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NORVIL C. ULRICH v. ERNEST MACON (08/09/85)

filed: August 9, 1985.

NORVIL C. ULRICH, MARTIN LESKO, APPELLANTS,
v.
ERNEST MACON, ALEXANDER WHITLOCK, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Orders dated June 26, 1984 (No. 417 Harrisburg, 1984) and July 18, 1984 (No. 460 Harrisburg, 1984) of the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, Civil Division, at No. 2684 S. 1981.

COUNSEL

Spero T. Lappas, Harrisburg, for appellants.

Nathan H. Waters, Harrisburg, for appellees.

Tamilia, Montgomery and Roberts, JJ.

Author: Montgomery

[ 346 Pa. Super. Page 57]

The consolidated appeals in this case arise from a defamation action. The case was tried before a jury, which rendered verdicts in favor of both Plaintiff-Appellants against both Defendant-Appellees. Upon consideration of the post-trial motions filed by the defense, the lower court, by Order dated June 26, 1984, granted judgment n.o.v. for Defendant Alexander Whitlock and a new trial to the Defendant, Ernest Macon. Thereafter, by Order dated July 18, 1984, the lower court directed the striking of the verdict as to Defendant Whitlock.

The record shows that all parties to this action are members of the Police Department of the City of Harrisburg. The genesis of the suit was a raid at the location of a suspected speakeasy. The raid was based upon an undercover investigation conducted by Defendants Whitlock and Macon. The raid did not produce an expected large quantity of illicit drugs and money purportedly derived from the sale of such drugs and liquor on the premises.

After the raid, Defendants Whitlock and Macon reported to higher authorities in the Police Department that fellow officers Norvil C. Ulrich and Martin Lesko, the Plaintiff-Appellees, had improperly taken money and drugs from the premises while participating in the raid. Evidence was also produced at the trial to show that Defendant Macon had advised a group of new police recruits that Plaintiff Ulrich was not to be trusted, and that he was a thief. Further, testimony was presented that Macon made public suggestions to Ulrich that the latter was going to be in the penitentiary.

With regard to the report that was made to higher police authorities, the Defendants pointed out that rules and regulations of the Police Department mandated that knowledge of violations of laws, ordinances and Department rules had

[ 346 Pa. Super. Page 58]

    to be reported to such supervisory officers. It was maintained that such rules and regulations rendered the Defendants' reports to their superiors privileged, and thus provided a complete defense to any defamation claim.

The Plaintiffs presented evidence to support their position that the reports of their misconduct were not only untrue, but that the Defendants were aware that they were false when the reports and statements were made. Plaintiffs contended that the Defendants' conduct had been motivated by malice.

At the conclusion of the Plaintiffs' case, a defense motion for compulsory non-suit was denied. Following the presentation of Defendants' evidence, their motion for a directed verdict was also denied by the court. The jury rendered a verdict of $20,000, to be divided equally by the Plaintiffs. Following the lower ...


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