absence of information concerning the preparations of the
"American side." In a telex sent February 5, 1992, and again on
February 21, 1992, Pope responded to Eremeev's telex. Pope
stated that it was unfortunate that the City was experiencing
financial problems, that Serendipity would cover the costs
which the City could not cover, that a new agreement would have
to be reached, that Serendipity would supply information in
response to specific requests, and that "failure to build the
home at this late date will send a strong signal to both
foreign businessmen and tourists that Vladimir is not a good
place to work or visit." On February 24, 1992, Eremeev sent
another telex to Pope stating that he had received no reply to
his earlier telex. The badly garbled telex also appeared to
state that Pope's interference with the administration of City
affairs would make mutual collaboration difficult. On February
25, 1992, Pope responded to this telex by stating that no
specific requests for information had been made and that he was
"sorry there have been problems with communication between us."
Following Pope's telex, Eremeev sent another telex which stated
that he had just received Pope's previous telexes and that set
forth a list of specific requests for information. In addition,
the telex, in what comes across as an indignant tone, informs
Pope that Russian interns would not be traveling to
Bloomington-Normal to study American construction techniques.
On March 18, 1992, and April 15, 1992, articles appeared in
the Vladimirskie Vedomosti, a local Vladimir newspaper
published by the District Council of People's Deputies,
discussing the First American Home project. These articles were
written by a reporter named Svetlana Bitkina. Generally, these
articles described the progress of the project, quoted from the
telexes exchanged by Pope and Eremeev, questioned the motives
of Pope and Serendipity, and raised doubts about the usefulness
and benefits of the project to the City. The tenor of the
articles is, generally, negative and suspicious. On April 9 and
10, 1992, an article written by Tatyana Veksler, a Serendipity
representative, appeared in the newspaper Molva. This article
refuted the contentions of the articles written by Ms. Bitkina.
In March of 1992, Serendipity and the City met to discuss the
project and began to negotiate a revision of their agreement.
To reflect the new and worsened financial condition of the
City, Serendipity and the City entered into a new agreement on
May 18, 1992. Pursuant to this agreement, Serendipity would
absorb the majority of the project's cost in exchange for an
extension of the period in which the American House would be
the property of Serendipity. According to the terms of the
contract, the project was to be completed on July 4, 1992, and
immediately "pass into the property of the firm 'Serendipity'
until the year 2003." The American House was dedicated on July
4, 1992, and completed soon thereafter. It then became the
property of Serendipity which had exclusive use and possession
of the house until January 1, 2003.
On July 5, 1992, the Pantagraph published an article
discussing the American House project which was entitled
"Vladimir newspaper questions Pope's project." The article
opened by stating that the project "has been plagued by
cross-cultural misunderstanding and poor communication,
according to articles in a Vladimir newspaper." The articles to
which the Pantagraph article referred were those written by Ms.
Bitkina and published in the Vladimirskie Vedomosti on March 18
and April 15, 1992. The article next stated that at least one
other Vladimir newspaper gave the project positive coverage.
The article then synopsized Ms. Bitkina's articles; quoting
liberally from the articles in so doing. Nowhere in the article
does its author, Elaine Graybill, express an opinion as to the
veracity of the Bitkina articles or offer self generated
commentary on the project, Serendipity, or Pope.
On July 14, 1992, the Pantagraph published an editorial
entitled "Let's avoid looking like 'ugly Americans'." The
editorial concerned the American House project, Pope, and the
questions raised by the articles written by Ms. Bitkina. The
editorial began by posing a hypothetical wherein Russians came
to Bloomington-Normal, offered to build a house on land
supplied by the cities, and
stated that they would keep the title to the house. Such a
proposal, the editorial surmised, would not be warmly received.
The editorial went on to state that the laudable goals of the
American House project were clouded by questions about business
motives behind the project, and Pope's statement warning
Vladimir officials of the consequences of failing to complete
the project risked creating the appearance of "ugly Americans."
The editorial ended by stating that "[w]e should be forging
relationships, not creating suspicions."
Plaintiffs responded to the article and editorial published
by the Pantagraph by filing the present law suit. The Complaint
sets forth four claims. In Counts One and Three, Plaintiffs
claim that the July 5, 1992 article published by the Pantagraph
defamed and cast them in a false light, respectively.
Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that the article defamed and
cast them in a false light in one or more of the following
a. the article, in paragraph 6, falsely stated
that Plaintiffs promoted and characterized the
project as "humanitarian aid" to "struggling
people of Vladimir," when instead, the project was
being carried on to "further the interests of an
b. the article, in paragraphs 16-21, falsely
stated and insinuated that Plaintiffs misled or
withheld information from Vladimir officials
regarding costs, and forced the project upon the
c. the article, in paragraph 28, falsely stated
that Pope "is already representing himself as some
sort of benefactor for all Vladimirites," whose
ideas "are literally pouring down upon Vladimir as
if from a cornucopia;"
d. the article, in paragraph 29, falsely stated
that Plaintiffs' ideas "always seem to cost the
hosting side a pretty penny," and that Plaintiffs'
December 28, 1991, visit to Vladimir was "hosted
by a unit within the city council at a cost of
40,000 rubles" and the "entourage celebrated the
holidays in the Pokrovsky Monastery in Suzdal and
took a trip to St. Petersburg. And with all this,
precious little business got done."
In Counts Two and Four, Plaintiffs claim that they were
defamed and placed in a false light, respectively, by the July
14, 1992, editorial published by the Pantagraph. Plaintiffs
allege that the editorial defamed and cast them in a false
light in one or more of the following respects:
a. the editorial falsely stated and insinuated, in
paragraph 1, that Plaintiffs "kept the title" to
the American Home;
b. the editorial falsely stated and insinuated, in
paragraph 2, that Plaintiffs either misled or
withheld information from Vladimir officials
regarding the cost of the project;
c. the editorial, in paragraph 5, falsely and
without basis impugned Plaintiffs'"business
d. the editorial, in paragraph 7, falsely and
without basis impugned Plaintiffs as "ugly
Americans throwing their weight around;"
e. the editorial, in paragraph 8, falsely and
without basis accused Plaintiffs of "creating
suspicions" and not "forging relationships" with
Defendant moves for summary judgment on all counts of the
Complaint. Defendant argues in support of its motion that the
language of the article and editorial is not libelous per se
under Illinois state law,
Plaintiffs have responded to and oppose Defendant's motion. The
Court shall consider Defendant's arguments seriatim.
Defendant states that the language employed by the Pantagraph
article and editorial is not defamatory under Illinois
law.*fn5 A statement is considered to be defamatory under
Illinois law if it "tends to cause such harm to the reputation
of another that it lowers that person in the eyes of the
community or deters third persons from associating with him."
Kolegas v. Heftel Broadcasting Corp., 154 Ill.2d 1, 10, 180
Ill.Dec. 307, 607 N.E.2d 201 (1992). The defamatory statement
must be "so obviously and naturally hurtful to the person
aggrieved that proof of their injurious character can be, and
is, dispensed with." Reed v. Albanese, 78 Ill. App.2d 53,
223 N.E.2d 419, 422 (1966). Per se defamatory statements are so
obviously and materially harmful to a plaintiff that injury to
the reputation is presumed. Kolegas, 154 Ill.2d at 10, 180
Ill.Dec. 307, 607 N.E.2d 201. Whether a statement constitutes
defamation per se is a question of law to be decide by the
trial level court. Quilici v. Second Amendment Found.,
769 F.2d 414, 417 (7th Cir. 1985) cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1013, 106 S.Ct.
1192, 89 L.Ed.2d 307 (1986).
The rule in Illinois is that a plaintiff can maintain a suit
for defamation without proving special damages only if the
defamatory statement falls within one of the categories of
per se defamatory statements recognized by the Illinois courts.
Haynes v. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 8 F.3d 1222, 1226 (7th Cir.
1993). Illinois courts have recognized four categories of
statements that are considered defamatory per se:
(1) words that impute the commission of a
(2) words that impute infection with a loathsome
(3) words that impute an inability to perform or
want of integrity in the discharge of duties of
office or employment; or
(4) words that prejudice a plaintiff, or impute
lack of ability, in his or her trade, profession,
Kolegas, 154 Ill.2d at 10, 180 Ill.Dec. 307, 607 N.E.2d 201.
However, even if a statement falls within one of the above four
categories, it will not be considered defamatory per se if it
is reasonably capable of an innocent construction. Id. at 11,
180 Ill.Dec. 307, 607 N.E.2d 201; Chapski v. Copley Press,
92 Ill.2d 344, 352, 65 Ill.Dec. 884, 442 N.E.2d 195 (1982). The
innocent construction rule holds that "a written or oral
statement is to be considered in context, with the words and
the implications therefrom given their natural and obvious
meaning; if, as so construed, the statement may reasonably be
innocently interpreted or reasonably be interpreted as
referring to someone other than the plaintiff it cannot be
actionable per se." Chapski, 92 Ill.2d at 352, 65 Ill.Dec. 884,
442 N.E.2d 195. This preliminary determination is a question of
law to be resolved by the court. Id.