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THOMAS MERTON CENTER v. ROCKWELL INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION (08/08/80)

filed: August 8, 1980.

THE THOMAS MERTON CENTER, A NONPROFIT PENNSYLVANIA CORPORATION AND THE STOP THE B-1 BOMBER TASK FORCE OF THE THOMAS MERTON CENTER, AN UNINCORPORATED NONPROFIT ASSOCIATION,
v.
ROCKWELL INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION, A CORPORATION, AND CROSBY M. KELLY, AN INDIVIDUAL. APPEAL OF THE THOMAS MERTON CENTER



No. 394 April Term, 1979, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division, at No. GD 77-03656.

COUNSEL

Vincent A. Colianni, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Thomas R. Johnson, Pittsburgh, for Rockwell, appellee.

James D. Morton, Pittsburgh, for Kelly, appellee.

Spaeth, Hoffman and Van der Voort, JJ.

Author: Hoffman

[ 280 Pa. Super. Page 215]

Appellant contends that the lower court erred in granting judgment on the pleadings in favor of appellee in this defamation action. We agree and, accordingly, reverse the order of the lower court and remand for further proceedings.

Under Pa.R.C.P. 1034, a motion for judgment on the pleadings may be granted in cases which are so free from

[ 280 Pa. Super. Page 216]

    doubt that a trial would clearly be a fruitless exercise. Such a motion is in the nature of a demurrer; all of the opposing party's well-pleaded allegations are viewed as true but only those facts specifically admitted by him may be considered against him . . . . Unlike a motion for summary judgment, the power of the court to enter a judgment on the pleadings is further circumscribed by the requirement that the court consider only the pleadings themselves and any documents properly attached thereto.

Bata v. Central-Penn National Bank of Philadelphia, 423 Pa. 373, 378, 224 A.2d 174, 178 (1966), cert. denied, 386 U.S. 1007, 87 S.Ct. 1348, 18 L.Ed.2d 433 (1967) (footnote and citations omitted). See also Karns v. Tony Vitale Fireworks Corp., 436 Pa. 181, 259 A.2d 687 (1969); Beckman v. Dunn, 276 Pa. Super. 527, 419 A.2d 583 (1980); Leidy v. Deseret Enterprises, Inc., 252 Pa. Super. 162, 381 A.2d 164 (1977). Moreover, in passing on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a court has the "obligation to consider the pleadings and the inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the [non-moving party]." Karns v. Tony Vitale Fireworks Corp., supra, 436 Pa. at 183, 259 A.2d at 688. Viewed in this light the pleadings in this case disclose the following facts. Appellant, the Thomas Merton Center (Merton), is a nonprofit corporation, some of whose members worked actively in 1976 to oppose the United States' development of a controversial military aircraft known as the B-1 bomber.*fn1 At the time this action was instituted appellee Crosby M. Kelly (Kelly) served as vice president of communications for appellee Rockwell International Corporation (Rockwell), the prime contractor for the B-1 bomber project. On December 21, 1976, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, a newspaper of general circulation in the Pittsburgh area, published an article written by the Associated Press entitled "B1 Foes Linked to Soviet Funds." The article, in relevant part, reads as follows:

[ 280 Pa. Super. Page 217]

A top official of Rockwell International, prime contractor for the B1 bomber, says he's convinced the Soviet Union is secretly funding opponents ...


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