The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEINFELD
Plaintiff seeks to recover damages for an alleged libel based upon an editorial published in the November 7, 1951, issue of the defendant's newspaper, The Daily News. Jurisdiction rests upon diversity of citizenship.
Plaintiff moves for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A., with the amount of damages to be later assessed. The defendant cross-moves (1) to dismiss the action upon the ground that the complaint fails to state a claim against the defendant upon which relief can be granted; or, in the alternative, (2) for summary judgment in its favor.
The editorial which gives rise to the present action commented upon a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in a libel and slander action brought by the plaintiff against the Moore McCormack Lines, Inc. In that action plaintiff sued Moore McCormack Lines, Inc., his former employer, for maliciously giving to the Federal Bureau of Investigation false and derogatory statements which caused him to be discharged from a federal office to which he had been appointed. The defamatory matter complained of was both written and oral and charged the plaintiff with various acts of misconduct. There is no need to specify these charges other than to state they were entirely unrelated to Communistic or subversive activity or affiliation.
Plaintiff's amended complaint had been dismissed by the District Court on the ground that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that statements made to the Federal Bureau of Investigation are not absolutely privileged and that if actuated by malice, the privilege is lost.
The Government assumed the defense of the action since it was liable to indemnify the Moore McCormack Lines, Inc. under the wartime general agency agreement between the latter and the War Shipping Administration.
Following the reversal by the Court of Appeals, the Solicitor-General filed a petition for a writ of certiorari. In support of the writ it was urged, at the instance of the Director of the FBI, that the administration of the Government employee and security programs, as well as other phases of law enforcement, would be seriously hampered unless communications by citizens to Government agencies and officials made in the course of official inquiry were protected by absolute privilege and the declarants held immune from libel actions. The Supreme Court, however, denied certiorari on November 5, 1951.
It was this denial which prompted the editorial complained of in the present action.
The editorial appears under the title 'Mustn't Be Beastly to the Bolos'. It comments upon two decisions of the Supreme Court handed down several days previously and relates these to the Communist menace in the United States. The first decision dealt with the question of bail in a prosecution against alleged Communist leaders on the West Coast under the Smith Act, wherein the Court concluded that proper criteria had not been applied in fixing bail.
The second decision referred to was the denial of certiorari in the plaintiff's case. Neither decision was referred to by title, nor were any names mentioned. The editorial, after first commenting upon the bail case, continued:
'The other 'mustn't be beastly to the bolos' decision had to do with people who buzz J. Edgar Hoover's Federal Bureau of Investigation about persons suspected of Communist activities.
'The FBI habitually covers up for such informers as best it can. But if a person thus informed on can catch up with the giver of the tip, the Supreme Court held Monday that he can bring suit for slander or libel, only provided he can show that the information was passed to the FBI with malice.
'We haven't yet met or heard of a genuine American who didn't feel malicious about the domestic Reds. You can't help entertaining some resentment against people who are conspiring to overthrow your Government by force and violence and turn you personally into a slave.
'But if you let your malice move you to tip off the FBI about the doings of some such person, you're laid open by this Supreme Court decision to a damage suit.
'It seems a certainty that the ruling will put a serious dent in Mr. Hoover's pipelines, and thereby impair the splendid service the FBI renders in tracking down traitors.
'Apparently the Supreme Court doesn't yet realize what most of the rest of us have long known- that the Communists mean business, intend to ruin this country, will use any and every means at their disposal to do so, and therefore cannot be effectively handled under all the rules of ordinary American fair dealing.
'Instead of playing into the Reds' hands, isn't it about time to revise some of the rules as regards this very special and dangerous mob?'
The complaint alleges that the foregoing was published 'of and concerning the plaintiff', and by this editorial the defendant meant and intended to mean and was understood by the reading public to mean, that the plaintiff was a person suspected of Communistic activities who had been informed upon to the FBI and had sued the informant for maliciously giving the FBI information about said suspected Communist activities; and further that ordinary rules of American fair dealing should not be afforded by the Supreme Court to such a person as the plaintiff, because he is a member of a very special and dangerous mob, the domestic Reds.
The amended answer, besides denials, pleads that the editorial was fair comment upon matters of public interest and, therefore, privileged, and that it was based on reliable and trustworthy sources ...