Cantrell v. Forest City Publishing Company

PETITIONER: Margaret Mae Cantrell, et al.
RESPONDENT: Forest City Publishing Company, et al.
LOCATION: Silver Bridge, Point Pleasant, West Virginia

DOCKET NO.: 73-5520
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 419 US 245 (1974)
ARGUED: Nov 13, 1974
DECIDED: Dec 18, 1974
GRANTED: Jul 08, 1974

ADVOCATES:
Harry Alan Sherman - for petitioners
Smith Warder - for respondents

Facts of the case

In December 1967, the Silver Bridge at Point Pleasant, West Virginia, collapsed and killed 43 people, including Melvin Cantrell. Joseph Eszterhas, a reporter for the local newspaper the Plain Dealer, was assigned to cover the story. He decided to focus on the Melvin Cantrell’s funeral and the impact of his death on his family. Five months later, he returned to do a follow-up piece and spoke to the Cantrell children when their mother, Margaret Cantrell, was not present. The article appeared on August 4, 1968 and contained a number of admitted inaccuracies concerning the family and the status of their home.

Margaret Cantrell and her children sued under the “false light” theory of invasion of privacy. After the jury heard plaintiff’s case, the judge removed the demand for punitive damages because Cantrell had failed to present evidence that the falsehoods stemmed from actual malice. The defendants moved for a directed verdict, which the judge denied. The jury found the defendants guilty and awarded compensatory damages. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed and held that the district judge should have granted the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict.

Question

Should the district judge have directed a verdict for Forest City Publishing Co.?

Media for Cantrell v. Forest City Publishing Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 13, 1974 in Cantrell v. Forest City Publishing Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 18, 1974 in Cantrell v. Forest City Publishing Company

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion in No. 73-5520, Cantrell v. Forest City Publishing Company will be announced by Mr. Justice Stewart.

Potter Stewart:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

This is a diversity of citizenship action, brought in a Federal District Court, grounded upon invasion of the petitioner's privacy.

The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs but this judgment was reversed by the Court of Appeals under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

For the reasons stated in some detail in the opinion filed today, we hold that with respect to two of the defendants, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and one of its reporters, the trial judge did not commit constitutional error in allowing the case to go to the jury under the instructions that he gave and we therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Mr. Justice Douglas has filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Stewart.