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Ellsworth v. Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, Inc.

North Dakota Supreme Court
280 N.W. 879 (N.D. 1938)


Facts

Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, Inc. (Martindale-Hubbell) (defendant) operated a widely-read directory of lawyers. It provided ratings of lawyers, depicted with symbols, for use by other lawyers in forwarding legal business. From 1907 to 1926, Ellsworth (plaintiff), an attorney, received very high ratings on Martindale-Hubbell. However, in 1928, his ratings dropped to predominantly “fair.” In 1929, his ratings were blank, suggesting his performance was so poor as to prohibit him from receiving mention in the directory. Ellsworth brought suit against Martindale-Hubbell for defamation, alleging he suffered a diminution in business due to the low ratings, which he labeled defamatory. The trial court ruled his claim was not actionable per se and ordered Ellsworth to prove special damages. In his amended complaint, Ellsworth presented evidence that his income was substantially lower after 1928, and attributed this to poor Martindale-Hubbell rating. The trial court overruled Martindale-Hubbell’s demurrer to the complaint.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Nuessle, J.)

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