A town is accepting bids from contractors to repave its streets. Each bidder must provide specific information, including the amount the bidder would charge for the job. The winning bidder is to be selected by the town’s mayor, who is the chief executive officer of the town. The mayor is not required to select the lowest bidder, but the mayor must select the bidder who presents the most favorable combination of cost and quality of work.
Twelve contractors submit bids, which range from $125,000 to $200,000. One of the bidders is a construction company owned by the mayor’s brother-in-law. The construction company has a good reputation for quality and reliability. Its bid price is the sixth-highest, at $175,000.
The mayor is on the board of directors of a local charity that provides food to those in need. On the same day that the construction company submits its bid, the construction company donates $10,000 to the charity. None of the other bidders donate to the charity. Two weeks later, the mayor announces that the construction company is the winning bidder.
Later that year, the mayor is up for reelection. The mayor is opposed by one other candidate. During the campaign, the candidate makes the following statement during a speech: “We ought to think hard about our current mayor. Remember that street paving contract? The company that got that contract made a donation to the mayor’s favorite charity. Then they got the contract, even though they weren’t the low bidder. I think we all know how that happened.”
The local newspaper reports this statement in a story the following day. The newspaper does not express any opinion about the statement, but simply reports the fact that the candidate made the statement, quoting the statement in full.
The mayor sues both the candidate and the newspaper for defamation. Under the applicable law, truth is a complete defense to defamation.
Each defendant moves for summary judgment. The candidate raises the defense of truth, and argues that all of the facts he asserted in the statement were true. The newspaper argues that it cannot be liable because it did not originate or endorse the statement, but merely reported the fact that the candidate made the statement.
In opposing the motions, the mayor admits that the construction company was not the low bidder. The mayor also admits that the construction company made the donation to the charity on the same day that the construction company submitted its paving bid. The mayor further admits that the charity is the mayor’s favorite. The mayor denies, however, that the donation had anything to do with the contract award.
- What are the correct standards of liability and proof in this case? Explain.
- Should the candidate prevail as a matter of law on the defense of truth? Explain.
- Is the newspaper correct to argue that it cannot be liable for reporting the candidate’s statement? Explain.