Baker v. Warner - 231 U.S. 588 (1913)
U.S. Supreme Court
Baker v. Warner, 231 U.S. 588 (1913)
Baker v. Warner
Nos. 41, 42
Argued November 5, 1913
Decided December 22, 1913
231 U.S. 588
Motions in arrest of judgment are not favored.
In considering a motion in arrest, the plaintiff will be given the benefit of every implication that can be drawn from the pleading, liberally construed, and even if the allegations are defectively set forth or improperly arranged, if they show facts constituting a good cause of action, the motion will be denied.
Where the defendant in a suit for libel is put on notice of extrinsic facts surrounding the publication, and does not demur, but joins issue and goes to trial, a verdict against him cures the defects in the complaint and a motion to arrest should not be granted.
The strict rules announced in earlier decisions in this respect have been modified by modern and more liberal rules of pleading.
Where plaintiff in error in this Court succeeded in the trial court and was reversed in the intermediate appellate court, this Court is not limited to a consideration of the points presented, but must enter the judgment which should have been rendered by the court below on the record before it.
Although this Court reverses the order to arrest the judgment, it affirms the ruling of the intermediate appellate court that there should be a new trial on account of erroneous instructions on material matters.
Where the words are not libelous per se and can only be construed as such in the light of extrinsic facts, it is for the jury not only to determine whether the extrinsic facts exist, but also whether the words have the defamatory meaning attributed to them.
36 App.D.C. 493 reversed.
The plaintiff, Baker, United States district attorney for the District of Columbia, sued the defendant, Warner, for libel. Briefly stated, the complaint charges that:
The Washington Jockey Club owned a race track in
the District where races were run and bets were made, and in January, 1908, the plaintiff, as district attorney, had obtained from the grand jury an indictment charging one Walters with betting at this race track, contrary to the statute against gaming in the District. A demurrer was filed, which was sustained on March 11, 1908, the court holding that the laying of bets on horse races at this track was not a violation of the Act of Congress, which, as appears by reference to the statute (March 3, 1901, § 869, 31 Stat. p. 1331, c. 854), only prohibited such betting and bookmaking within one mile of the boundaries of the Cities of Washington and Georgetown. The plaintiff immediately took an appeal from this judgment in order that the Court of Appeals might determine whether such betting at such place was a violation of the gaming law of force in the District.
Shortly after the appeal, the Spring Meet of the Jockey Club began, being advertised to continue until April 14th. On the opening days of the Meet, there were bookmaking and betting, but the complainant alleges that the plaintiff,
"conforming himself, as it was his duty to do, to the law as judicially construed by the Supreme Court of the District, did not issue warrants for the arrest of or present to the grand jury any persons for betting on the horse races."
It is further alleged that, at this time, Warner was a candidate against Pearre for the nomination for Congress from Maryland, and, on March 28th, Warner composed and published, of and concerning the plaintiff and of and concerning the office of the plaintiff, in a Washington newspaper, a certain false and defamatory libel. The article need not be set out at length, but the communication, after characterizing a speech by his opponent as undignified, proceeded to say that it was not wanting in dignity so much as for a judge of the District
"who, with the United States District Attorney (meaning the
plaintiff), went to Rockville (meaning the Town of Rockville, County of Montgomery, State of Maryland) last Saturday (meaning Saturday, the 21st day of March A.D.1908) to attend a conference of Mr. Warner's (meaning defendant's) enemies, and determine what ammunition was needed to defeat him."
"The question now is, where does the money come from in the contest against Mr. Warner? (meaning the defendant)."
"How about the race track?"
"meaning thereby . . . that the said plaintiff entered into a conference with others for the purpose of determining what funds were necessary, and how same should be raised, to be used in the campaign in behalf of Pearre, and meaning . . . that the plaintiff was and is corrupt in not presenting to the grand jury and prosecuting before the courts of the District persons laying bets upon the contests at the race track, in consideration of contributions of money in the contest against the defendant from some company or person interested in the race track or the contests carried on thereon."
The defendant filed a general denial, and, after a trial, there was a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment were overruled and the case taken to the Court of Appeals, which held not only that reversible error had been committed, but that the judgment should have been arrested. In No. 41, the case is here on a writ to review that ruling. To avoid any question as to the finality of that judgment of the Court of Appeals, plaintiff sued out another writ of error (No. 42) after the judgment had been arrested in the trial court.