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Barr v. Matteo

360 U.S. 564 (1959)

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Barr v. Matteo

United States Supreme Court

360 U.S. 564 (1959)

Facts

John J. Madigan and Linda Matteo, government employees (plaintiffs) brought a libel suit against William G. Barr, the acting director of the agency where the employees worked (defendant). The suit was filed in a federal district court. The employees alleged that Barr defamed them in a press release that Barr issued explaining Barr’s reasons for suspending the employees regarding an agency plan that involved firing and rehiring agency employees on a temporary basis and paying the employees in cash for accumulated annual leave. The plan was not alleged to be illegal, but it was criticized by several senators on the Senate floor and was politically unpopular. The employees, who were named in the press release, alleged that the press release was made with malice and that it defamed them. Barr alleged that the press release was protected by either a qualified or absolute privilege. The district court instructed the jury to return a verdict for the employees if the jury found that the press release was defamatory. The jury returned a verdict for the employees, and Barr appealed on the sole issue of absolute privilege. The court of appeals found that Barr had acted outside the scope of his employment so that absolute privilege did not apply. Barr appealed and the Court remanded the case back to the court of appeals to address the qualified privilege. On remand, the court of appeals found that the press release was covered by qualified privilege that, because a jury could find that Barr acted with malice, would defeat the privilege. The court of appeals remanded the case to the district court for retrial. Barr again appealed on the issue of absolute privilege.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Harlan, J.)

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