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SCIANDRA v. LYNETT (01/21/63)

January 21, 1963

SCIANDRA
v.
LYNETT, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 343, Jan. T., 1962, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, Oct. T., 1958, No. 380, in case of Angelo Joseph Sciandra v. Edward J. Lynett, individually and trading as The Scranton Times. Judgment reversed.

COUNSEL

J. Julius Levy, with him S. Keene Mitchell, Jr., and Levy, Mattes, Preate & McNulty, for appellant.

Laurence H. Eldredge, with him William A. Degillio, for appellee.

Before Bell, C.j., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen and O'brien, JJ.

Author: Eagen

[ 409 Pa. Page 596]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE EAGEN

This is a libel action for damages to plaintiff's reputation as a result of a newspaper article published by the defendant. The action was tried and submitted to a jury for determination. When the jurors failed of agreement, they were discharged. Post trial, the lower court, in a three to two decision, granted the plaintiff's motion for judgment upon the whole record, pursuant to the provisions of the Act of April 20, 1911, P.L. 70, § 1, 12 P.S. § 684. The lower court directed that the issue be resubmitted "to a jury for the purpose of assessing damages" only. The defendant appeals from this judgment.

[ 409 Pa. Page 597]

On November 14, 1957, members of the New York State Police and an agent of the United States Treasury Department saw fit to investigate a meeting then in progress in Apalachin, New York, at the estate of one Joseph Barbara.

Road blocks were set up and fifty-eight individuals in attendance were apprehended,*fn1 physically searched, questioned and released. The plaintiff, a resident of Pittston, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, was one of these individuals.

The incident gave rise to immediate extensive nationwide publicity, which indicated strong suspicion upon the part of the police and other governmental authorities that the meeting was a business session of underworld overlords and their vessels held for unknown illegal purposes. The scope of the meeting and the activities of those in attendance aroused wide public interest and comment.

Governor Averell Harriman of the State of New York directed that the state's Acting Commissioner of Investigation, Arthur L. Reuter, conduct an inquiry into the activities and associations of those known to have been in attendance at the meeting.*fn2

Pursuant to the Governor's mandate, an investigation was made and the "Reuter Report" filed, which was publicly released to the press on or about May 1, 1958. The major portion thereof dealt with the history, activities and associations of those in attendance.

On May 20, 1958, the defendant, a daily newspaper published in Scranton, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, and circulated in the surrounding area, began a series of three articles in its news columns concerning

[ 409 Pa. Page 598]

    the "Apalachin Meeting" based upon the "Reuter Report." The second of these articles made specific references to the plaintiff and to three other local individuals, who attended the Apalachin meeting, and who were specifically mentioned in the "Reuter Report." It is the contents of this article that the plaintiff complains of in this action.

This news article headlined, "BARBECUE GIVES FOUR A BELLYACHE Deportation Is Apalachin Aftermath for Bufalino "*fn3 said in the pertinent part:

"Four Northeastern Pennsylvania residents are identified as having participated in the beef barbecue New York State Police broke up last Nov. 14 at the palatial Apalachin, N.Y., home of former Pittstonian Joe Barbara.

"Prior to the so-called hoodlum meeting, the quartet was little-known outside of upper Luzerne County.

"But, for some of them, the meeting spelled nothing but trouble.

"Russell Bufalino, for instance, was arrested and held for deportation. Following a lengthy hearing, he was ordered deported. The order is being appealed.

"A report issued this month by former New York State Investigations Commissioner Arthur L. Reuter identified the four local delegates to the meeting as:

"Russell J. Bufalino, 304 Dorrance St., Kingston, owner of the Penn Drape and Curtain Co., 161 South Main St., Pittston.

"Dominick Alaimo, 6 Cherry St., Pittston, co-owner and manager of the Jane Hogan Dress Co., Pittston.

[ 409 Pa. Page 599]

"James Anthony Osticco, 156 1/2 Elizabeth St., Pittston, transportation manager for Medico Industries, Inc., Pittston.

"Angelo Joseph Sciandra, 108 South Main St., Pittston, a garment manufacturer.

"All four, according to the Reuter report, have criminal records.

...

"The listing on Sciandra is relatively short.

"He was identified as having been born in Buffalo and arrested in that city on July 12, 1935, on rape charges. The charges were later reduced to third-degree assault and he received a suspended sentence.

"His 'reputed associates' were listed as including Jack Benfantie, Modesto LoQuasto, Nick Benfantie and Joe Barbara. After each name was the ...


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