Torts – Libel and Slander – Absolute Privilege for Press Release of Lower Federal Officer
Respondents, former employees of the Office of Rent Stabilization, brought a libel action against petitioner, the acting director of the office. The alleged libel was contained in a press release issued by petitioner in which he announced his intention to suspend respondents because of acts for which the office had been severely criticized by the Senate and press. The district court instructed the jury to find for plaintiffs if the release was defamatory. On appeal from judgment for plaintiff, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed. On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court remanded for consideration of the question of qualified privilege. The court of appeals then held that defendant was qualifiedly privileged but remanded to the trial court jury on the question of malice. On certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, held, reversed, four justices dissenting. Petitioner was protected by an absolute privilege in issuing the press release, which was within the scope of his official duties. Barr v. Matteo, 360 U.S. 564 (1959).