Torts II, Pages 881–884

Belli v. Orlando Daily Newspapers, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, 1967

Facts:

Defendant's gossip columnist wrote an article that said plaintiff, a well-known attorney, ran up a hotel bill that the Florida Bar Association was paying. The rumor was false however. Plaintiff sued for libel and slander.

Procedural History:

District Court dismissed plaintiff's complaint, assuming that whether a statement is libel per se is solely for the court.

Issue:

Was defendant's publication libel per se?

Rule:

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A civil action for libel will lie when there has been a false and unprivileged publication by letter or otherwise which exposes a person to distrust, hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy * * * or which has a tendency to injure such person in his office, occupation, business, or employment.

Explanation:

If there are two possible meanings, it is for the jury to say under the totality of the circumstances, which of the two meanings would be attributed to it by those to whom it is addressed.

Holding:

It is for a jury to decide whether the article was libelous per se. Reversed and remanded.

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