CBS Inc. v. Davis,
510 U.S. 1315 (1994)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case



Opinion in Chambers



No. A-669. Decided February 9,1994

A South Dakota Circuit Court injunction prohibiting CBS from airing videotape footage taken at a South Dakota meat-packing company is stayed. The decision below conflicts with this Court's decisions on prior restraint in the First Amendment context. See, e. g., Organizationfor Better Austin v. Keefe, 402 U. S. 415, 419; Nebraska Press Assn. v. Stuart, 427 U. S. 539, 562. There is a reasonable probability that the case would warrant certiorari, and the broadcast's indefinite delay will cause irreparable harm to the news media that is intolerable under the First Amendment. The Amendment requires that the company remedy any harms it might suffer as a result of the broadcast through a damages proceeding rather than through suppression of protected speech.

JUSTICE BLACKMUN, Circuit Justice.

CBS Inc., CBS News Division, a division of CBS Inc., and the television show 48 Hours (collectively CBS) apply for an emergency stay of a preliminary injunction entered by the Circuit Court for the Seventh Judicial District of South Dakota prohibiting CBS from airing videotape footage taken at the factory of Federal Beef Processors, Inc. (Federal), a South Dakota meat-packing company. CBS seeks to televise the videotape this evening on a 48 Hours investigative news program and contends that the injunction constitutes an intolerable prior restraint on the media. Due to the time pressure involved in resolving this emergency application, my discussion is necessarily brief.

As part of an ongoing investigation into unsanitary practices in the meat industry, CBS obtained footage of Federal's meat-packing operations through the cooperation of a Federal employee, who voluntarily agreed to wear undercover


Opinion in Chambers

camera equipment during his shift one day in Federal's plant. The employee received no compensation for his cooperation. CBS represents that the investigation was not targeted at Federal but at the meat-processing industry generally and that CBS did not intend to reveal the company that was the source of the material.

Federal sued to prevent the telecast of the videotape, alleging, inter alia, claims of trespass, breach of the duty of loyalty and its aiding and abetting, and violation of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, S. D. Compo Laws Ann. § 37-29-1 et seq. (Supp. 1993). On January 25, 1994, the South Dakota Circuit Court entered a temporary restraining order, and on February 7 the court preliminarily enjoined CBS from "disseminating, disclosing, broadcasting, or otherwise revealing" any footage of the Federal plant interior. Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order for Preliminary Injunction, Civ. No. 94-590, p. 8. The court found that disclosure of the videotape "could result in a significant portion of the national chains refusing to purchase beef processed at Federal and thereafter in the Federal plant's closure," and that "[p]ublic dissemination of Federal's confidential and proprietary practices and processes would likely cause irreparable injury to Federal." Id., at 3. The court concluded that because the videotape "was obtained by CBS, at the very least, through calculated misdeeds," id., at 4, conventional First Amendment prior restraint doctrine was inapplicable, and that any injury to CBS resulting from delay was outweighed by the potential economic harm to Federal.

On February 8, 1994, the South Dakota Supreme Court denied CBS' application for a stay of the injunction and scheduled oral argument on CBS' original petition for a writ of mandamus for March 21, 1994. The State Supreme Court later amended its order to require that the Circuit Judge rescind the injunction or show cause on March 21 why a peremptory writ of mandamus should not be issued.

Full Text of Opinion

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.