APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. MEL R.
JIGANTI, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE BROWN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
The plaintiffs, Joseph L. Dombrowski and Frank L. LaPort, appeal from the entry of summary judgment by the circuit court of Cook County for the defendants, Shore Galleries, Inc. and Sig Shore. In their complaint, plaintiffs alleged that defendants had caused photographs of certain checks which they had given to defendants for the purchase of merchandise and upon which they had stopped payment, to be posted on the walls of defendants' store near other signs that stated no checks will be accepted for merchandise. Plaintiffs contend that defendants' acts were a per se libel and that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment for defendants.
The facts reveal that on August 12, 1972, Frank L. LaPort, and Joseph L. Dombrowski, both of whom are attorneys, went to Shore Galleries, Inc., a retail sporting goods store owned and operated by Sig Shore. The plaintiffs selected certain firearms which they wished to purchase from Shore Galleries, Inc., and left a deposit on them in cash. Under the terms of Illinois law (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 38, par. 24-3(g)), plaintiffs were required to wait three days before taking delivery of their purchases, and they returned on August 15, 1972, for this purpose. At that time they paid the balance owed with their personal checks. Mr. LaPort's check bore the legend "Clients Special Fund Account," which had been placed there in error by the check printer.
A short time thereafter, the plaintiffs discovered certain defects in their merchandise. After notifying Sig Shore and being unable to reach a satisfactory solution, both plaintiffs placed stop payment orders on their checks. In due course, these checks were returned to defendants unpaid.
On August 31, 1972, a compromise was reached between the parties and plaintiffs' checks were returned to them. Subsequently, plaintiffs discovered that Shore had made enlarged photographs of their checks, containing the stop payment legends, and had posted these enlargements in his store in close proximity to other signs which stated that Shore Galleries would accept no checks in payment for merchandise.
Plaintiffs filed this action on December 27, 1972, seeking damages for an alleged defamation. Defendants submitted the depositions of the parties and moved for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court. Plaintiffs do not contend they suffered any special damages as a result of defendants' acts, and the sole issue raised on appeal is whether the posting of photographs of checks bearing a stop payment stamp is libelous per se.
1 Under Illinois common law, there are five classes of words which give rise to a cause of action for defamation if falsely communicated. The five classes of words are as follows:
"1. Those imputing the commission of a criminal offense;
2. Those imputing infection with a communicable disease of any kind which, if true, would tend to exclude one from society;
3. Those imputing inability to perform or want of integrity in the discharge of duties of office or employment;
4. Those prejudicing a particular party in his profession or trade;
5. Defamatory words, which though not in themselves actionable, occasion the ...