Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.

PETITIONER: Anderson
RESPONDENT: Liberty Lobby, Inc.
LOCATION: Southhampton County Circuit Court

DOCKET NO.: 84-1602
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 477 US 242 (1986)
ARGUED: Dec 03, 1985
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1986

ADVOCATES:
David J. Branson - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Mark Lane - Argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

Liberty Lobby, Inc. (Liberty), a nonprofit "citizen's lobby" corporation, filed a libel action against a magazine published by Jack Anderson et al. Liberty claimed that one of Anderson's articles contained false and derogatory statements about its operations. In its defense, Anderson claimed that as a pubic entity Liberty must show with "convincing clarity" that Anderson acted with actual malice - something they could not do since the article's author stated in an affidavit that he thoroughly researched and cross-checked all his information. Liberty claimed that Anderson did act with actual malice since its author depended on patently unreliable sources. Following a district court's summary judgment ruling favoring Anderson, an appellate court reversed as it held that the lower court erroneously applied actual malice standards of proof at the summary judgement phase. Anderson appealed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Question

Can a court, in the context of a summary judgment request, award summary judgment in a libel action if the moving party had no evidence that a reasonable jury might disbelieve its opponent's claim?

Media for Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 03, 1985 in Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

We will arguments first this morning in Anderson v. Liberty Lobby.

Mr. Branson, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

We will hear arguments next in Philadelphia Newspapers v. Hepps.

David J. Branson:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case requires the Court to again consider the proper applications of the standards enunciated 21 years ago in New York Times v. Sullivan.

In that case this Courtl held that a jury verdict could not be sustained because that libeled plaintiff did not produce clear and convincing evidence of actual malice.

In Time, Inc. v. Pape, this Court applied the clear and convincing standard in reviewing a defendant's motion for a directed verdict under Rule 50 of th Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and in Bose v. Consumers Union, this Court applied the clear and convincing standard in reviewing... in a de novo review of a district court determination under Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The question today is whether the trial courts must apply the clear and convincing standard in public figure libel cases on a defendant's motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The Petitioners urge this Court to hold that indeed the trial courts are required to apply the clear and convincing standard on a defendant's motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, and therefore we urge this Court to reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals below.

The purpose of Rule 56 has been often stated.

it is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to determine whether there is a genuine need for trial.

The commentators are in agreement that the evidentiary standard for both motions is the same.

They agree that there is no genuine need for a trial if it is clear in summary judgment that the trial court would have to grant a directed verdict applying the proper evidentiary standard.

The Court of Appeals in this case disagreed, and the Court of Appeals here set a rule that permits a public figure libel plaintiff to proceed to trial and indeed to complete its case at trial even though it cannot on summary judgment produce clear and convincing evidence of actual malice.

And the Court of Appeals gave three reasons for setting this rule, and I would like to discuss each one seriatim.

The first reason given by the Court of Appeals was that a trial court should not engage in a weighing of the evidence on a motion for summary judgment.

The answer to that reason is that a trial court need not do that on a motion for summary judgment, and indeed, the trial court performs no different function on that motion than the trial court performs in evaluating the evidence on a motion for a directed verdict, and since it is clear that the trial court must apply the clear and convincing standard on a motion for a directed verdict, there is no reason that it can't equally apply it on a motion for summary judgment.

Warren E. Burger:

But when a motion for a directed verdict is made, the evidence is all in the record, is it not?

David J. Branson:

The evidence is all in the record that the plaintiff wishes to put before the court at that time, that is correct, Your Honor.

And that leads to the second reason--

Warren E. Burger:

The plaintiff will have inevitably put his evidence all in at that stage.

David J. Branson:

--That is correct.

And that is the reason the Court of Appeals identified as its second reason for not applying the clear and convincing standard on summary judgment.

The Court of Appeals said that this motion is really at a threshold in the litigation.

It's the beginning, so to speak.

The Court of Appeals said that it would be unfair to make a plaintiff marshal all of its evidence at that state of the litigation, and indeed would turn, the Court of Appeals said, a motion for summary judgment into a time consuming and expensive process if plaintiffs had to marshal all of their evidence at that stage.

But an examination of the facts in this record demonstrates that's not the case.

This case was filed in September 1981.

At the first status conference the trial judge set a date in August 1982 as the cutoff for discovery.

The plaintiffs, Respondents here, took their first deposition in October 1981.