Appeal from the Circuit Court of Macon County; the Hon. Creed
D. Tucker, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE MILLS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied June 13, 1985.
More particularly, does the innocent construction rule apply?
Attorney Robert Owen filed suit in the circuit court alleging that he had been defamed. The named defendant, Rex Carr also a lawyer had brought suit on behalf of Judge William Starnes against Owen and Owen's client, International Harvester Company (Harvester), seeking damages for allegedly defamatory charges Owen had made to the Judicial Inquiry Board (JIB) against Starnes.
In the instant case, Owen alleged that (1) Carr had made defamatory statements about Owen in connection with Owen bringing those charges, (2) the remarks were made knowing they would be republished in a nationally circulated law journal, (3) various news media defendants published an article containing the remarks in a nationally circulated law journal, and (4) that the remarks were libelous per se. The article was attached to the complaint and made a part of it by reference. Upon motion of Carr and the news media, the trial court dismissed the cause and Owen appeals.
We affirm, concluding the article was reasonably susceptible to an innocent construction.
The complaint alleged that Carr made defamatory statements to David Ranii, a reporter for The National Law Journal (NLJ), which published the article in question. (See Appendix.) Defendant New York Publishing Company (New York) owned the NLJ. Carr's, Ranii's and New York's motions to dismiss alleged the article was reasonably susceptible to an innocent construction. Alternatively, the motions alleged that various privileges applied.
• 1 The complaint also alleged that defendant James L. Finkelstein was the publisher of NLJ and vice-president of New York. He appeared only by motion, under special and limited appearance, seeking to quash service of process upon him. The motion was never ruled upon. However, the order from which appeal was taken dismissed and struck the case. We deem that order to be applicable to all parties and, therefore, to be final as to all claims and all parties in the case. Accordingly, the order was a final order within the meaning of article VI, section 6, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 and Supreme Court Rule 301 (87 Ill.2d R. 301), which make such orders in civil cases appealable as a matter of right.
• 2 Finally, the complaint alleged that defendant SFN Companies, Inc., is a holding company which acquired all of the stock in New York in early 1983 and subsequently merged all of New York's business activities into it. SFN's motion to dismiss was based entirely on the failure of the complaint to state a cause of action against it. This motion was meritorious. Defendant was not alleged to have committed any acts which were causitive of any defamation of plaintiff, and there was no allegation of the actual merger of the two corporations. This dismissal as to SFN was proper.
The complaint alleged that the article was published in the NLJ in late October or early November of 1982. The article was titled "Judge Sues Lawyer Who Complained About Him." It compares an earlier lawsuit prosecuted by Carr with the Starnes suit. At issue in the earlier lawsuit, Green v. Alton Telegraph Co. (settled while appeal was pending), was whether allegations in a memorandum submitted to an investigatory agency could serve as the basis of a libel action if subsequent investigation failed to substantiate the allegations. The article quoted Carr as indicating that in both the Green case and the Starnes case a problem existed as to whether the conduct of ...