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Bloomfield v. Retail Credit Co.

AUGUST 3, 1973.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JACQUES F. HEILENGOETTER, Judge, presiding.


This action for libel is based upon investigative reports which defendant, a credit reporting service, supplied to one of its subscribers about plaintiff. Plaintiff filed a five-count complaint, two of which charged libel, while the others charged interference with a contractual relationship, invasion of privacy, and violation of the statute covering the licensing of private detectives. The latter two counts were dismissed on defendant's motion, and the case was submitted to the jury on the remaining three counts. The jury returned a verdict finding defendant guilty and assessing $500,000 compensatory damages and $100,000 punitive damages. This appeal is taken from the judgment entered on those verdicts. In addition, plaintiff has cross appealed from the dismissal of the two counts of the complaint previously referred to.

Defendant presents the following contentions on review:

1. The jury was erroneously instructed.

2. The damages awarded are excessive and not supported by the evidence.

3. Defendant was denied a fair trial by misconduct of plaintiff's counsel.

4. The court erred in the admission and exclusion of certain testimony.

5. The court erred in ruling defendant's reports libelous per se and in submitting the case to the jury on that theory.

6. The court erred in submitting the case to the jury on the theory that defendant's reports were libelous per quod because plaintiff did not prove actual damages resulting from the reports.

7. The court erred in submitting the issue of contractual interference to the jury.

8. The jury's finding of actual malice on a special interrogatory was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.

On September 3, 1964, Puritan Life Insurance Company (Puritan) requested from defendant an investigative report on plaintiff whom Puritan was considering for an insurance agent's position. A report dated September 16, 1964, was prepared by James Aubry, an employee of defendant, and sent to Puritan. The following has been taken verbatim (including typographical errors, etc.) from the report:

"Is there anything about his appearance, temperament, or personal characteristics that might affect his ability as an agent? Yes. Does he now, or has he in the past, used beer, wine, or whiskey to noticeable excess or intoxication? Yes.

This report is the result of investigation by the Chicago office at a former employer and by our Morton Grove office at the present residence.

Harold G Bloomfield was last employed by Albert Knapp & Associates. This is a large broker employing about 15 persons. Subject was an assistant to the president. It was his job to travel about the country contacting various brokers, trying to interest them in selling schools an accident insurance policy covering children. His work was considered average, subject was temperamental, he showed his dislikes, ifhe disliked a potential customer, he did not bother to sell him with the same care that he executed on brokers to whom he took a liking. Subject was under contract earning 18,000 plus expenses. He was obligated to entertain brokers, and had been criticized for excessive drinking on various occassions. This was limited as subject had an ulcer condition.

He, in additional to ulcers, had some type of spinal disorder, which doctors wanted subject to have corrected by surgery. He would not submit to surgery, and he is subject to attacks during meals, which have the appearance of heart attacks, and have alarmed customers who are dining with him. He eats lightly.

He is married for a second time, and lives with his wife and two children in his own home located in a middle class area. The house is * * * presently up for sale. He has a grown son by his first marriage, this son was in trouble with the Navy in the past, has left the navy and is now in the merchant marine.

Confirmation. Information supplied by a close confidential source. Confirmed by a former business associate."

On September 23, 1964, Puritan requested more detailed information concerning plaintiff. The report that defendant provided, dated September 28, 1964, was prepared by its employee George Gallos and covered the previous five years of plaintiff's background, whereas the prior report went back only two years. That report included the following (also verbatim):

"How Often Intoxicants Used? Daily.

How Many Drinks Taken? 5-6

Are Intoxicants Used to Excess or Were They in Past? Yes — see habits.

Reputation Good? No

Recommended? No — sub to health habits.

NOTE; Supplementing our report of 9-16-64 on subject and in answer to your letter of 9-23-64 we have completed another investigation with alternate inspector handling this case. We are ...

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