No. 791 Pittsburgh, 1980, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Clearfield County, Civil Division, at No. 77-515 CD.
William H. Bishop, Philadelphia, for appellants.
Jonathan Walters, Philadelphia, for appellees.
Cercone, President Judge, and Montgomery and Van der Voort, JJ.
[ 292 Pa. Super. Page 240]
We consider today an order denying appellants' motion for summary judgment, but granting appellees' like motion, in a libel action instituted by appellants for allegedly defamatory statements contained in two strike bulletins published and circulated by appellees in connection with a labor dispute. We now affirm.
Appellants operate the Clear Haven Nursing Home in Clearfield. The facility was originally run by the County of Clearfield but the County relinquished its responsibility for it to appellants. Appellees are various affiliated labor organizations which represent the non-professional staff at the nursing home in collective bargaining. When the collective bargaining agreement which covers the non-professional employees at the nursing home expired on December 31, 1976 a labor dispute arose and the workers went out on strike. Picket lines were set up outside the nursing and on January 11, 1977 the Clearfield County court issued an ex parte temporary restraining order prohibiting mass picketing and ordering the striking employees back to work. The next day a consent order issued which dissolved the back-to-work order but limited the number of permissible pickets. A new collective bargaining agreement was eventually reached in April of 1977, but not before the publication of the two allegedly defamatory strike bulletins. Appellants filed the instant action seeking damages for the alleged libel. Appellees counterclaimed seeking damages for malicious abuse of process, alleging as the basis for the claim the ex parte temporary restraining order issued January 11. Both sides eventually moved for summary judgment on the original action as well as the counterclaim. In addition A.F.S.C.M.E. International and A.F.S.C.M.E. Council 13 moved for summary judgment claiming they could not be held responsible
[ 292 Pa. Super. Page 241]
for the local union's actions.*fn1 The court ruled in favor of the unions on the libel action and in favor of the employer-appellant on the malicious abuse of process counterclaim. From the order granting appellees' motion for summary judgment on the original claim the employer-appellants bring this appeal.*fn2
We are presented today with no ordinary libel case. The fact that the alleged libel arose in connection with a labor dispute gives rise to considerations of federal law not normally to be found in such actions. In New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686 (1964) the United States Supreme Court held that in order for a public official to recover damages for libel the official must prove that the defendant published the defamatory statement with reckless disregard of, or knowledge of its falsity. See also Fox v. Kahn, 421 Pa. 563, 221 A.2d 181 (1966). In Linn v. United Plant Guard Workers of America, 383 U.S. 53, 86 S.Ct. 657, 15 L.Ed.2d 582 (1966), the Court adopted the New York Times "actual malice" standard for use in defamation cases arising out of labor disputes noting, however, that the use of that standard was not constitutionally compelled. Linn held that the National Labor-Management Relations Act (NLRA), as amended, 61 Stat. 136, 29 U.S.C. § 141 et seq., pre-empted the power of the state courts to award state remedies in labor dispute defamation cases unless the plaintiff pleads and proves both "actual malice" and damages, even if the alleged defamatory language would be actionable per se under state tort law. Cf. Old Dominion Branch No. 946, Nat'l Ass'n of Letter Carriers v. Austin, 418 U.S. 264, 94 S.Ct. 2770, 41 L.Ed.2d 745 (1974); San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 79 S.Ct.
[ 292 Pa. Super. Page 242773]
, 3 L.Ed.2d 775 (1959). We are asked to determine the correctness of the lower court's grant of summary judgment for the defendants-appellees in a case where Linn controls the cause of action.
Ordinarily, summary judgment should only be entered if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. See Pa.R.C.P. 1035. And see Davis v. Pennzoil Co., 438 Pa. 194, 264 A.2d 597 (1970); Bollinger v. Palmerton Area Com. Endeavor, Inc., 241 Pa. Superior Ct. 341, 361 A.2d 676 (1976). Furthermore, summary judgment is only proper in cases which are clear and free from doubt as to the existence of a disputed factual question. See Mallesky v. Stevens, 427 Pa. 352, 235 A.2d 154 (1967); Toth v. Philadelphia, 213 Pa. Superior Ct. 282, 247 A.2d 629 (1968). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment the court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the non-moving party's pleadings, as well as admissions on file, giving to them the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom. See Hankin v. Mintz, 276 Pa. Superior Ct. 538, 419 A.2d 588 (1980); Ritmanich v. Jonnel Enterprises, Inc., 219 Pa. Superior Ct. 198, 280 A.2d 570 (1971). The record as a whole should be examined in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue about a material fact must be resolved in that party's favor, that is, against the entry of summary judgment. See Bowman v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 245 Pa. Superior Ct. 530, 369 A.2d 754 (1976); Husak v. Berkel, Inc., 234 Pa. Superior Ct. 452, 341 A.2d ...