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Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Association, Inc. v. Bresler

398 U.S. 6 (1970)

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Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Association, Inc. v. Bresler

United States Supreme Court

398 U.S. 6 (1970)

Facts

Charles Bresler (defendant) was a well-known real estate developer in Greenbelt, Maryland, and served as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates for an adjacent district. Bresler wanted certain zoning variances so he could develop housing on land that he owned, and the city of Greenbelt wanted a different tract of land owned by Bresler for a new high school. Bresler and the Greenbelt City Council began joint negotiations for the zoning variances and the land purchase. It was clear that if an agreement was not reached, extensive litigation would likely ensue. The negotiations were controversial in Greenbelt, and city council meetings often became heated, with citizens attending to express their views about the possible agreement. The Greenbelt News Review (the Review), a small newspaper owned by Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Association, Inc. (Greenbelt Cooperative) (plaintiff), covered the city council meetings. Two articles published by the Review stated that some meeting attendees had described Bresler’s negotiating position as “blackmail.” The Review used the word blackmail both with and without quotation marks and used it in an article subheading. Bresler filed a lawsuit in state court seeking punitive and compensatory damages for libel. Bresler argued that by publishing the statements of the speakers, the articles in the Review were libelous because they imputed to him the crime of blackmail even though the Review knew Bresler was not actually blackmailing anyone. At trial, a jury awarded Bresler $5,000 in compensatory damages and $12,500 in punitive damages. Greenbelt Cooperative appealed, and the Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court. Greenbelt Cooperative petitioned for a writ of certiorari, which was granted by the United States Supreme Court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Stewart, J.)

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