|Case of the Month|
Robert William Metts v. Berkeley Independent Publishing Company, Inc.
Robert William Metts, the Deputy County Supervisor for Berkeley County, filed an action for libel and slander against The Berkeley Independent and The Goose Creek Gazette based on articles in the papers regarding reports of Mr. Metts’ use of county employees to perform work on his private property. Mr. Metts also named Judy Mims, the alleged source for the information in the article at issue, as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Mr. Metts sought certain information from the newspapers and their parent companies, which they refused to provide. They were held in contempt of court, after which they filed an appeal in the South Carolina Court of Appeals. Mr. Metts filed a cross-appeal.
Meanwhile, the circuit court held a hearing on a motion for summary judgment filed by respondents in which respondents argued Mr. Metts was a public official and there was not clear and convincing evidence of actual malice to support the libel cause of action. Mr. Metts argued the motion should be denied because there was evidence the reporter who prepared the article knew it was false or that she acted with reckless disregard of the truth. The circuit court judge issued an order granting the motion for summary judgment, finding that while the reporter may have been negligent and her actions may have been actionable if Mr. Metts were not a public official, the reporter’s negligence did not rise to the level of a reckless disregard for the truth.
Mr. Metts appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing the circuit court judge lacked jurisdiction or authority to rule on the motion for summary judgment because of the appeals pending from the circuit court order finding the newspapers and their parent companies in contempt. Mr. Metts also argued the circuit court erred in granting respondents’ motion for summary judgment because there was evidence of actual malice.
The Court of Appeals determined the circuit court did not err in allowing the summary judgment motion to proceed despite the pending appeals from the order of contempt. The Court of Appeals also agreed that while the reporter’s actions may have been negligent, they did not rise to the level of actual malice.
Mr. Metts filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the South Carolina Supreme Court seeking review of the Court of Appeals’ decision. The petition was granted and oral arguments were heard on Wednesday, October 8, 2008.
View Oral Arguments
(68 minutes playing time)