Magazine article Editor & Publisher

High Court Refuses to Review Failed $1 Million Libel Case

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

High Court Refuses to Review Failed $1 Million Libel Case

Article excerpt

BY A 7-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a failed libel case against the Battle Creek Enquirer that nevertheless changed the legal standard for libel in Michigan.

Without comment, the High Court let stand a Michigan Supreme Court decision that struck down a $1 million jury award to cereal factory worker David P. Rouch.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Byron White voted to hear arguments in the libel case, but the votes of four justices are needed to grant certiorari.

The denial ends a case that began with a seemingly routine six-paragraph police story published Dec. 22, 1979.

By the time the libel claim had wended its way through the gears of American jurisprudence, however, it had dramatically reduced press protections against lawsuit under Michigan's libel law.

The case was also closely watched throughout the nation because it turned on the issue of whether newspapers can be found libelous when they accurately report statements made by law enforcement figures.

In Rouch's case, the Enquirer's initial story was based on telephone interviews with officers at two police departments.

The story accurately reported that Rouch had been arrested and held in jail overnight on suspicion in the knifepoint rape of a teen-age baby sitter who was watching Rouch's stepchildren at the home of his former wife.

However, Rouch contended he was libeled because the article erroneously stated he was "charged" with the crime; that a prosecutor had authorized his arrest; and that statements from "his children" rather than his former stepchildren had implicated him in the crime. …

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