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Lorillard v. Field Enterprises

NOVEMBER 18, 1965.

LOUIS L. LORILLARD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

FIELD ENTERPRISES, INC., A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. EDWARD G. SCHULTZ, Judge, presiding. Reversed and remanded.

MR. JUSTICE SULLIVAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT.

Rehearing denied December 9, 1965.

Plaintiff, Louis L. Lorillard, instituted a libel action in the Circuit Court of Cook County to recover damages from the defendant, Field Enterprises, Inc. The lower court allowed defendant's motion to strike the complaint and dismiss the action and entered judgment for the defendant. For the purpose of this appeal we must accept the averments of the complaint as true. Plaintiff appeals to this court for a reversal of the judgment dismissing the action.

The basis of plaintiff's claim is an allegedly libelous article written about plaintiff by one Cleveland Amory, society columnist, and published in defendant's newspaper, The Chicago Sun-Times, on September 2, 1962. The article concerns the marital affairs of the plaintiff and the former Mrs. Lorillard. The relevant paragraphs for our consideration are:

"Their divorce began four long years, 11 lawyers, three injunctions and seven lawsuits ago, when young Louis, who is in the travel business, decided to take a trip around the world, during which he apparently also decided to get a divorce — the first news of which greeted his wife on her return from a Jazz Festival in French Lick, Ind., when she found her New York apartment locked, the locks changed and a note stating that her clothes had been removed to a hotel at which, in her absence, somebody had registered her. When Louis himself returned, he promptly went to Alabama and procured a `quickie' divorce.

"This Mrs. Lorillard equally promptly fought — all the way to the Supreme Court — and won. Then this past summer Lorillard procured another quickie divorce, this time in Arkansas and immediately, in the great Newport tradition, remarried — a divorcee named Mrs. E.C. Gable. Mr. and the new Mrs. Lorillard then prepared to move into their cottage outside Newport in Middletown, called `Paradise Farm.' The former Mrs. Lorillard, however, had already moved there ahead of them and had not only started a suit to set aside the Arkansas divorce but had also started a suit for bigamy.

"Visiting the former Mrs. Lorillard in her Paradise, we found her and her two teen-age children living in a state of siege — at her husband's order, she has no phone, no electricity and virtually nothing else. She was, however, again in the great Newport tradition, in high spirits. `But,' she told us wryly, `I don't think I'll ever give a candlelight dinner party again.'"

The specific statements of the article complained of by the plaintiff, as libelous and false are four in number: (1) That plaintiff went to Alabama and procured a "quickie" divorce from Mrs. Lorillard. Plaintiff alleges that this charges him with dishonesty and trickery, holds him up to public contempt, ridicule and scorn, and was published maliciously with intent to defame and injure him. (2) That after the first divorce was set aside by Mrs. Lorillard, he "procured another quickie divorce, this time in Arkansas." Plaintiff alleges that this charges him with trying to perpetrate some fraud upon the courts and upon Mrs. Lorillard, and implies that he was not a truthful, honorable and upright man. (3) That the former Mrs. Lorillard "had started a suit for bigamy." Plaintiff alleges that in fact no complaint, suit or prosecution of any sort had or has ever been started by the former Mrs. Lorillard, and that by this statement defendant wrongfully, falsely and maliciously charged that plaintiff had committed the crime of bigamy. (4) That Mrs. Lorillard and her two teen-age children, after moving into plaintiff's cottage were "living in a state of siege — at her husband's order, she has no phone, no electricity and virtually nothing else." Plaintiff alleges that this charges him with the crime of wife and child abandonment, and also holds him up to public contempt, ridicule and scorn as a creature of low-grade who evaded his responsibility to his family. At the time, plaintiff alleges, he was paying $700 a month to his wife and children for their support, and, in addition, provided funds for the private schooling of the children for nearly four years prior to the date of this publication.

Plaintiff's contention that the statements referring to his two divorces as "quickie" divorces, and therefore libelous, has no merit. In this day and age a reference to a divorce in a state of new domicile, procured more easily and quickly than one could be obtained in the state of former domicile, is commonly called a "quickie" divorce. The cases hold that in determining whether words are libelous per se, they must be taken in the sense which readers of common and reasonable understanding would ascribe to them, that is, in their ordinary and common acceptation. (LaGrange Press v. Citizen Pub. Co., 252 Ill. App. 482, 485.) Applying the above rule, it is apparent that the term "quickie" divorce is not libelous. The term is used often in everyday conversation to describe a particular type of divorce. The use of this term has become so common that it implies no fraud or dishonesty and therefore is not libelous of the plaintiff.

[4-6] However, plaintiff is correct in his contention that the statement that Mrs. Lorillard had "started a suit for bigamy" is libelous per se in that it imputes a crime to the plaintiff. Bigamy is a crime. In the law of libel, any written or printed words which falsely charge one with the commission of a crime are libelous per se. (Cook v. East Shore Newspapers, Inc., 327 Ill. App. 559, 64 N.E.2d 751.) In order to constitute a libel, an article or publication need not technically charge a crime, but if the language used induces readers reasonably to believe that a crime has been committed by plaintiff the article is libelous. (Hunner v. Evening American Pub. Co., 175 Ill. App. 416.) In Hunner, supra, the plaintiff sued for libel, basing his claim on the words "Mrs. Hunner was divorced two years ago naming women in her bill." The facts were that plaintiff was the one who had filed for divorce charging desertion. Plaintiff alleged that this false and libelous statement charged him with the crime of adultery. The court agreed and in deciding for the plaintiff said at page 419 of the opinion: "In interpreting the language of an article to determine whether or not it is libelous, no different construction should be placed upon it than men of ordinary affairs would give it."

In determining whether a published article is libelous per se, the words must be taken in the sense which readers of common and reasonable understanding would ascribe to them, that is, in their ordinary and common acceptance. Hotz v. Alton Tel. Printing Co., 324 Ill. App. 1, 57 N.E.2d 137. To determine whether a written statement is libelous per se, the words of the written or printed statement shall be considered in their ordinary meaning. White v. Bourquin, 204 Ill. App. 83.

By using the ordinary reader test advocated in Hunner, supra, and reiterated in subsequent cases, the commission of the crime of bigamy has been imputed to the plaintiff by the words "started a suit for bigamy." No innuendo is needed to impute the crime to plaintiff.

[8-11] While the publication by the defendant does not state whether or not Mrs. Lorillard had told the author of the article that she had actually started a suit for bigamy, nevertheless, had the article so shown, it would not relieve the defendant of the duty to check into the truth of the statement. Publication of libelous matter, although purporting to be spoken by a third person, does not protect the publisher, who is liable for what he publishes. Cobbs v. The Chicago Defender, 308 Ill. App. 55, 31 N.E.2d 323. Even had Mrs. Lorillard told the defendant that she had started such a suit, it would not protect the newspaper from liability for untruths. It is not a defense to an action ...


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