OLLMAN v. EVANS
471 U.S. 1127 (1985)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

OLLMAN v. EVANS , 471 U.S. 1127 (1985)

471 U.S. 1127

Bertell OLLMAN
v.
Rowland EVANS and Robert Novak
No. 84-1524

Supreme Court of the United States

May 28, 1985

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The petition for writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice REHNQUIST, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, dissenting.

Page 471 U.S. 1127 , 1128

In The committee's recommendation proved to be highly controversial, largely because petitioner was an avowed Marxist. Petitioner's appointment was approved by the Provost of the University and the Chancellor of the College Park Campus, but was eventually overruled by the President of the University.

While this controversy was going on, respondents, nationally syndicated columnists, devoted one of their columns to it. In the course of the article, they made a number of statements about petitioner, including a description of his principal scholarly work as "a ponderous tome in adoration of the master," and then went on to say:

"Such pamphleteering is hooted at by one political scientist in a major eastern university, whose scholarship and reputation as a liberal are well known. 'Ollman has no status within the profession, but is a pure and simple activist,' he said."

Petitioner sued respondents for libel in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and that court granted summary judgment for respondents. 479 F.Supp. 292 (1979). On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sitting en banc affirmed the judgment by a vote of six to five, producing three separate opinions concurring in the affirmance, and four dissenting opinions. 242 U.S.App.D. C. 381, 750 F.2d 970 (1984).

The Court of Appeals rested its decision entirely on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and held that this statement about petitioner-that he had no status within his profession-could simply not form the basis of an action for defamation in the light of that Amendment. There was no question as to whether petitioner could meet the requirement of "malice" under New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), since the case had never been tried to a jury. The Court of Appeals majority relied upon a brief passage from our opinion in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 339-340, 3006-07 (1974). I think that the result reached by the Court of Appeals in this case is nothing less than extraordinary. At the heart of the common law of defamation were a few areas of expression which even when spoken rather than written were regarded as so damaging as to be classified as "slander per se " and therefore not to require the proof of any special damages in order to allow recovery. One of these catego- [471 U.S. 1127 , 1129]


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