Tom Wall


defamation, first amendment, freedom of speech, press, liability, libel, chilling effect


New York Times Co. v. Sullivan provides that states may award damages in defamation actions brought by public officials against media critics of their official conduct only if the plaintiff proves that the defendant acted with "actual malice." Subsequently, the Supreme Court extended this rule to public figures and promulgated standards for identifying public figures. The Court declared unconstitutional the common law standard of strict liability in actions brought by private individuals. Establishing negligence as a constitutional minimum, the Court delegated to the states the responsibility for formulating the proper standard of fault in actions brought by private individuals. This Note examines state court decisions applying the public figure guidelines and establishing standards of fault for private actions. Further, this Note discusses decisions extending the New York Times rule to non-media defendants and restricting the plaintiff's opportunity to prove a cause of action by favoring the use of summary judgement. This Note argues that current defamation law accords excessive deference to the press, accepts too quickly the purported "chilling effect" of libel judgements on the press, and ascribes insufficient significance to individual and state interests in compensation for injury inflicted by libelous press. Finally, this Note suggests an approach by which courts might properly balance the respective interests involved.



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