On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Passaic County.
Seidman, Antell and Lane. The opinion of the court was delivered by Antell, J.A.D.
Defendants appeal from a judgment in libel after a jury verdict awarding plaintiff $5,000 compensatory damages jointly as to both defendants and $3,500 in punitive damages individually as to each defendant.
In the spring of 1977 plaintiff was running for reelection as councilman-at-large in the Township of West Milford. The election was held on May 10, 1977, and plaintiff received the lowest total of votes out of four candidates. On the Saturday before the election hand-addressed envelopes were mailed to an undetermined number of voters in which were contained two Xerox copies of an article which had appeared in the Paterson Morning Call in 1954. The article, with underlinings added by hand, read as follows:
The Curtiss-Wright Corporation has filed a $50,000.00 suit in Hudson County Superior Court against Robert Reilly, of Macopin Rd., Newfoundland, and McDonough-Lydon Manufacturing Co., Inc. of Union City on charges of conspiracy and violation of the New Jersey Corruption of Employes Law.
The suit says that Reilly was employed in the manufacturing-engineering department of Wright Aeronautical Division where he acquired knowledge of Wright's needs for special packing material for parts of engines made for the Air Force.
Through his position with Wright, the Curtiss-Wright Corporation charges, Reilly assisted in preparing or prepared design[s] for packing in such a way that McDonough's product was specified as to exclude products of other suppliers. It is also alleged that, during this same time, Reilly received from McDonough-Lydon, and kept, commissions and other payments and became a director of McDonough, unknown to Curtiss-Wright and contrary to his duties and obligations.
The complaint also charges that the preparation of designs by Reilly, the specification of McDonough's product and the payments by McDonough to Reilly were the result of a conspiracy between them to assure the ever increasing use of McDonough's product and to the exclusion of competition. It is further charged that the conspiracy was carried on for the benefit of the defendants and to the detriment of Curtiss-Wright and eventually to the U.S. Government.
In addition to demanding payments for damages resulting from the conspiracy, Curtiss-Wright also demands an accounting of all monies paid by McDonough to Reilly and damages resulting from alleged violation of the New Jersey Corruption of Employes Law.
Reilly, a special process engineer and member of the Local 300 AUW-CIO, was discharged by Wright Aeronautical in September 21.
One copy of the article was enlarged and underlined as indicated above; the other copy duplicated the original size and was not underlined. Of critical importance herein is that the mailing failed to indicate that ultimately the complaint was voluntarily dismissed, that plaintiff was exonerated and eventually invited to return to his employment with Wright-Aeronautical. Moreover, the article contained factual errors in that plaintiff was neither an engineer nor was he involved in packaging. In addition, the complaint did not allege that plaintiff's conduct was detrimental to the United States Government.
The evidence abundantly supports the conclusion that defendants were responsible for the mailing. Mr. Gillen admitted planning, since February 1977, to distribute the article a few days before the election along with a letter addressed to the ...