Goldmann, Freund and Conford. The opinion of the court was delivered by Freund, J.A.D.
This is a libel action in which the plaintiff appeals from an adverse summary judgment entered upon the pleadings and depositions taken on behalf of the plaintiff.
The plaintiff Walter H. Bock, a carpenter, had previously brought a negligence action against Oscar Scharf in the Somerset County Court to recover damages for personal injuries he sustained while riding a bicycle, claiming that "Scharf knocked him to the ground as he opened the door of his car." The action was uncontested and the trial resulted in a judgment of $500 for Bock. The present action is based upon the publication in defendant's newspaper of the report of that trial, which news report is alleged to be false and defamatory in that the plaintiff is held up to ridicule and contempt.
The complaint charges that in publishing the article the defendant acted maliciously and with the willful intent to injure him in his business standing, reputation and good name, and demands punitive as well as compensatory damages. No items of special damage, however, are specifically stated.
R.R. 4:9-6. The defendant, by its answer and on the motion for summary judgment, denied that the article was defamatory or that it was published with malice, and contended that it was true in substance and was a fair and impartial report of a judicial proceeding and, hence, privileged. The court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment for the reason "that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact challenged," holding that the publication constituted a fair and impartial report of a judicial proceeding, "which is a qualified privilege," and for the further reason that the plaintiff sustained no recoverable damages.
The article published in defendant's newspaper reads as follows:
"BENDS NOT CONVINCING -- JUDGE CUTS INJURY AWARD
Somerville -- A 54 year old Plainfield carpenter was granted a $500 judgment yesterday in Somerset County Court by a skeptical judge who ordered him to bend down four times in order to determine the validity of a back injury.
After the calisthenics, Judge Samuel Chiaravalli decided the injury was not serious enough to warrant the $3,000 judgment sought by Walter H. Bock of 1003 W. Fifth St., Plainfield.
Bock sued Oscar Scharf of 61 Sycamore Ave., North Plainfield, claiming that while he was riding a bicycle Feb. 7 in Plainfield Scharf knocked him to the ground as he opened the door of his car.
Although Scharf was not in court and did not even file an answer to the lawsuit, Judge Chiaravalli said he was duty bound to explore all aspects of the case.
After testifying that his earning capacity has been virtually curbed as a result of the back injury, Bock went on to say that he earned $3,000 during 1954. * * * 'Is that the amount that you listed on your income tax return?' Judge Chiaravalli asked. Bock paused and the judge repeated the ...