Time, Inc. v. Firestone

RESPONDENT:Mary Alice Firestone

DOCKET NO.: 74-944
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Florida Supreme Court

CITATION: 424 US 448 (1976)
ARGUED: Oct 14, 1975
DECIDED: Mar 02, 1976
GRANTED: Apr 14, 1975

Edna L. Caruso – for respondent
John H. Pickering – for petitioner

Facts of the case

Mary Alice Firestone filed for divorce from her husband, an heir to the Firestone Tires fortune. He counterclaimed alleging “extreme cruelty and adultery”. The court granted the divorce with an ambiguous decree that did not specify the grounds. Time Magazine printed an article reporting that Firestone’s extreme cruelty and adultery caused the divorce. Firestone requested a retraction, but Time refused. Firestone sued Time, Inc. for libel in Florida state court. The circuit court entered a judgment in favor of Firestone for $100,000. The Florida District Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Florida affirmed.


Did the Florida court’s judgment violate Time’s First Amendment protections?

Media for Time, Inc. v. Firestone

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 14, 1975 in Time, Inc. v. Firestone

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 02, 1976 in Time, Inc. v. Firestone

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in 74-944, Time Incorporated against Firestone, will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

Petitioner is a publisher of the Time Magazine.

That magazine published an article which purported to describe respondent’s divorce from her husband, a member of one of America’s wealthy or industrial family.

Respondent, claiming the article was both false and defamatory, brought a liable action in a Florida Court.

The jury awarded her damages in the amount of a $100,000 and this judgment was ultimately affirmed by the Supreme Court of Florida.

We granted certiorari to consider petitioner’s contentions that this decision infringed its rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

For the reasons expressed in an opinion which has been filed with a clerk this morning, we reject petitioner’s arguments that it was entitled for the protection of the standard announced by the court in New York Times versus Sullivan.

We conclude respondent was not a public figure within the meaning of our decisions and we disagree with petitioner’s claim that the New York Times privilege should automatically extend to articles which are reports of judicial proceedings.

We hold instead that the proper standard of constitutional protection to be applied in this case is the one we announced two terms ago in Gertz versus Robert Welch.

Our review of the record is satisfied as the two of the elements required by Gertz.

First that the published report be false and that the damages be supported by competent evidence have been met.

As to Gertz’s third requirement however, it appears that there has never been a finding by another state courts which have considered this case to the effect that petitioner was at fault in preparing and publishing its report of the respondent’s divorce.

We therefore remand the case to the Supreme Court of Florida in order that this essential element maybe considered and resolved in the state court.

Mr. Justice Powell has filed a concurring opinion in which Mr. Justice Stewart has joined.

Separate dissenting opinions have been filed by Mr. Justice Brennan, Mr. Justice White and Mr. Justice Marshall.

Mr. Justice Stevens took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Rehnquist.