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CARL M. MAZZOCONE ET AL. v. HELEN WILLING (11/22/76)

decided: November 22, 1976.

CARL M. MAZZOCONE ET AL., APPELLEES,
v.
HELEN WILLING, APPELLANT



Appeal from Decree dated November 10, 1975, Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, Equity, Philadelphia County, at No. 4353 September Term, 1975. No. 475 October Term, 1976.

COUNSEL

Henry J. Sommer, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Harold B. Marcus, Philadelphia, for appellees.

Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort and Spaeth, JJ. Jacobs, J., files a dissenting opinion in which Hoffman and Spaeth, JJ., join.

Author: Cercone

[ 246 Pa. Super. Page 100]

This is an appeal from the following final decree of the court below sitting in equity:

"AND NOW, to wit, this 10th day of November, 1975, following a full and final hearing on the merits, it is hereby Ordered and Decreed that the Defendant herein, Helen R. Willing, be and is permanently enjoined from further demonstrating against and/or picketing Mazzocone and Quinn, Attorneys-at-Law, and from uttering or publishing defamatory, slanderous or libelous matter with respect to said attorneys."

As modified the decree is affirmed.

The record reveals that plaintiff's request for equitable relief was precipitated by the following undisputed facts: For several hours on Monday, September 29, and Wednesday, October 1, 1975, defendant demonstrated in front of the entrance to Number Two Penn Center Plaza -- an office building located in Centre City, Philadelphia in which plaintiffs maintained their law offices. Defendant's demonstration consisted of her pushing a shopping cart while ringing a cow-bell and blowing on a

[ 246 Pa. Super. Page 101]

    whistle.*fn1 While so engaged defendant wore a sign in the form of a sandwich board which read:

LAW-FIRM OF QUINN-MAZZOCONE STOLE-MONEY FROM ME AND SOLD ME OUT TO THE INSURANCE COMPANY

When the plaintiffs' attempts to amicably terminate defendant's demonstrations failed, they instituted this action in equity to enjoin defendant's conduct.

The evidence before the Chancellor established, among other things, that plaintiffs, a two-member law firm, were retained by defendant in 1968 to prosecute her claim for workmen's compensation benefits. Although plaintiffs secured a favorable decision for defendant, it was ironically this event which spawned her animosity towards them.*fn2 Specifically, defendant developed the belief that plaintiffs wrongfully diverted to themselves $25.00 of the settlement proceeds. This conviction apparently arose out of some confusion regarding the payment of $150.00 which, according to plaintiff's distribution schedule, was made to the defendant's treating psychiatrist, Dr. DeSilverio. Defendant maintains that plaintiffs only paid Dr. DeSilverio the sum of $125.00.*fn3 In reply to this contention, plaintiffs introduced into evidence their records relating to Dr. DeSilverio,

[ 246 Pa. Super. Page 102]

    including cancelled checks. Furthermore, any possible doubt as to the truth or falsity of defendant's allegations was dispelled by Dr. DeSilverio himself, who testified that plaintiffs had indeed paid him $150.00 for his services. Defendant made no attempt to contradict or refute this evidence, but simply repeated her belief that plaintiffs had defrauded her out of $25.00, and no proof to the contrary would erase this conviction.

As the lower court well stated:

"Thus, the evidence adduced clearly establishes that defendant is a woman firmly in the thrall of the belief that plaintiffs defrauded her, an idee fixe, which, either by reason of eccentricity or an even more serious mental instability, refuses to be dislodged by the most convincing proof to the contrary. It is equally clear that unless stayed by this Court, defendant will resume her bizarre parade before plaintiffs' office building, displaying her defamatory accusation which will not only offer plaintiffs continuous embarrassment and humiliation but do serious injury to their professional reputation as well."

Defendant's challenge to the lower court's injunction is predicated on the traditional view that equity does not have the power to enjoin the publication of defamatory matter. Alberti v. Cruise, 383 F.2d 268 (4th Cir. 1967); Crosby v. Bradstreet, 312 F.2d 483 (2d Cir. 1963); Kukatush Mining Corp. v. Securities and Exchange Com'n., 114 U.S.App.D.C. 27, 309 F.2d 647 (1962); Robert E. Hicks Corp. v. National Salesman's Training Corp., 19 F.2d 963 (7th Cir. 1927); Greenberg v. DeSalvo, 254 La. 1019, 229 So.2d 83 (1969), cert. denied, 397 U.S. 1075, 90 S.Ct. 1521, 25 L.Ed.2d 809 (1969); Prucha v. Weiss, 233 Md. 479, 197 A.2d 253 (1964), cert. denied, 377 U.S. 992, 84 S.Ct. 1916, 12 L.Ed.2d 1045 (1964); ...


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