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WILLIAM SAVITSKY v. SHENANDOAH VALLEY PUBLISHING CORP. (12/01/89)

filed : December 1, 1989.

WILLIAM SAVITSKY, APPELLANT,
v.
SHENANDOAH VALLEY PUBLISHING CORP., T/D/B/A EVENING HERALD OF SHENANDOAH, MAHANOY CITY AND ASHLAND AND WILLIAM O'BRIEN; EVENING HERALD OF SHENANDOAH MAHANOY CITY, AND ASHLAND AND SHENANDOAH VALLEY PUBLISHING CO., T/D/B/A EVENING HERALD OF SHENANDOAH, MAHANOY CITY AND ASHLAND



Appeal from the Order Entered Docketed December 14, 1988 in the Court of Common Pleas of Schuykill County, Civil Division, No. S518-82.

COUNSEL

Kimberly D. Borland, Wilkes-Barre, for appellant.

Elihu A. Greenhouse, Philadelphia, for appellees.

Tamilia, Kelly and Cercone, JJ. Kelly, Judge, concurring.

Author: Tamilia

[ 389 Pa. Super. Page 177]

Appellant William Savitsky appeals an Order granting summary judgment to appellees Shenandoah Valley Publishing Corporation publisher of the Shenandoah "Evening Herald" (hereinafter "Evening Herald"), and William O'Brien, former editor of the "Evening Herald". The underlying libel action instituted by appellant was initiated by writ on March 26, 1982 and a complaint was filed on March 25, 1983 alleging various publications in the "Evening Herald" defamed appellant. Following responsive pleadings and new matter and after discovery, appellees filed a motion for summary judgment which was argued before Judge William Rubright on September 26, 1988. By Order dated and filed December 14, 1988, the court entered summary judgment in favor of appellees, and this appeal followed.

The publications which appellant alleges defamed him are of two types, and their factual underpinnings are as follows.

Appellant was a member of the District 25 International Executive Board of the United Mine Workers of America and was a losing candidate for re-election to that office in an election held June 9, 1981. The June 13, 1981 edition of the "Evening Herald" reported appellant had been ferried around the region to polling places on election day by a coal company helicopter, a report appellant categorically denies and which appellees have never proven.

[ 389 Pa. Super. Page 178]

The second category of publications appellant alleges defamed him concerned references to appellant as a "widow robber" in connection with a union life insurance benefit package negotiated chiefly by appellant. These references occurred in newspaper articles and editorials between January, 1980 and June, 1981.

This Court is not unmindful of the delicate balance required in public figure defamation cases. Free speech is considered such a vital aspect of our constitutional freedoms, it must be given breathing room in the form of protected, uninhibited, robust debate and even erroneous statements if the press is to avoid the self-censorship that is manifestly incompatible with the open exchange of ideas in our society. Therefore,

While we recognize that summary judgment is 'a proper vehicle' for disposing of potentially frivolous suits that threaten First Amendment freedoms, we find that summary judgment should be granted only when warranted under Pa.R.C.P. No. 1035, i.e., where the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, ...


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