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Riley v. City of Chester and Joseph F. Battle

decided: December 14, 1979.

WILLIAM RILEY
v.
CITY OF CHESTER AND JOSEPH F. BATTLE, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF CHESTER, AND JOHN OWENS, CHIEF OF POLICE OF THE CITY OF CHESTER; GERALDINE OLIVER, A WITNESS FOR THE PLAINTIFF, APPELLANT



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil O. 79-3783)

Before Gibbons, Higginbotham and Sloviter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Sloviter

Opinion OF COURT

This is an appeal by Geraldine Oliver, a staff writer for the Delaware County Daily Times for approximately 26 years, who was adjudged by the district court to be in civil contempt because, when questioned by counsel for the plaintiff in a civil action pending in the district court, she refused to identify the source of her information for a newspaper article she wrote. This case raises the question of the circumstances in which a reporter can be compelled to disclose the source of her news stories.

I.

FACTS

1. The action in the court below was filed on October 19, 1979 by William Riley, a policeman employed by the City of Chester, who was a candidate for mayor in the election to be held November 6, 1979. Defendant Joseph F. Battle is the mayor of the City of Chester and was also a candidate for reelection as mayor.*fn1 Defendant John Owens is Chief of Police of the City of Chester. The complaint, which was filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleges that defendants and other employees of the City of Chester violated plaintiff's constitutional rights with respect to his freedom to conduct his campaign for public office by practices which include surveillance of the plaintiff, conducting investigations of plaintiff's performance of duties as a Chester policeman, and public announcement of those investigations. Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction in the court below restraining defendants from their surveillance of his person and residence and from conducting spurious investigations of his performance as a policeman.

2. A hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction was held in the trial court on October 29, 1979 and October 30, 1979. In the course of that hearing the order of civil contempt which is the subject of this appeal was entered.

3. As part of his testimony in support of the motion for preliminary injunction, plaintiff Riley stated that there were leaks to the press with respect to internal investigations conducted by the Police Department after he had become a candidate for mayor, that the newspaper articles reporting information from his police personnel file contained some inaccurate information, that he never authorized anyone to release such information and that no one asked his permission. (TR 1-9, TR 1-15-26). Plaintiff submitted as exhibits a series of newspaper articles which, Inter alia, referred to various investigations.

4. Immediately following Mr. Riley's testimony, plaintiff called as a witness the appellant, Geraldine Oliver, and the following questioning, relevant to this appeal, took place:

BY MR. BLACK:

Q Ms. Oliver, what is your occupation?

A I am a staff writer for the Delaware County Daily Times.

Q How long have you written for the Daily Times?

A Between 26 and 27 years to the best of my knowledge.

Q Have you in any way, shape or form covered the election for the office of Mayor in the City of Chester in 1979?

A As a side bar perhaps. Only as a staff writer on general assignment.

Q As a staff writer on the newspaper.

A Right.

BY MR. BLACK:

Q Ms. Oliver . . . I ask you to refer to what His Honor has directed me to mark as P-2-A.*fn2

A Well, P-2-A is the same article you referred to before and it is in the Delaware County Daily Times, and I did in fact write that article.

Q You did in fact write it.

Did you write it at the time, on August 21, 1979?

A On or about that date, yes. I'm not sure of the date of the publication. I would have written it the day before publication. (The article was published on August 22, 1979.)

Q Did you observe Mr. Riley's personnel record?

A No.

Q What was the source ...


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