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06/08/87 Richard Mattson, v. Chronicle Publishing

June 8, 1987

RICHARD MATTSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT

v.

CHRONICLE PUBLISHING COMPANY, F/D/B/A EVERGREEN COMMUNICATIONS, INC., D/B/A THE DAILY PANTAGRAPH, ET



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FOURTH DISTRICT

al., Defendants-Appellees

509 N.E.2d 150, 156 Ill. App. 3d 613, 108 Ill. Dec. 724 1987.IL.768

Appeal from the Circuit Court of McLean County; the Hon. Keith E. Campbell, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE GREEN delivered the opinion of the court. SPITZ, P.J., and LUND, J., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE GREEN

On March 29, 1984, plaintiff, Richard Mattson, brought suit for defamation in the circuit court of McLean County against defendants, Chronicle Publishing Company, d/b/a The Daily Pantagraph (Pantagraph), and its reporter, Tom Long. On October 1, 1986, on motion of defendants, the court entered a summary judgment in favor of defendants. Plaintiff appeals. We affirm.

The suit was based on an article published by the Pantagraph on March 29, 1983. The article stated:

"In another employee-theft case disposed of yesterday, McLean County State's Attorney's Office dropped a charge against a 32-year-old El Paso man who was arrested in 1981 for stealing food from Brokow Hospital.

The hospital requested that the case be dropped against Dennis Shoemaker, 575 West Jefferson St.

Shoemaker and a fellow maintenance worker at the hospital were caught in the act of trying to take about $380.00 worth of food from the hospital kitchen the night of September 30th, 1981.

Shoemaker is no longer employed by the hospital."

Defendants seek to support the summary judgment on the bases that the record before the trial court conclusively showed that: (1) the article was privileged as an "accurate and complete or a fair abridgement of the occurrence" as set forth in the official record of a judicial proceeding (Restatement (Second) of Torts sec. 611 (1977)); (2) the article was not "of and concerning plaintiff"; and (3) because of plaintiff's past criminal record, he could not be libeled. In regard to defendants' second point, we note that plaintiff was not shown to have been otherwise mentioned in a Pantagraph article that would indicate he was the fellow maintenance worker with Shoemaker at the time of the occurrence reported, with two exceptions: A news article on October 2, 1981, reported plaintiff and Shoemaker being arrested at the time of the occurrence described in the allegedly defamatory article, and on January 26, 1982, the Pantagraph published an article reporting that plaintiff had been acquitted of the charges of theft. However, the trial court's judgment was apparently based entirely upon the first issue of privilege. We agree that issue is dispositive and do not deem it necessary to discuss the other issue.

According to the undisputed evidence, plaintiff and Shoemaker had both been charged in the circuit court of McLean County with theft. On March 28, 1983, charges against Shoemaker were dropped. On that day, Long, who covered courthouse news for the Pantagraph, went to the McLean County courthouse and examined the court file in the case against Shoemaker and read all of the documents in that file. Included in that file was a grand jury transcript which contained testimony that Mattson and Shoemaker had been caught in the hospital kitchen without authorization and in the midst of an attempted theft of food. A witness had described Shoemaker as crouching under a table of steam kettles and plaintiff hiding with a shirt over his head and running off as soon as somebody attempted to talk to him. Long also saw in the file a police report which stated that Shoemaker ...


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