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Bontkowski v. Chicago Sun-times

SEPTEMBER 17, 1969.

THADDEUS BONTKOWSKI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES AND FIELD ENTERPRISES, INC., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. NICOLAS J. BUA, Judge, presiding. Judgment affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE STAMOS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT.

Plaintiff, Thaddeus Bontkowski, an attorney, brought a libel per se action against defendants Chicago Sun-Times and Marshall Field Enterprises, Inc. The defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action was sustained, and plaintiff appeals.

The complaint alleged that plaintiff is a person of good name, fame, and repute, held in high esteem by and among his acquaintances and the general public; that plaintiff is a duly licensed attorney in the State of Illinois and is so engaged in the pursuit of his profession; that on or about August 14, 1966, in the city of Chicago, defendants maliciously and wrongfully composed and published a certain letter and accompanying editor's note in the "TV Prevue" section of the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, "Voice of the Viewer's Column," to wit:

"MASON LOSES A CLIENT

"Dear Voice:

"I'm sure happy to hear that Perry (Raymond Burr) Mason won't be back in court next season.

"I'm an attorney myself and realize the show was intended to be dramatic, but I can't help laughing every time Mason wins a case.

"T. BONTKOWSKI

"(Editor's note) Sounds like you haven't been winning too many cases lately."

It was further alleged that both the letter and editor's note were written by an employee of defendants, one Dennis Smith, in pursuance of his duties compiling and editing "TV Prevue" of said newspaper; and that by reason of the foregoing, plaintiff was injured in his good name, reputation, employment and his professional competency as an attorney. Plaintiff complained that his sound judgment was impugned, and that he has been exposed to, and in fact suffered public contempt, ridicule, embarrassment and financial injury. Plaintiff denied writing the letter and alleged it was written by Smith, and further, that the editor's note was false and defendants knew, or by exercise of reasonable care, could and would have known the statements concerning plaintiff were false, but that defendants failed to exercise reasonable care to ascertain the truth or falsity of the statements by making inquiry of plaintiff or otherwise, and by the composition, writing, and publishing of the letter and editor's note, defendants demonstrated actual malice, spite and ill will toward plaintiff. The complaint further alleged that the letter and editor's note were wholly false and libelous per se, and that plaintiff was greatly injured to his professional and personal reputation to plaintiff's damage in the sum of $500,000.

By their motion to dismiss, defendants have admitted (for the purpose of the motion) the truth of all the material allegations properly pleaded in the complaint.

Since the complaint did not allege any special or actual damages, the issue before the court is whether the publication complained of imputes to plaintiff a want of the requisite qualifications to practice law and is thereby actionable as a libel per se.

In Whitby v. Associates Discount Corp., 59 Ill. App.2d 337, 207 N.E.2d 482 (1965), the court stated that those classes of words held actionable per se in Illinois, i.e., without the showing of ...


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