Monday, November 11, 2013

Philadelphia Newspapers v. Hepps case brief

Philadelphia Newspapers v. Hepps case brief summary
475 U.S. 767 (1986)

Appellant sought review of a judgment from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania finding that, in an action for libel, a showing of fault did not require a showing of falsity and held that to place the burden of showing truth on appellant did not unconstitutionally inhibit free debate.


Appellee brought suit for libel and defamation in connection with newspaper stories run by appellant. Appellee challenged the ruling that he had the burden of proving the falsity of the statements.

  • The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, holding the appellant had the burden of proving the statements were true. 
  • On review the Supreme Court found that in order to avoid a chilling effect on U.S. Constitutional Amendment I's protection of true speech, a private figure plaintiff must bear the burden of showing that the speech at issue was false before recovering damages for defamation from a media defendant. 
  • Therefore the court reversed the judgment and remanded the case holding that the appellee had to prove the statements of the appellant were false in order to recover damages.

The judgment of the lower court, imposing the burden of proving falsity on appellant, was reversed because the burden of showing falsity fell on the appellee in an action to prove defamation involving speech of public concern.

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