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MORGAN v. BULLETIN COMPANY (01/07/52)

January 7, 1952

MORGAN
v.
BULLETIN COMPANY, APPELLANT



Appeal, No. 212, Jan. T., 1951, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas No. 2 of Philadelphia County, Sept. T., 1949, No. 5420, in case of Alyce Morgan v. The Bulletin Company. Judgment affirmed; reargument refused February 4, 1952.

COUNSEL

Edwin P. Rome, with him William A. Gray and Gray, Anderson, Schaffer & Rome, for appellant.

Laurence H. Eldredge, for appellee.

Before Drew, C.j., Stern, Stearne, Bell, Ladner and Chidsey, JJ.

Author: Drew

[ 369 Pa. Page 350]

OPINION BY MR. CHIEF JUSTICE DREW

As the result of an article and picture published in the Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin on November 20, 1949, Alyce Morgan, plaintiff, brought this suit for libel against the Bulletin Company. During the course of the trial the jury was discharged by stipulation of counsel and the case proceeded to its conclusion with the trial judge finding for plaintiff in the sum of $10,000. After argument before the court en banc judgment was entered on the findings and the Bulletin appealed.

[ 369 Pa. Page 351]

Late in 1948, during the course of a special grand jury investigation of certain municipal affairs in Philadelphia, information was received by the deputy attorney general in charge concerning the activities of representatives of parking meter companies who allegedly were prepared to offer bribes to obtain contracts for the installation of their meters. An investigation was conducted which extended over a long period of time. In November, 1949, Leonard Murphy, a reporter for the Bulletin, interviewed the deputy attorney general and received permission to print an article dealing with the parking meter situation. On going over the reports Murphy came across a statement made by one Shovlin, a Philadelphia attorney, to the investigator that plaintiff was the "Mata Hari of the parking meter deals." That statement was made in a restaurant when plaintiff entered with a man named Steubig who was suspected of being a payoff man for the Twin Meter Sales Corporation, one of the companies interested in obtaining parking meter contracts. Murphy then contacted plaintiff, who was vice-president of Twin Meters, and obtained an interview with her. During the course of the interview he asked her if she was the Mata Hari of the parking meters to which she replied, "That's preposterous!" Upon completion of the interview he returned to his office and wrote up the story. He then returned with a photographer to take plaintiff's picture. She refused to be photographed unless Mr. Kitz, president of Twin Meters, was also included in the picture. This was apparently agreed to and the pictures were then taken.

The article written by Murphy was published on the first page of the Sunday Bulletin on November 20, 1949, under the banner headline "Bribe Offer Reported In Fight for Contract On Parking Meters." Immediately beneath the headline was a picture of plaintiff sitting on a table on which were placed two parking meters.

[ 369 Pa. Page 352]

The caption under the picture stated "Miss Alice Morgan, vice president of a parking-meter sales firm, displays metering devices for which she is seeking city contract." The second sentence of the article stated: "Stories of high pressure methods, large rolls of currency waiting for a taker, and even of a woman known as the 'Mata Hari of the parking meters,' have been circulated in City Hall and have reached the ears of state officials." The article then ...


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