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BAIRD ET AL. v. DUN & BRADSTREET (12/20/71)

decided: December 20, 1971.

BAIRD ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
DUN & BRADSTREET, INC., APPELLANT



Appeals from orders of Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County, Oct. T., 1961, No. 1345, in case of George R. Baird, Richard Lawson, Harry Belinsky and Duquesne Building & Supply Co., Inc. v. Dun and Bradstreet, Inc.

COUNSEL

Arthur R. Gorr, with him Stein and Winters, for plaintiffs.

Edmund S. Ruffin, III, with him Clyde A. Armstrong, and Thorp, Reed & Armstrong, for defendant.

Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell. Mr. Justice Eagen and Mr. Justice Roberts concur in the result. Mr. Justice Cohen took no part in the decision of this case.

Author: Bell

[ 446 Pa. Page 268]

On August 4, 1961, appellants George Baird, Richard Lawson, Harry Belinsky and Duquesne Building & Supply Co., Inc. (hereinafter referred to as Duquesne) filed a complaint in a trespass action against Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as D & B), which alleged that (1) on or about January 19, 1961, D & B published and sent to its subscribers a written credit report on Duquesne containing a defamatory report that George R. Baird was indicted for adultery; (2) on or about January 19, 1961, D & B published a defamatory report charging the individual appellants with embezzlement; and (3) Duquesne was also injured by these defamatory reports. Plaintiffs did not attach to their complaint a copy of any of the alleged

[ 446 Pa. Page 269]

    defamatory reports. At trial, Lawson, Belinsky and Duquesne were nonsuited for failure to prove publication of defamatory material. The jury returned a verdict of $50,000 for Baird for damages resulting from the defamatory report about Baird's adultery in 1941. D & B filed motions (1) for judgment n.o.v. and (2) for a new trial; a new trial was awarded by the lower Court because the verdict was excessive, but defendant's motion for judgment n.o.v. was denied. From each of these lower Court Orders (i.e., decisions), each losing party appealed.

Duquesne was formed by the individual appellants in November 1960. On January 19, 1961, pursuant to requests from subscribers, D & B published a written credit report concerning Duquesne which described the financial condition of the company and gave a brief history of its officers, who are the individual appellants herein. The history mentioned that these men had all been employed by Glassport Lumber & Supply, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as Glassport), and also stated:

"George Beard*fn1 . . . Allegheny County Criminal Records show that George Beard was indicted for adultery in June 1941. The case was tried August 14, 1941 and returned no bill by grand jury. On the same date, Grand Jury filed a plea and Beard was ordered to pay $4 per week for five years as well as $3 per week for nine years and $200 court costs. . . .

"As is reported above, three of the officers of this business were previously associated with Glassport Lumber & Supply Co. Investigation discloses that there was some dissension between these individuals

[ 446 Pa. Page 270]

    and the principals, but no formal charges have been made by either party."

The plaintiffs contend that the above language, when read in conjunction with the language of the report concerning Glassport which was published February 24, 1961 (see infra), constituted a false accusation of embezzlement.

D & B also prepared other reports on Duquesne, but, because of lack of proof of publication, the trial Judge excluded them from evidence. A report which D & B calls an inter-office memorandum was ...


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