Appeal from the Municipal Court of Chicago; the Hon. JAMES A.
GEROULIS, Judge, presiding. Reversed and remanded with
MR. JUSTICE SULLIVAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT.
This is an appeal from judgments entered on verdicts in favor of each of the plaintiffs in a libel action, after the court had instructed the jury as to defendant's liability. The plaintiffs were police officers of the Chicago Park District at the time of the occurrence complained of.
On July 21, 1958 the defendant wrote and sent the following letter to Chief George Otlewis of the Chicago Park District:
"Chief George Otlewis Police Division Chicago Park District Administration Building 425 East 14th Boulevard Chicago 5, Illinois
Prior to noon on March 23rd on the Outer Drive, the officers driving Police Car #920, license #M7716, solicited a check from my daughter, a copy of which is enclosed, when the car in which she was riding was stopped, for `speeding.' When she asked the officers to whom the check should be made, they said, `cash, what else.' The check was pre-dated March 22nd because the 23rd was a Sunday. Further, this solicitation was done in front of witnesses.
I regret having to advise you of this situation at such a late date, but you will note that the check was not put through the bank until the 31st, and since my daughter is away at school, and we just recently returned from a trip to Hawaii, there was no opportunity to present this matter until now. I expect disciplinary action to be taken promptly.
The newspapers have not been advised, and I have no intentions at the present time of doing so.
A.C. Allyn, Jr. (signed) A.C. Allyn Jr. djd"
The complaint alleged that the defendant wrote the letter maliciously, intending to destroy the good names of the plaintiffs and charge them with being dishonest and crooked. That as a result of the letter they were shunned and injured in their reputation.
The facts occurring prior to the sending of the foregoing letter are briefly these:
In July, 1958, the defendant saw a cancelled check signed by his daughter for $15 payable to cash and bearing the deposit stamp of a tavern but no other endorsement. He was at that time checking his daughter's bank statement. He asked his daughter about the check and she told him that she was riding in a car on Lake Shore Drive, which was stopped for speeding, and that she gave the police officers a check for $15.
At the trial these facts were brought out:
The driver's name was Paul Power. With him were two young ladies, one of them being Dorothy Allyn. The driver was charged with exceeding the speed limit and was given a ticket. He was informed a $25 bond was required. The driver did not have his driver's license with him. The driver had only $10. Miss Allyn asked if they would take a check for $15. Officer Flannery told her to make out the check to cash and he would give her $15 cash to avoid inconvenience. She gave the money to the driver who was arrested for speeding, and he, in turn, gave $25 to the sergeant at the police station.
When this letter was received by Chief Otlewis it was read by him and went down the chain of command for investigation. Many police officers in the police station who were not assigned to investigate the matter read the letter. There is no question that there was publication of this letter and the persons who read the letter knew that it referred to the plaintiffs.
The defendant, when he sent the letter of July 21, 1958, knew only that his daughter had given a police officer a check for $15, and he assumed the worst.
Subsequently, on August 28, 1958, after the defendant had discovered the facts concerning the incident he wrote the following letter to Chief George Otlewis of the Chicago Park District:
"Chief George A. Otlewis Chicago Park District Administration Building 425 East 14th Blvd. Chicago 5, Illinois
Please refer to my letter to you dated July 21st and July 28th of this year.
I have now had an opportunity to discuss the matters contained in those letters in detail with the driver of the vehicle. It is now clear that the apparent infraction of the rules by your officers arose from a failure on the part of the driver of the vehicle, and also on the part of the officers not to disclose to my daughter the nature of the solicitation of her check. The officers involved did generously offer to the driver of the vehicle to ...