Belli v. Orlando Daily Newspapers, Inc case brief
Facts: March 1964, Handley, an attorney in Florida, in talking with Yothers who is a columnist for a newspaper, repeating a story he heard about Belli. The story was about Belli being invited to Florida BAR, but since the BAR could not pay him for speaking, the understanding was that his hotel tab would be picked up. Story goes that he rang up a lot of clothes purchases to his bills which the BAR found out about; this part of the story is actually false and there were no clothes purchased however Yothers ran and exaggerated the story.
District court dismissed the claim for failure to state a claim upon which he can get relief because court has discretion over whether or not a statement is libel or slander.
Reasoning: The formula for libel asks if there has been a false or unprivileged publication by letter or otherwise which exposes a person to ridicule or which can injure person in their employment. If so, and its natural and proximate consequences necessarily causes injury to a person, then such publication is actionable per se. It is also for the court in the first instance to determine whether the words are reasonably capable of a particular interpretation or whether they are necessarily so and it is juries to say whether they were understood to be defamatory.
If it is unambiguous then judge says if the interpretation is defamatory or not but if more than one meaning then it must be for jury to say. Court applied this logic and found that the jury should have decided that the article was defamatory because it had more than one meaning
Holding: If a publication, by itself, is capable of carrying a defamatory meaning then it is for a jury to decide if it was so understand by the “common mind”.