APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. MEL R.
JIGANTI, Judge, presiding.
MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE DIERINGER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
The plaintiff, Vincent Doss, filed a libel suit against the defendant, Field Enterprises, Inc., on September 15, 1969, in Madison County, Illinois, alleging that the defendant maliciously published an article in while all references to the plaintiff were false. The case was transferred to the Circuit Court of Cook County, and on May 4, 1971, a default against the defendant was entered from its failure to file a pleading to the complaint.
On June 3, 1971, the case went to trial on the issue of damages alone, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $100 and punitive damages in the amount of $15,000. The defendant appealed, and the appellate court reversed and remanded based on a finding that it was error to enter the default judgment.
On April 19, 1974, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the pleadings and testimony at the hearing in June of 1971. The motion was allowed by the trial court on June 23, 1974, and the plaintiff appeals from that judgment.
The article complained of was written by Ray Brennan after an interview with Charles Siragusa, Executive Director of the Illinois Crime Investigating Commission, and referred to the plaintiff as follows:
"Harris owns Buddy-Buddy Enterprises, Inc., a cigarette distributing company near Murphysboro. Two of his lieutenants, Vincent (Red) Doss and George Garner, operate Cairo Sales & Vending Co., in Cairo. Between them, Siragusa said, the firm controls practically every cigarette vending machine in southern Illinois.
`There's an absolute reign of terror whenever anyone tries to compete with these racketeers,' Siragusa said. `It is reminiscent of the Bonnie and Clyde days. These guys even go around wearing pistols out in the open.'"
The complaint filed by the plaintiff contained the following relevant allegations:
"3. That the statement that the plaintiff referred to as Vincent (Red) Doss, is a lieutenant of a man named Harris who is referred to in the article as `Southern Illinois crime syndicate chieftain Edward LaVarne (Buddy-Buddy) Harris' is false.
4. That the defendant meant, and intended to mean, and that newspaper readers of ordinary intelligence and understanding would understand the article to mean that the plaintiff is a member of some sort of criminal gang, syndicate, or association, that he is involved in criminal activities described in the article, that he carries a gun, and that he is associated with a man named Harris who has allegedly threatened to murder criminal investigators for the State of Illinois. In these respects the article is totally false and untrue."
He also alleged he had been damaged in the sum of $100 and asked for punitive damages in the amount of $100,000.
The plaintiff's sole argument is that he is a private citizen, and the article complained of is libelous per se. Therefore, the complaint stated a cause of action requiring the defendant to file an answer to the complaint.
1 The privilege to report the acts and utterances of governmental bodies and officials is well established in Illinois. In the case of Lulay v. Peoria Journal-Star, Inc. (1966), 34 Ill.2d 112, the court reversed a jury verdict for the plaintiff and held that the privilege applied to newspaper accounts of statements made by the Peoria Health Department regarding the condition of plaintiff's food store. The court rejected as insufficient the plaintiff's generalized and unsubstantiated assertions of malice and rejected the assertion that the privilege has no application when the plaintiff is claiming that the article constitutes libel ...