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Menefee v. Codman

317 P.2d 1032 (1957)

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Menefee v. Codman

California Court of Appeal

317 P.2d 1032 (1957)

Facts

Audrey Menefee (plaintiff) taught psychology and had an excellent reputation. Winnifred Codman (defendant) published opinion letters. Menefee sued Codman for three counts of libel, alleging Codman published a defamatory letter about Menefee’s European vacation. Under the first count, Codman instructed readers to reference psychology textbooks to understand why Menefee should have been named Narcissus. Under the second count, Codman wrote that Menefee’s vacation caused a lot of local-yokel comments, and that everyone wanted to know who covered Audrey. Under the third count, Codman presumed Menefee was “covering the waterfront.” A nightgown-and-negligee advertisement was attached to Codman’s publication. Menefee claimed she was injured and prejudiced in her reputation and profession. Menefee further alleged Codman published her article with malice and demanded exemplary damages. Menefee contended the defamatory words were libelous per se, but that if they were not libelous per se, that she pleaded and proved special damages. Codman argued the publication was not libelous per se, because her words were clearly innocent and nondefamatory. Menefee asserted Codman’s words were sexual, showing the dictionary defined cover as “to copulate; as, a horse covers a mare.” Menefee pointed to testimony that people thought Codman accused Menefee of prostitution. Codman cited numerous definitions of cover, insisting the word had innocent meanings. Menefee presented testimony showing she suffered general damage by loss of reputation, shame, and mortification. The jury awarded Menefee exemplary damages on the first count and returned verdicts in favor of Codman on the second and third counts. Codman appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Van Dyke, J.)

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