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CITY OF PHILADELPHIA v. WASHINGTON POST CO.

December 5, 1979

THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, on its own behalf, on behalf of the officers and men of the Philadelphia Police Department and on behalf of the citizens of the City of Philadelphia, Plaintiff
v.
THE WASHINGTON POST COMPANY, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FULLAM

MEMORANDUM

On August 13, 1979, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in this district, charging the City of Philadelphia, its Mayor, and various police officials with violating the constitutional rights of its citizens by pursuing policies of police abuse and brutality. The following day, the defendant published, in its "Washington Post" newspaper, an account of the lawsuit and the alleged background events leading up to the filing of the lawsuit.

 The plaintiff, the City of Philadelphia, has now filed this action for libel, "on its own behalf, on behalf of the officers and men of the Philadelphia Police Department and on behalf of the citizens of the City of Philadelphia." The City complains about the following statements contained in the "Washington Post" article:

 
"On a cool, damp spring night two years ago, more than 20 Philadelphians watched in stunned disbelief as 10 policemen beat a black man, breaking night sticks on his head and shoulders, after he had run a stop sign.
 
"Seven months later, six Philadelphia homicide detectives were convicted in an unrelated case in federal court for beating and intimidating eight people . . . .
 
"Nor was Mayor Rizzo's reaction to the suit a surprise. Asked about the extent of police brutality in the city, Rizzo said: "I've never seen any.'
 
". . . the indictment and arrest of more than 30 Philadelphia policemen by state and federal authorities.
 
". . . police department statistics show that more than 150 civilians have been killed by policemen. In more than half those cases, the civilians were unarmed when they were beaten or shot.
 
"In none of those cases were the policemen suspended or disciplined publicly . . . .
 
"A typical shooting case is being heard in a Philadelphia court this week.
 
". . . There, Bowe shot Warren in the head.
 
". . . The defendant remains on active duty as he sits in the courtroom each day."

 The City charges that these statements were published "with the sole purpose of falsely and maliciously portraying an official policy of police oppression reaching every encounter with a Philadelphia policeman" (P 9 of the Complaint); that as a result of the publication of the article, the City, its police force, and its citizenry "have been brought into disgrace, disrepute and humiliation;" and that the public generally has been misled into believing that Philadelphia is an unsuitable place to live, and an unsafe place to visit. Plaintiff seeks $ 10 million in compensatory damages and an additional $ 10 million in punitive damages.

 Not surprisingly, the defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss. The Motion must, for rather ...


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