New York corporation, and four co-defendants resident in Alabama, Ralph D. Abernathy, Fred L. Shuttlesworth, S. S. Seay, Sr., and J. E. Lowery. The complaint (R. 1) demanded $500,000 as damages for libel allegedly contained in two paragraphs of an advertisement (R. 6) published in The New York Times on March 29, 1960. Service of process was attempted by delivery to an alleged agent of The Times in Alabama and by substituted service (R. 11) pursuant to the "long-arm" statute of the State. A motion to quash, asserting constitutional objections to the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court (R. 39, 43–44, 47, 129) was denied on August 5, 1960 (R. 49). A demurrer to the complaint (R. 58, 67) was overruled on November 1, 1960 (R. 108) and the cause proceeded to a trial by jury, resulting on November 3 in a verdict against all defendants for the full $500,000 claimed (R. 862). A motion for new trial (R. 896, 969) was denied on March 17, 1961 (R. 970). The Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed the judgment on August 30, 1962 (R. 1180).1 The Circuit Court and the Supreme Court both rejected the petitioner's contention that the liability imposed abridged the freedom of the press.

1. The nature of the publication The advertisement, a copy of which was attached to the complaint (R. 1, 6), consisted of a full page statement (reproduced in Appendix B, infra p.97) entitled "Heed Their Rising Voices," a phrase taken from a New York Times editorial of March 19, 1960, which was quoted at the top of the page as follows: "The growing movement of peaceful mass demonstrations by Negroes is something new in the South, something understandable … Let Congress heed their rising voices, for they will be heard."

1 Libel actions based on the publication of the same statements in the same advertisement were also instituted by Governor Patterson of Alabama, Mayor James of Montgomery, City Commissioner Parks and former Commissioner Sellers. The James case is pending on motion for new trial after a verdict of $500,000. The Patterson, Parks and Sellers cases, in which the damages demanded total $2,000,000, were removed by petitioner to the District Court. That court sustained the removal (195 F. Supp. 919[1961]) but the Court of Appeals, one judge dissenting, reversed and ordered a remand (308 F. 2d 474 [1962]). A petition to review that decision on certiorari is now pending in this Court. New York Times Company v. Parks and Patterson, No. 687, October Term, 1962, No. 52, this Term.

The statement consisted of an appeal for contributions to the "Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South" to support "three needs—the defense of Martin Luther King—the support of the embattled students—and the struggle for the right-to-vote." It was set forth over the names of sixty-four individuals, including many who are well known for achievement in religion, humanitarian work, public affairs, trade unions and the arts. Under a line reading "We in the South who are struggling daily for dignity and freedom warmly endorse this appeal" appeared the names of twenty other persons, eighteen of whom are identified as clergymen in various southern cities. A New York address and telephone number were given for the Committee, the officers of which were also listed, including three individuals whose names did not otherwise appear.

The first paragraph of the statement alluded generally to the "non-violent demonstrations" of Southern Negro students "in positive affirmation of the right to live in human dignity as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights." It went on to charge that in "their efforts to uphold these guarantees, they are being met by an unprecedented wave of terror by those who would deny and negate that document which the whole world looks upon as setting the pattern for modern freedom…. "

The second paragraph told of a student effort in Orangeburg, South Carolina, to obtain service at lunch counters in the business district and asserted that the students were forcibly ejected, tear-gassed, arrested en masse and otherwise mistreated.

The third paragraph spoke of Montgomery, Alabama and complained of the treatment of students who sang on the steps of the State Capitol, charging that their leaders were expelled from school, that truckloads of armed police ringed the Alabama State College Campus and that the College dining-hall was padlocked in an effort to starve the protesting students into submission.

The fourth paragraph referred to "Talla-hassee, Atlanta, Nashville, Savannah, Greensboro, Memphis, Richmond, Charlotte and a host of other cities in the South," praising the action of "young American teenagers, in face of the entire weight of official state apparatus and police power," as "protagonists of democracy."

The fifth paragraph speculated that "The Southern violators of the Constitution fear this new, non-violent brand of freedom fighter … even as they fear the upswelling right-to-vote movement," that "they are determined to destroy the one man who more than any other, symbolizes the new spirit now sweeping the South—the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., world-famous leader of the Montgomery Bus Protest." It went on to portray the leadership role of Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which he founded, and to extol the inspiration of "his doctrine of non-violence."

The sixth paragraph asserted that the "Southern violators" have repeatedly "answered Dr. King's protests with intimidation and violence" and referred to the bombing of his home, assault upon his person, seven arrests and a then pending charge of perjury. It stated that "their real purpose is to remove him physically as the leader to whom the students and millions of others—look for guidance and support, and thereby to intimidate all leaders who may rise in the South", concluding that the defense of Dr. King "is an integral part of the total struggle for freedom in the South."

The remaining four paragraphs called upon "men and women of good will" to do more than "applaud the creative daring of the students and the quiet heroism of Dr. King" by adding their "moral support" and "the material help so urgently needed by those who are taking the risks, facing jail and even death in a glorious reaffirmation of our Constitution and its Bill of Rights."

2. The allegedly defamatory statements Of the ten paragraphs of text in the advertisement, the third and a portion of the sixth were the basis of respondent's claim of libel.

(a) The third paragraph was as follows:

"In Montgomery, Alabama, after students sang 'My Country, 'Tis of Thee' on the State Capitol steps, their leaders were expelled from school, and truckloads of police armed with shot-guns and tear-gas ringed the Alabama State College Campus. When the entire student body protested to state authorities by refusing to re-register, their dining hall was padlocked in an attempt to starve them into submission."

Though the only part of this statement that respondent thought implied a reference to him was the assertion about "truckloads of police" (R. 712), he undertook and was permitted to deal with the paragraph in general by adducing evidence depicting the entire episode involved. His evidence consisted mainly of a story by Claude Sitton, the southern correspondent of The Times, published on March 2, 1960 (R. 655, 656–7, Pl. Ex. 169, R. 1568), a report requested by The Times from Don McKee, its "stringer" in Montgomery, after institution of this suit was threatened (R. 590–593, Pl. Ex. 348, R. 1931–1935), and a later telephoned report from Sitton to counsel for The Times, made on May 5, after suit was brought (R. 593–595, Pl. Ex. 348, R. 1935–1937).

This evidence showed that a succession of student demonstrations had occurred in Montgomery, beginning with an unsuccessful effort by some thirty Alabama State College students to obtain service at a lunch counter in the Montgomery County Court House. A thousand students had marched on March 1, 1960, from the College campus to the State Capitol, upon the steps of which they said the Lord's Prayer and sang the National Anthem before marching back to the campus. Nine student leaders of the lunch counter demonstration were expelled on March 2 by the State Board of Education, upon motion of Governor Patterson, and thirty-one others were placed on probation (R. 696–699, Pl. Ex. 364, R. 1972–1974), but the singing at the Capitol was not the basis of the disciplinary action or mentioned at the meeting of the Board (R. 701). Alabama State College students stayed away from classes on March 7 in a strike in sympathy with those expelled but virtually all of them returned to class after a day and most of them re-registered or had already done so. On March 8, there was another student demonstration at a church near the campus, followed by a march upon the campus, with students dancing around in conga lines and some becoming rowdy. The superintendent of grounds summoned the police and the students left the campus, but the police arrived as the demonstrators marched across the street and arrested thirty-two of them for disorderly conduct or failure to obey officers, charges on which they later pleaded guilty and were fined in varying amounts (R. 677–680, 681, 682).

A majority of the student body was probably involved at one time or another in the protest but not the "entire student body". The police did not at any time "ring" the campus, although they were deployed near the campus on three occasions in large numbers. The campus dining hall was never "padlocked" and the only students who may have been barred from eating were those relatively few who had neither signed a pre-registration application nor requested temporary meal tickets (R. 594, 591).

The paragraph was thus inaccurate in that it exaggerated the number of students involved in the protest and the extent of police activity and intervention. If, as the respondent argued (R.743), it implied that the students were expelled for singing on the steps of the Capitol, this was erroneous; the expulsion was for the demand for service at a lunch counter in the Courthouse. There was, moreover, no foundation for the charge that the dining hall was padlocked in an effort to starve the students into submission, an allegation that especially aroused resentment in Montgomery (R. 605, 607, 949, 2001, 2002, 2007).

(b) The portion of the sixth paragraph of the statement relied on by respondent read as follows:

"Again and again the Southern violators have answered Dr. King's peaceful protests with intimidation and violence. They have bombed his home, almost killing his wife and child. They have assaulted his person. They have arrested him seven times—for 'speeding,' 'loitering' and similar 'offenses.' And now they have charged him with 'perjury'—a felony under which they could imprison him for ten years."

As to this paragraph, which did not identify the time or place of the events recited, but which respondent read to allude to himself because it also "describes police action" (R. 724), his evidence showed that Dr. King's home had in fact been bombed twice when his wife and child were at home, though one of the bombs failed to explode—both of the occasions antedating the respondent's tenure as Commissioner (R. 594, 685, 688); that Dr. King had been arrested only four times, not seven, three of the arrests preceding the respondent's service as Commissioner (R. 592, 594–595, 703); that Dr. King had in fact been indicted for perjury on two counts, each carrying a possible sentence of five years imprisonment (R. 595), a charge on which he subsequently was acquitted (R. 680). It also showed that while Dr. King claimed to have been assaulted when he was arrested some four years earlier for loitering outside a courtroom (R.594), one of the officers participating in arresting him and carrying him to a detention cell at headquarters denied that there was a physical assault (R. 692–693)—this incident also antedating the respondent's tenure as Commissioner (R. 694).

On the theory that the statement could be read to charge that the bombing of Dr. King's home was the work of the police (R. 707), respondent was permitted to call evidence that the police were not involved; that they in fact dismantled the bomb that did not explode; and that they did everything they could to apprehend the perpetrators of the bombings (R. 685–687)—also before respondent's tenure as Commissioner (R. 688). In the same vein, respondent testified himself that the police had not bombed the King home or assaulted Dr. King or condoned the bombing or assaulting; and that he had had nothing to do with procuring King's indictment (R. 707–709).

3. The impact of the statements on respondent's reputation As one of the three Commissioners of the City of Montgomery since October 5, 1959, specifically Commissioner of Public Affairs, respondent's duties were the supervision of the Police Department, Fire Department, Department of Cemetery and Department of Scales (R. 703). He was normally not responsible, however, for day-to-day police operations, including those during the Alabama State College episode referred to in the advertisement, these being under the immediate supervision of Montgomery's Chief of Police—though there was one occasion when the Chief was absent and respondent supervised directly (R. 720). It was stipulated that there were 175 full time policemen in the Montgomery Police Department, divided into three shifts and four divisions, and 24 "special traffic directors" for control of traffic at the schools (R. 787).

As stated in respondent's testimony, the basis for his role as aggrieved plaintiff was the "feeling" that the advertisement, which did not mention him or the Commission or Commissioners or any individual, "reflects not only on me but on the other Commissioners and the community" (R. 724). He felt particularly that statements referring to "police activities" or "police action" were associated with himself, impugning his "ability and integrity" and reflecting on him "as an individual" (R. 712, 713, 724). He also felt that the other statements in the passages complained of, such as that alluding to the bombing of King's home, referred to the Commissioners, to the Police Department and to him because they were contained in the same paragraphs as statements mentioning police activities (R. 717–718), though he conceded that as "far as the expulsion of students is concerned, that responsibility rests with the State Department of Education" (R. 716).

In addition to this testimony as to the respondent's feelings, six witnesses were permitted to express their opinions of the connotations of the statements and their effect on respondent's reputation.

Grover C. Hall, editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, who had previously written an editorial attacking the advertisement (R. 607, 613, 949), testified that he thought he would associate the third paragraph "with the City Government—the Commissioners" (R. 605) and "would naturally think a little more about the police commissioner" (R. 608). It was "the phrase about starvation" that led to the association; the "other didn't hit" him "with any particular force" (R. 607, 608). He thought "starvation is an instrument of reprisal and would certainly be indefensible … in any case" (R. 605).

Arnold D. Blackwell, a member of the Water Works Board appointed by the Commissioners (R. 621) and a businessman engaged in real estate and insurance (R. 613), testified that the third paragraph was associated in his mind with "the Police Commissioner" and the "people on the police force"; that if it were true that the dining hall was padlocked in an effort to starve the students into submission, he would "think that the people on our police force or the heads of our police force were acting without their jurisdiction and would not be competent for the position" (R. 617, 624). He also associated the statement about "truck-loads of police" with the police force and the Police Commissioner (R. 627). With respect to the "Southern violators" passage, he associated the statement about the arrests with "the police force" but not the "sentences above that" (R. 624) or the statement about the charge of perjury (R. 625).

Harry W. Kaminsky, sales manager of a clothing store (R. 634) and a close friend of the respondent (R. 644), also associated the third paragraph with "the Commissioners" (R. 635), though not the statement about the expulsion of the students (R. 639). Asked on direct examination about the sentences in the sixth paragraph, he said that he "would say that it refers to the same people in the paragraph that we look at before," i.e., to "The Commissioners," including the respondent (R. 636). On cross-examination, however, he could not say that he associated those statements with the respondent, except that he thought that the reference to arrests "implicates the Police Department … or the authorities that would do that—arrest folks for speeding and loitering and such as that" (R. 639-640). In general, he would "look at" the respondent when he saw "the Police Department" (R. 641).

H. M. Price, Sr., owner of a small food equipment business (R. 644), associated "the statements contained" in both paragraphs with "the head of the Police Department," the respondent (R. 646). Asked what it was that made him think of the respondent, he read the first sentence of the third paragraph and added: "Now, I would just automatically consider that the Police Commissioner in Montgomery would have to put his approval on those kind of things as an individual" (R. 647). If he believed the statements contained in the two paragraphs to be true, he would "decide that we probably had a young Gestapo in Montgomery" (R. 645–646).

William M. Parker, Jr., a friend of the respondent and of Mayor James (R. 651), in the service station business, associated "those statements in those paragraphs" with the City Commissioners (R. 650) and since the respondent "was the Police Commissioner," he "thought of him first" (R.651). If he believed the statements to be true, he testified that he would think the respondent "would be trying to run this town with a strong arm—strong armed tactics, rather, going against the oath he took to run his office in a peaceful manner and an upright manner for all citizens of Montgomery" (R. 650).

Finally, Horace W. White, proprietor of the P. C. White Truck Line (R. 662), a former employer of respondent (R. 664), testified that both of the paragraphs meant to him "Mr. L. B. Sullivan" (R. 663). The statement in the advertisement that indicated to him that it referred to the respondent was that about "truck-loads of police," which made him think of the police and of respondent "as being the head of the Police Department" (R. 666). If he believed the statements, he doubted whether he "would want to be associated with anybody who would be a party to such things" (R. 664) and he would not re-employ respondent for P. C. White Truck Line if he thought that "he allowed the Police Department to do the things the paper say he did" (R. 667, 664, 669).

None of the six witnesses testified that he believed any of the statements that he took to refer to respondent and all but Hall specifically testified that they did not believe them (R. 623, 636, 647, 651, 667). None was led to think less kindly of respondent because of the advertisement (R. 625, 638, 647, 651, 666). Nor could respondent point to any injury that he had suffered or to any sign that he was held in less esteem (R. 721–724).

Four of the witnesses, moreover, Blackwell, Kaminsky, Price and Parker, saw the publication first when it was shown to them in the office of respondent's counsel to equip them as witnesses (R. 618, 637, 643, 647, 649). Their testimony should, therefore, have been disregarded under the trial court's instruction that the jury should "disregard … entirely" the testimony of any witness "based upon his reading of the advertisement complained of here, only after having been shown a copy of same by the plaintiff or his attorneys" (R. 833). White did not recall when he first saw the advertisement; he believed, though he was not sure, that "somebody cut it out of the paper and mailed it" to him or left it on his desk (R. 662, 665, 668). Only Hall, whose testimony was confined to the phrase about starving students into submission (R. 605, 607), received the publication in ordinary course at The Montgomery Advertiser (R. 606, 726–727).

4. The circumstances of the publication The advertisement was published by The Times upon an order from the Union Advertising Service, a reputable New York advertising agency, acting for the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King (R. 584–585, 737, Pl. Ex. 350, R. 1957). The order was dated March 28, 1960, but the proposed typescript of the ad had actually been delivered on March 23 by John Murray, a writer acting for the Committee, who had participated in its composition (R. 731,805). Murray gave the copy to Gershon Aaronson, a member of the National Advertising Staff of The Times specializing in "editorial type" advertisements (R. 731, 738), who promptly passed it on to technical departments and sent a thermo-fax copy to the Advertising Acceptability Department, in charge of the screening of advertisements (R. 733, 734, 756).D. Vincent Redding, the manager of that department, read the copy on March 25 and approved it for publication (R. 758). He gave his approval because he knew nothing to cause him to believe that anything in the proposed text was false and because it bore the endorsement of "a number of people who are well known and whose reputation" he "had no reason to question" (R. 758, 759–760, 762–763). He did not make or think it necessary to make any further check as to the accuracy of the statements (R. 765, 771).

When Redding passed on the acceptability of the advertisement, the copy was accompanied by a letter from A. Philip Randolph, Chairman of the Committee, to Aaronson, dated March 23(R. 587, 757, Def. Ex. 7, R. 1992) and reading:

"This will certify that the names included on the enclosed list are all signed members of the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South.

"Please be assured that they have all given us permission to use their names in furthering the work of our Committee."

The routine of The Times is to accept such a letter from a responsible person to establish that names have not been used without permission and Redding followed that practice in this case (R. 759). Each of the individual defendants testified, however, that he had not authorized the Committee to use his name (R. 787–804) and Murray testified that the original copy of the advertisement, to which the Randolph letter related, did not contain the statement "We in the South … warmly endorse this appeal" or any of the names printed there under, including those of these defendants. That statement and those names were added, he explained, to a revision of the proof on the suggestion of Bayard Rustin, the Director of the Committee. Rustin told Murray that it was unnecessary to obtain the consent of the individuals involved since they were all members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as indicated by its letterhead, and "since the SCLC supports the work of the Committee … he [Rustin] … felt that there would be no problem at all, and that you didn't even have to consult them" (R. 806–809). Redding did not recall this difference in the list of names (R. 767), though Aaronson remembered that there "were a few changes made … prior to publication" (R. 739).

The New York Times has set forth in a booklet its "Advertising Acceptability Standards" (R. 598, Pl. Ex. 348, Exh. F, R. 1952) declaring, inter alia, that The Times does not accept advertisements that are fraudulent or deceptive, that are "ambiguous in wording and … may mislead" or "[a]ttacks of a personal character." In replying to the plaintiff's interrogatories, Harding Bancroft, Secretary of The Times, deposed that "as the advertisement made no attacks of a personal character upon any individual and otherwise met the advertising acceptability standards promulgated" by The Times, D. Vincent Redding had approved it (R. 585).

Though Redding and not Aaronson was thus responsible for the acceptance of the ad, Aaronson was cross-examined at great length about such matters as the clarity or ambiguity of its language (R. 741–753), the court allowing the interrogation on the stated ground that "this gentleman here is a very high official of The Times," which he, of course, was not (R. 744). In the course of this colloquy, Aaronson contradicted himself on the question whether the word "they" in the "Southern violators" passage refers to "the same people" throughout or to different people, saying first "It is rather difficult to tell" (R. 745) and later: "I think now that it probably refers to the same people" (R. 746). Redding was not interrogated on this point, which respondent, in his Brief in Opposition, deemed established by what Aaronson "conceded" (Brief in Opposition, p. 7).

The Times was paid "a little over" $4800 for the publication of the advertisement (R. 752). The total circulation of the issue of March 29, 1960, was approximately 650,000, of which approximately 394 copies were mailed to Alabama subscribers or shipped to news dealers in the State, approximately 35 copies going to Montgomery County (R. 601–602, Pl. Ex. 348, R. 1942–1943).

5. The response to the demand for a retraction On April 8, 1960, respondent wrote to the petitioner and to the four individual defendants, the letters being erroneously dated March 8 (R. 588, 671, 776, Pl. Ex. 348, 355–358, R. 1949, 1962–1968). The letters, which were in identical terms, set out the passages in the advertisement complained of by respondent, asserted that the "foregoing matter, and the publication as a whole charge me with grave misconduct and of [sic] improper actions and omissions as an official of the City of Montgomery" and called on the addressee to "publish in as prominent and as public a manner as the foregoing false and defamatory material contained in the foregoing publication, a full and fair retraction of the entire false and defamatory matter so far as the same relates to me and to my conduct and acts as a public official of the City of Montgomery, Alabama."

Upon receiving this demand and the report from Don McKee, the Times stringer in Montgomery referred to above (p. 7), petitioner's counsel wrote to the respondent on April 15, as follows (R. 589, Pl. Ex. 363, R. 1971):

Dear Mr. Commissioner:

Your letter of April 8 sent by registered mail to The New York Times Company has been referred for attention to us as general counsel.

You will appreciate, we feel sure, that the statements to which you object were not made by The New York Times but were contained in an advertisement proffered to The Times by responsible persons.

We have been investigating the matter and are somewhat puzzled as to how you think the statements in any way reflect on you. So far, our investigation would seem to indicate that the statements are substantially correct with the sole exception that we find no justification for the statement that the dining hall in the State College was "padlocked in an attempt to starve them into submission."

We shall continue to look into the subject matter because our client, The New York Times, is always desirous of correcting any statements which appear in its paper and which turn out to be erroneous.

In the meanwhile you might, if you desire, let us know in what respect you claim that the statements in the advertisement reflect on you.

Very truly yours,

Lord, Day & Lord

The respondent filed suit on April 19, without answering this letter.

Subsequently, on May 9, 1960, Governor John Patterson of Alabama, sent a similar demand for a retraction to The Times, asserting that the publication charged him "with grave misconduct and of [sic] improper actions and omissions as Governor of Alabama and Ex-Officio Chairman of the State Board of Education of Alabama" and demanding publication of a retraction of the material so far as it related to him and to his conduct as Governor and Ex-Officio Chairman.

On May 16, the President and Publisher of The Times wrote Governor Patterson as follows (R. 773, Def. Ex. 9, R. 1998):

Dear Governor Patterson:

In response to your letter of May 9th, we are enclosing herewith a page of today's New York Times which contains the retraction and apology requested.

As stated in the retraction, to the extent that anyone could fairly conclude from the advertisement that any charge was made against you, The New York Times apologizes.

Faithfully yours,


The publication in The Times (Pl. Ex. 351, R.1958), referred to in the letter, appeared under the headline "Times Retracts Statement in Ad" and the subhead "Acts on Protest of Alabama Governor Over Assertions in Segregation Matter." After preliminary paragraphs reporting the Governor's protest and quoting his letter in full, including the specific language of which he complained, the account set forth a "statement by The New York Times" as follows:

The advertisement containing the statements to which Governor Patterson objects was received by The Times in the regular course of business from and paid for by a recognized advertising agency in behalf of a group which included among its subscribers well-known citizens.

The publication of an advertisement does not constitute a factual news report by The Times nor does it reflect the judgment or the opinion of the editors of The Times. Since publication of the advertisement, The Times made an investigation and consistent with its policy of retracting and correcting any errors or misstatements which may appear in its columns, herewith retracts the two paragraphs complained of by the Governor.

The New York Times never intended to suggest by the publication of the advertisement that the Honorable John Patterson, either in his capacity as Governor or as ex-officio chairman of the Board of Education of the State of Alabama, or otherwise, was guilty of "grave misconduct or improper actions and omission." To the extent that anyone can fairly conclude from the statements in the advertisement that any such charge was made, The New York Times hereby apologizes to the Honorable John Patterson therefor.

The publication closed with a recapitulation of the names of the signers and endorsers of the advertisement and of the officers of the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King.

In response to a demand in respondent's pre-trial interrogatories to "explain why said retraction was made but no retraction was made on the demand of the plaintiff," Mr. Bancroft, Secretary of The Times, said that The Times published the retraction in response to the Governor's demand "although in its judgment no statement in said advertisement referred to John Patterson either personally or as Governor of the State of Alabama, nor referred to this plaintiff [Sullivan] or any of the plaintiffs in the companion suits. The defendant, however, felt that on account of the fact that John Patterson held the high office of Governor of the State of Alabama and that he apparently believed that he had been libeled by said advertisement in his capacity as Governor of the State of Alabama, the defendant should apologize" (R. 595–596, Pl. Ex. 348, R. 1942). In further explanation at the trial, Bancroft testified: "We did that because we didn't want anything that was published by The Times to be a reflection on the State of Alabama and the Governor was, as far as we could see, the embodiment of the State of Alabama and the proper representative of the State and, furthermore, we had by that time learned more of the actual facts which the ad purported to recite and, finally, the ad did refer to the action of the State authorities and the Board of Education presumably of which the Governor is ex-officio chairman … " (R. 776–777). On the other hand, he did not think that "any of the language in there referred to Mr. Sullivan" (R. 777).

This evidence, together with Mr. Bancroft's further testimony that apart from the statement in the advertisement that the dining hall was padlocked, he thought that "the tenor of the content, the material of those two paragraphs in the ad … are … substantially correct" (R. 781,785), was deemed by the Supreme Court of Alabama to lend support to the verdict of the jury and the size of its award (R. 1178).

6. The rulings on the merits The Circuit Court held that the facts alleged and proved sufficed to establish liability of the defendants, if the jury was satisfied that the statements complained of by respondent were published of and concerning him. Overruling a demurrer to the complaint (R. 108) and declining to direct a verdict for petitioner (R. 728–729, 818), the court charged the jury (R. 819–826) that the statements relied on by the plaintiff were "libelous per se"; that "the law implies legal injury from the bare fact of the publication itself"; that "falsity and malice are presumed"; that "[g]eneral damages need not be alleged or proved but are presumed" (R. 824); and that "punitive damages may be awarded by the jury even though the amount of actual damages is neither found nor shown" (R. 825). While the court instructed, as requested, that "mere negligence or carelessness is not evidence of actual malice or malice in fact, and does not justify an award of exemplary or punitive damages" (R. 836), it refused to instruct that the jury must be "convinced" of malice, in the sense of "actual intent" to harm or "gross negligence and recklessness" to make such an award (R. 844). It also declined to require that a verdict for respondent differentiate between compensatory and punitive damages (R. 846).

Petitioner challenged these rulings as an abridgment of the freedom of the press, in violation of the First and the Fourteenth Amendments, and also contended that the verdict was confiscatory in amount and an infringement of the constitutional protection (R. 73–74, 898, 929–930, 935, 936–937, 945–946,948). A motion for new trial, assigning these grounds among others (R. 896–949), was denied by the Circuit Court (R. 969).

The Supreme Court of Alabama sustained these rulings on appeal (R. 1139, 1180). It held that where "the words published tend to injure a person libeled by them in his reputation, profession, trade or business, or charge him with an indictable offense, or tends to bring the individual into public contempt," they are "libelous per se"; that "the matter complained of is, under the above doctrine, libelous per se, if it was published of and concerning the plaintiff" (R.1155); and that it was actionable without "proof of pecuniary injury …, such injury being implied" (R. 1160–1161). It found no error in the trial court's ruling that the complaint alleged and the evidence established libelous statements which the jury could find were "of and pertaining to" respondent (R. 1158, 1160), reasoning as follows (R. 1157):

"We think it common knowledge that the average person knows that municipal agents, such as police and firemen, and others, are under the control and direction of the city governing body, and more particularly under the direction and control of a single commissioner. In measuring the performance or deficiencies of such groups, praise or criticism is usually attached to the official in complete control of the body."

The Court also approved the trial court's charge as "a fair, accurate and clear expression of the governing legal principles" (R. 1167) and sustained its determination that the damages awarded by the verdict were not excessive (R.1179). On the latter point, the Court endorsed a statement in an earlier opinion that there "is no legal measure of damages in cases of this character" (R. 1177) and held to be decisive that "The Times in its own files had articles already published which would have demonstrated the falsity of the allegations in the advertisement"; that "The Times retracted the advertisement as to Governor Patterson, but ignored this plaintiff's demand for retraction" though the "matter contained in the advertisement was equally false as to both parties"; that in "the trial below none of the defendants questioned the falsity of the allegations in the advertisement" and, simultaneously, that "during his testimony it was the contention of the Secretary of The Times that the advertisement was 'substantially correct'" (R.1178).

Petitioner's submissions under the First and the Fourteenth Amendments (assignments of error 81, 289–291, 294, 296, 298, 306–308, 310;R. 1055, 1091–1094, 1096–1097, 1098) were summarily rejected with the statements that the "First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not protect libelous publications" and the "Fourteenth Amendment is directed against State action and not private action" (R. 1160).

7. The jurisdiction of the Alabama courts Respondent sought to effect service in this action (R. 11) by delivery of process to Don McKee, the New York Times stringer in Montgomery, claimed to be an agent under § 188, Alabama Code of 1940, title 7 (Appendix A, infra, pp. 91–92), and by delivery to the Secretary of State under § 199(1), the "longarm" statute of the State (Appendix A, infra, pp. 92–95). Petitioner, appearing specially and only for this purpose, moved to quash the service on the ground, among others, that the subjection of The Times to Alabama jurisdiction in this action would transcend the territorial limitations of due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, impose a burden on interstate commerce forbidden by the Commerce Clause and abridge the freedom of the press (R. 39, 43–44, 47; see also, e.g., R. 129).

The evidence adduced upon the litigation of the motion (R. 130–566) established the following facts:

Petitioner is a New York corporation which has not qualified to do business in Alabama or designated anyone to accept service of process there (R. 134–135). It has no office, property or employees resident in Alabama (R. 146, 403–404, 438–439). Its staff correspondents do, however, visit the State as the occasion may arise for purposes of newsgathering. From the beginning of 1956 through April, 1960, nine correspondents made such visits, spending, the courts below found, 153 days in Alabama, or an average of some thirty-six man-days per year. In the first five months of 1960, there were three such visits by Claude Sitton, the staff correspondent stationed in Atlanta (R. 311–314, 320, Pl. Ex. 91–93, R. 1356–1358) and one by Harrison Salisbury (R. 145, 239, Pl. Ex. 117, R. 1382). The Times also had an arrangement with newspapermen, employed by Alabama journals, to function as "stringers," paying them for stories they sent in that were requested or accepted at the rate of a cent a word and also using them occasionally to furnish information to the desk (e.g., R. 175, 176) or to a correspondent (R. 136–137, 140, 153, 154). The effort was to have three such stringers in the State, including one in Montgomery (R. 149, 309) but only two received payments from The Times in 1960, Chadwick of South Magazine, who was paid $155 to July 26, and McKee of The Montgomery Advertiser, who was paid $90, covering both dispatches and assistance given Salisbury (R. 140, 143, 155, 159, 308–309, 441). McKee was also asked to investigate the facts relating to respondent's claim of libel, which he did (R. 202, 207). The total payments made by petitioner to stringers throughout the country during the first five months of 1960 was about $245,000 (R. 442). Stringers are not treated as employees for purposes of taxes or employee benefits (R. 439–440, 141–143).

The advertisement complained of in this action was prepared, submitted and accepted in New York, where the newspaper is published (R. 390–393, 438). The total daily circulation of The Times in March, 1960, was 650,000, of which the total sent to Alabama was 394–351 to mail subscribers and 43 to dealers. The Sunday circulation was 1,300,000, of which the Alabama shipments totaled 2,440 (Def. Ex. No. 4, R. 1981, R. 401–402). These papers were either mailed to subscribers who had paid for a subscription in advance (R. 427) or they were shipped prepaid by rail or air to Alabama newsdealers, whose orders were unsolicited (R. 404–408, 444) and with whom there was no contract (R. 409). The Times would credit dealers for papers which were unsold or arrived late, damaged or incomplete, the usual custom being for the dealer to get the irregularities certified by the railroad baggage man upon a card provided by The Times (R. 408–409, 410–412, Pl. Ex. 276–309, R. 1751–1827, R. 414, 420–426), though this formality had not been observed in Alabama (R. 432–436). Gross revenue from this Alabama circulation was approximately $20,000 in the first five months of 1960 of a total gross from circulation of about $8,500,000 (R. 445). The Times made absolutely no attempt to solicit or promote its sale or distribution in Alabama (R. 407–408, 428, 450, 485).

The Times accepted advertising from Alabama sources, principally advertising agencies which sent their copy to New York, where any contract for its publication was made (R. 344–349, 543); the agency would then be billed for cost, less the amount of its 15% commission (R. 353–354). The New York Times Sales, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary corporation, solicited advertisements in Alabama, though it had no office or resident employees in the State (R. 359–361, 539, 482). Two employees of Sales, Inc. and two employees of The Times spent a total of 26 days in Alabama for this purpose in 1959; and one of the Sales, Inc. men spent one day there before the end of May in 1960 (R. 336–338, Def. Ex. 1, R. 1978, 546, 548–551). Alabama advertising linage, both volunteered and solicited, amounted to 5471 in 1959 of a total of 60,000,000 published; it amounted to 13,254 through May of 1960 of a total of 20,000,000 lines (R. 342–344, 341, Def. Ex. 2, R. 1979). An Alabama supplement published in 1958 (R. 379, Pl. Ex. 273, R. 1689–1742) produced payments by Alabama advertisers of $26,801.64 (R. 380). For the first five months of 1960 gross revenue from advertising placed by Alabama agencies or advertisers was $17,000 to $18,000 of a total advertising revenue of $37,500,000 (R. 443). The gross from Alabama advertising and circulation during this period was $37,300 of a national total of $46,000,000 (R. 446).

On these facts, the courts below held that petitioner was subject to the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court in this action, sustaining both the service on McKee as a claimed agent and the substituted service on the Secretary of State and rejecting the constitutional objections urged (R. 49, 51–57, 1139, 1140–1151). Both courts deemed the newsgathering activities of correspondents and stringers, the solicitation and publication of advertising from Alabama sources and the distribution of the paper in the State to constitute sufficient Alabama "contacts" to support the exercise of jurisdiction (R. 56–57, 1142–1147). They also held that though petitioner had appeared specially upon the motion for the sole purpose of presenting these objections, as permitted by the Alabama practice, the fact that the prayer for relief asked for dismissal for "lack of jurisdiction of the subject matter" of the action, as well as want of jurisdiction of the person of defendant, constituted a general appearance and submission to the jurisdiction of the Court (R. 49–51, 1151–1153).

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Brief for the Petitioners - On Writ Of Certiorari To The Supreme Court Of Alabamabrief For The Petitioner, Questions Presented, Statement