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Greenmoss Builders, Inc. v. Dun & Bradstreet, Inc.

461 A.2d 414 (1983)

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Greenmoss Builders, Inc. v. Dun & Bradstreet, Inc.

Vermont Supreme Court

461 A.2d 414 (1983)

Facts

Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. (defendant) provided credit reports to its subscribers. One of Dun & Bradstreet’s subscribers was a bank that was a creditor of Greenmoss Builders, Inc. (Greenmoss) (plaintiff). Greenmoss was in sound financial condition and had suffered no economic reversals. Nevertheless, when Greenmoss met with its bank to seek additional financing, the bank informed Greenmoss that Dun & Bradstreet’s most recent credit report indicated that Greenmoss had filed for bankruptcy. Greenmoss denied the bankruptcy, but the bank refused to consider extending credit to Greenmoss until Greenmoss could clear up the discrepancy. The bank ultimately terminated Greenmoss’s credit. Greenmoss sued Dun & Bradstreet for defamation. At trial, Greenmoss learned that the error had been the result of a mistake made by a 17-year-old high school student that Dun & Bradstreet employed to review Vermont’s bankruptcy filings. A jury awarded Greenmoss $50,000 in actual damages and $300,000 in punitive damages. Dun & Bradstreet moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The trial court denied this motion. However, the court determined that it had incorrectly instructed the jury regarding the proper standard of liability and ordered a new trial. The trial court certified certain five questions to the supreme court, including whether non-media defendants were afforded the same protections as media defendants in defamation suits brought by private individuals. The supreme court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Hill, J.)

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