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Scalamandre & Sons, Inc. v. Kaufman

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 21153
Nos. 96-50253, 113 F.3d 556/(5th Cir., 06/03/1997)

The court reverses a defamation judgment against a television production company and a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employee for damages connected with a television program on New York City sewer sludge disposal. The court holds that the joint venture formed to dispose of the city's sewer sludge did not meet its burden of proving actual malice as to either defendant, as required for a defamation suit brought by a public figure. The broadcast included statements that the joint venture was "an illegal haul and dump operation," that "the people of Texas are being poisoned," that sludge contained "high levels of lead, mercury and PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls]," that "New York sludge cake isn't just made of toilet refuse," and implications that the joint venture committed arson and bribed a judge. There was no proof that the defendants knew, or should have known, that any part of the broadcast was false. The program was not so one-sided, or without basis in fact, as to constitute defamation.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Joseph D. Tydings
Dickstein, Shapiro, Morin & Oshinsky
2101 L St. NW, Washington DC 20037
(202) 785-9700

Counsel for Defendants
David C. Gunn
4001 Garth Rd., Baytown TX 77521
(713) 667-5300

Before DUHE, BENAVIDES and STEWART, Circuit Judges.