New York Times Co. v. Sullivan
United States Supreme Court
376 U.S. 254 (1964)
Sullivan (plaintiff) was Commissioner of the Police Department, Fire Department, Department of the Cemetery, and Department of Scales for Montgomery, Alabama. He brought a civil libel action against New York Times Co. (defendant) after it printed allegedly false and defamatory statements about Sullivan’s actions to control African American protesters and his treatment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The newspaper article in question accused Sullivan’s police force of conducting a wave of terror against African American students and brutally harassing Dr. King. It is undisputed that several of the allegations were either false or exaggerated. At trial, the trial judge charged the jury that the statements in the article were “libelous per se” and that damages were appropriate if the statements were merely “of and concerning” Sullivan. The jury returned a verdict for Sullivan and awarded him $500,000 in damages. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Brennan, J.)