Appeal from Judgments entered January 2, 1986 in the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Civil, No. 76-1666.
Samuel E. Klein, Philadelphia, for appellants.
John M. Gallagher, Jr., Media, for appellees.
Olszewski, Hoffman and Roberts, JJ.
[ 361 Pa. Super. Page 167]
This appeal is from the denial of post-trial motions after a jury verdict in a libel action against Chester County Communications (doing business as The Main Line Chronicle), Irvin S. Lieberman (publisher), and Charles Montgomery (reporter). The jury found that appellees Daniel Stickney and Harold Malseed, both Haverford Township police officers, were defamed in a series of seven articles published in
[ 361 Pa. Super. Page 168]
the Chronicle during 1975 and 1976. The articles related to three incidents in which unnecessary force was allegedly used against juveniles. Stickney was involved in all three while Malseed was involved only in one. Verdicts were returned in favor of Stickney in the amount of $100,000 and in favor of Malseed in the amount of $50,000. Appellants contend that the evidence was insufficient to establish that the articles were published with actual malice. We conclude that the record adequately supports the jury's verdicts, and accordingly we affirm.
On review from a denial of a motion for judgment n.o.v. in a libel action, our task is:
to make an independent examination of the evidence adduced to determine if it was constitutionally sufficient to warrant a finding by the jury of actual malice, and in so doing, the evidence, together with all reasonable inferences therefrom, must be considered in the light most favorable to the verdict winner, here the plaintiff. If it is not sufficient, [the defendant] is entitled to judgment n.o.v.
Sprague v. Walter, 357 Pa. Super. 570, 580-581, 516 A.2d 706, 716-717 (1986), quoting Corabi v. Curtis Publishing Co., 441 Pa. 432, 458, 273 A.2d 899, 912 (1971).
The incident which precipitated the series of articles occurred on February 3, 1975, when Stephen Fischera was observed operating an unlicensed motorcycle on a public roadway. Stickney and Malseed, who were patrolling in an unmarked police van, attempted to stop Fischera. A chase ensued, eventually leading into a residential development from which there was only one exit. Stickney got out of the van to block the exit while Malseed continued to pursue Fischera. A few minutes later, Fischera came around a corner driving the motorcycle directly at Stickney. Fearing for his own safety, Stickney fired a shot at the front tire of the cycle compelling Fischera to stop. When Stickney, Malseed, and two other police officers attempted to take Fischera into custody, a violent struggle followed in which one of the other officers was kicked in the groin. Fischera, attempting to tear away from the officers, fell face-first
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onto the ground, injuring himself. He was eventually handcuffed, and treated at a hospital. He was subsequently adjudicated ...