Howard v. Lyons

PETITIONER: Howard
RESPONDENT: Lyons
LOCATION: Sherry Frontenac

DOCKET NO.: 57
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 360 US 593 (1959)
REARGUED: Apr 20, 1959 / Apr 21, 1959
DECIDED: Jun 29, 1959
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1958 / Dec 09, 1958

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Howard v. Lyons

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - April 20, 1959 in Howard v. Lyons
Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - April 21, 1959 in Howard v. Lyons
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1958 in Howard v. Lyons

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 09, 1958 in Howard v. Lyons

Claude L. Dawson:

May it please the Court.

In the brief filed by the respondents in this Court referred to the petitioner Howard as a Rear Admiral at the time of the release of the libelous memorandum in question, he was then a Captain in the -- employed in the Boston Naval Shipyard.

Now, the respond -- respondent Lyons, the time that this memorandum was issued, was the National Commander of the Federal Employees Veterans Association which has posts in various government agencies from coast to coast.

The other respondent, Mr. McAteer, was the Commander of the local post of the -- in the Boston Naval Shipyard.

There have been considerable activities.

The Federal Employees Veterans Association is composed of members all of whom have been -- have honorable discharges in the United States Army, Navy or the Marine Corps or the Air Force.

No one else is eligible for membership in this organization and the -- there's no question about their loyalty to the Government of the United States.

As a matter of fact, that is one of their cardinal principles that they have a 100% loyalty to the -- to the Government of the United States.

Now, at that time that this memorandum was issued by the Petitioner Howard cancelling the recognition that have been given to the Federal Employees Veterans Association to represent members in various grievous matters -- grievance matters in the Boston Naval Shipyard.

No notice was ever given to their respondents or to any members of the Federal Employees Veterans Association that he was passing upon a question of whether they were eligible to represent the members in the Boston Naval Shipyard.

No order to show cause why they should -- the recognition should be canceled, was ever served upon the respondents or any of the officials of the FEVA prior to the issuance of the memorandum.

Now, it seems that in this case the Government has taken a position that in issuing the memorandum in question, that the petitioner Howard was absolutely immune from -- in other words, he was absolutely privileged in issuing a memorandum in question.

Now, in that respect, there is cited in our brief a number of cases in where this -- this Court and the other courts have extended the rule of absolute privilege in the matter of adjudicating anything that fell within the duties of a public official.

But the rule is -- is very limited, and it has generally been applied by this Court and to -- and by other courts where the party issuing the libelous memorandum or the libelous statement was either charged with matters of policy.

Now, the petitioner Howard was not in anyway charged with matters of policy.

Policy of the Navy Department is made and directed by the Secretary of the Navy.

He was simply the ranking officer in charged out of the Boston Naval Shipyard at that time.

Now, his contention is, is entitled to complete immunity in libeling the respondents in this action.

Earl Warren:

Now Mr. Dawson, a moment ago, you were speaking of issuing a report to this kind.

Are you referring to the publication of it to others or are you referring to the writing of the opinion and sending it through channels to a higher officer?

Claude L. Dawson:

It is my opinion, Mr. Chief Justice that if this report had probably have been made, gone to and then not gone to regular channels but have been directed to the Chief of the Bureau of Ships in Washington, they probably would have been a privileged communication.

However, he didn't do that.

He released it to the Commander-in-Charge of that naval district, who the affidavit shows it would be immediately released to the press and it was released to all the newspapers, and the Press Associations in the City of Boston, according to the allegations of our complaint.

Charles E. Whittaker:

Do you think --

Claude L. Dawson:

Not -- pardon me?

Charles E. Whittaker:

Excuse me.

May I ask, (Inaudible) that because petitioner was required by (Inaudible) to make this report in his (Inaudible)

He was not responsible for what the (Inaudible)

Do you disagree with that?

Claude L. Dawson:

I disagree with that -- to this extent, Your Honor.