No. 3309 Philadelphia 1981, No. 23 Philadelphia 1982, No. 38 Philadelphia 1982, Appeal from the Judgment entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Civil Division at No. 1363 Oct. Term 1974.
Frank M. Jakobowski, Philadelphia, for Machowski, appellant (at No. 3309) and appellee (at Nos. 23 & 38).
Joseph T. Murphy, Jr., Philadelphia for Polish Army, appellants (at No. 23) and appellees (at Nos. 3309 & 38).
Milton S. Lazaroff, Philadelphia, for Laniecki, appellant (at No. 38) and appellee (at Nos. 3309 & 23).
Rowley, Popovich and Cercone, JJ.
[ 331 Pa. Super. Page 417]
This case involves cross-appeals in a trespass action for libel brought by the plaintiff-Roman Laniecki against the Polish Army Veterans Association of Lucyan Chwalkowski, Post No. 12 (hereinafter the Association or Post) and Alexander Machowski.*fn1
A jury found that the plaintiff had been libelled by the Association and Machowski, but, while awarding $5,000 in punitive damages, the veniremen granted no compensatory damages. At the post-verdict stage, Laniecki's motion for a new trial "as to damages only" was denied. Likewise, the Association's and Machowski's request for a new trial, or, in the alternative, for a judgment non obstante veredicto was refused. We affirm.
In deciding the propriety of the rulings that were made, we adhere to the following:
On appeal from the refusal of the trial court to enter judgment for the defendant-appellee non obstante veredicto, the sole duty of the appellate court is to decide whether there was sufficient competent evidence to sustain the verdict, granting the verdict winner, the appellant here, the benefit of every favorable inference reasonably to be drawn from the evidence. Mike v. Borough of Aliquippa, 279 Pa. Super. 382, 421 A.2d 251 (1980). All unfavorable testimony and inferences must be rejected.
[ 331 Pa. Super. Page 418]
examine the bills he had submitted "because of the report of some people telling [him] that . . . [he] must have made a bundle on that job." (N.T. 43) Consequently, he wanted to have a committee appointed to absolve him of any wrong. This was done and, at a 1969 meeting of the Post, resulted in a clearing of Laniecki's name of any impropriety.
This matter laid dormant until 1972 before it was resurrected by Alexander Machowski, the new Post commander, who also happened to chair the 1969 auditing committee that initially investigated Laniecki. Machowski informed the membership at a meeting that he had discovered "irregularities" in regard to the bills offered by Laniecki in support of the work done from 1968 to 1969.
Machowski selected a four-member committee, of which he was one, to go through the books a second time. Laniecki received notification from the recording adjutant of the Post as to what had transpired, and he asked that Laniecki be present at a membership meeting on July 7, 1972. Laniecki also was asked to produce for the meeting documentation relating to the "questioned receipts issued on [his] firm's forms in the general amount of $7,099.12 . . . for the ultimate resolution of this matter." (N.T. 57) Laniecki responded that due to illness he would not be able to attend and asked that discussion on the matter be postponed. The Post, thereafter, notified Laniecki as to exactly what billing items were in dispute and that the subject would be taken up at a gathering of the membership on September 21, 1972.
Instead of appearing at the scheduled meeting, Laniecki had his wife type a 3-page reply that detailed the events encompassing the construction and the manner in which the Post authorized payment for his services. He made reference to his being cleared of similar charges by a 1969 committee. Lastly, he put the Post on notice that he considered the committee's 1972 inquiry "to be vicious and a besmirching of [his] name," for which he would seek legal redress unless the matter was cleared up at a monthly meeting of the Post. In actuality, Laniecki had been expelled
[ 331 Pa. Super. Page 420]
from the Post for fighting with a member who had accused him of stealing money less than a month before he wrote the letter, and this was one of the reasons he did not attend the proceedings.
Although Laniecki obtained reinstatement from the national organization (SWAP) in 1973, he thought it best to transfer his membership to Post 121 in Camden, New Jersey after he refused to apologize to Machowski and others at the Post. Thereafter, during the latter half of 1973, Laniecki was elected commander of the Camden Post for 1974.
The next time Laniecki became aware of Post 12's accusations was prior to a meeting of the Camden Post in September of 1974. At that time, the vice commander advised him that Post 121 had received a letter from SWAP in New York informing it that Post 12 had objected to Laniecki receiving a gold medal of distinction for 50 years of service to the organization and having been elected commander of the Camden Post after less than 2 years as a member, which violated SWAP's constitution and Post 121's own rules. Attached to SWAP's communique was a copy of a letter on Post 12's stationery and bearing the signature of Alexander Machowski, its commander. It was typed in Polish, translated into English by the Berlitz Translation Service of Philadelphia at plaintiff's request and read to the jury by counsel for Laniecki. The letter consists of the following:
POLISH ARMY VETERANS ASSOCIATION OF LUCYAN CHWALKOWSKI
Philadelphia, May 6, 1974
I would like to inform you that Post No. 12, on its monthly meeting, on Friday, May 3rd, carried out an
[ 331 Pa. Super. Page 421]
unanimous decision against distinction by the Head Office, of Mr. Romana Laniecki, Commandant Post No. 121, in Camden, N.J., represented by a gold medal of 50 years SWAP, of which we ...