McCoy v. Hearst Corp

Landmark Case
Nov 13, 1986

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

A suit for libel was brought against the Hearst Corporation and two reporters, Raul Ramirez and Lowell Bergman, for an article that appeared in The Examiner in May, 1976. San Francisco Police Inspectors Frank McCoy and Edward Erdelatz, Jr., and former Assistant District Attorney Pierre Merle claimed that the paper defamed them when it printed an article attempting to expose the wrongful conviction of Richard Lee.

The article claimed that the states conviction had hinged upon a witness statement and that the offices had obtained this statement though, "threats, coercion, physical assault and promises of leniency."At trial the jury returned a verdict in favor of the officers and awarded them a sum of $4,560,000. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment.

However, in 1986, the California State Supreme court ruled that there was no valid claim of defamation.

They referenced the landmark US Supreme Court case, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) where the court had held that "a public official may not recover damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to official conduct unless it is proved "that the statement was made with 'actual malice."

Further, the opinion stated, "this court holds under New York Times that the evidence does not establish with convincing clarity that appellants possessed actual malice when they wrote and published the disputed articles."

The Court reversed and remanded the case back to district court with instructions to reverse.

Case Developments


Bad California Supreme Court ruling