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Time, Inc. v. Firestone

424 U.S. 448 (1976)

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Time, Inc. v. Firestone

United States Supreme Court

424 U.S. 448 (1976)

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Facts

Russell Firestone, the wealthy heir to the Firestone tire fortune, married his third wife, Mary Alice Firestone (defendant), in 1961. The couple had a son together. In 1964 Russell and Mary Alice separated, and each initiated court proceedings against the other. The court proceedings lasted 17 months, and involved many salacious accounts of infidelities. The judge discounted the veracity of these accounts, but nonetheless dissolved the marriage. Time published a blurb about the divorce in its section entitled “Milestones.” Time’s blurb stated that Russell divorced Mary Alice on grounds of extreme cruelty and adultery, then characterized the testimony at trial as full of “extramarital adventures.” Mary Alice demanded a retraction from Time, but Time refused. Mary Alice sued Time’s publisher, Time, Inc. (plaintiff) for libel. Mary Alice claimed that had suffered a great deal of anxiety over Time’s inaccurate statement that the judge had found her guilty of adultery. A jury found in favor of Mary Alice and awarded her $100,000 in damages. Time, Inc. appealed. Time, Inc. argued that it could not be found liable for libel unless its publication was made with actual malice, the standard for statements about public figures. Additionally, Time, Inc. argued that it was reporting on a legal proceeding, and again should not be liable for libel absent a showing of actual malice. The court of appeals and Florida supreme court affirmed. The supreme court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Rehnquist, J.)

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