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Welch v. Chicago Tribune Co.

OCTOBER 28, 1975.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. MEL R. JIGANTI, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied January 14, 1976.

Thomas M. Welch (plaintiff) filed a complaint for libel against the Chicago Tribune Company and Cooper Rollow, Tribune sports editor (defendants). The circuit court of Cook County granted defendants' motion for summary judgment.

The only issue before this court on appeal is whether the trial court erred in granting the motion for summary judgment.

In considering defendants' motion for summary judgment, the trial court had before it plaintiff's complaint, defendants' answer, plaintiff's reply, defendants' answers to plaintiff's interrogatories, and briefs by both plaintiff and defendants on the issues of law involved in the case. The briefs in this court referred to facts established by depositions taken in preparation for this case, but the depositions were not filed with the trial court until after the motion for summary judgment had been granted. No affidavits were filed respecting the motion for summary judgment. In a post-judgment order permitting the filing of the depositions, the court denied a motion for rehearing of the summary judgment motion. Plaintiff appeals.

This court shall consider all matters of record, including the depositions filed after the motion for summary judgment was granted. *fn1 These include depositions of plaintiff (Thomas Welch), defendant (Cooper Rollow) and two assistant editors of the sports department (Ted Anthony Damata and David Moylan). There has been no objection to a consideration of these depositions on this appeal, and both plaintiff and defendants have referred to these depositions in their briefs before this court.

The undisputed facts disclosed by the pleadings and depositions on file in this case are as follows. Plaintiff was employed by the sports department of the defendant newspaper from October, 1963 to August, 1970. In August of 1970, plaintiff's position with the sports department was terminated by a letter delivered to him and signed by Cooper Rollow (defendant), sports editor. After notifying plaintiff of his termination, defendant Rollow, in consultation with two of his associate editors, posted a memorandum notifying the members of the sports department of the reasons for plaintiff's termination. The memorandum read:

"Aug. 7

Tom Welch's services have been terminated as of this date because of alcoholism, inefficiency, lack of punctuality, and unreliability.

(signed) Cooper Rollow"

This memorandum was posted on a bulletin board at the edge of the sports department. A few minutes after the memorandum was posted an unidentified person, not a member of the sports department, passed by the bulletin board, read the memorandum and laughed. This incident caused Rollow to remove the memorandum from the board and put a copy of it in the mailbox of each person connected with the sports department. Persons with mailboxes in the sports department included not only regular employees, but phone boys and stringers. *fn2

Plaintiff's complaint denies the truth of the statements made in the memorandum and alleges plaintiff was told his termination was the result of economic conditions. Plaintiff further alleges defendants knowingly published these false statements with malice and an intent to injure plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges he was injured in his reputation and suffered actual damages of $100,000 and prays for additional exemplary damages of $100,000.

In their answer defendants admit the posting and distribution of the memorandum, but they deny the allegation plaintiff had been told his termination was the result of economic conditions; they further deny the memorandum was false and defamatory and that it was published with an intent to injure plaintiff; they also allege the memorandum was privileged and non-actionable; the information contained in the memorandum was true; the information was never communicated to anyone other than Tribune employees, thus there was never an actionable publication; the language of the memorandum was protected by the guarantees of free speech; and the complaint failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted.

Plaintiff filed a reply denying all of the defenses alleged in defendants' answer.

After answering interrogatories, defendants moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff's brief in response to defendants' motion for summary judgment asserted the memorandum was libel per se and special damages need not be pleaded; the memorandum was not privileged since it was overly broad and not made in good faith; and the issues of malice and truth were fact issues to be determined by a jury which plaintiff had demanded. Defendants filed a brief in answer to plaintiff's brief on defendants' motion for summary ...

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