Fitzpatrick v. Age-Herald Publishing Company

In Fitzpatrick v. Age-Herald Publishing Company, 184 Ala. 510, 63 So. 980 (Ala. 1913), the Supreme Court of Alabama addressed whether the following statement in a newspaper constituted libel: "'The shooting occurred on Avenue E, between Eleventh and Twelfth streets, in a house which bears a bad reputation with the police.'" The plaintiff, who lived in the house identified by the article, alleged that he was greatly humiliated by the article and that his reputation was greatly impaired. Id. One question before the Court was whether the statement constituted libel of the plaintiff or of the house where he resided. Id. The Court answered this question with the following: "The house acquires whatever reputation it has from the occupants thereof; it can make or earn none for itself; it can and does reflect only the reputation of its occupants, or those who frequent it. We know of no way by which a house can, of its own act, acquire a reputation. This being true, when we speak of a certain house as being disorderly, we must necessarily be understood as referring to the conduct of those who live in, or who frequent, the same by and with the permission of the occupants. When, therefore, it is said of a house, "It has a bad reputation with the police," we refer to the head of that house, and, in fact, we reflect upon each member of the same. The language of the publication is, "The shooting occurred on Avenue E, between Eleventh and Twelfth streets, in a house which bears a bad reputation with the police." This charges that, at the present time, the house bears a bad reputation with the police; and, under the plaintiff's averment, it was at that moment of time, and had been for a long while prior thereto, the place where he and his family resided. This reflected upon the plaintiff, for he and his family must be held to be the ones who gave to the house, and continued to give to it, that reputation, for the house is void of life and could not make for itself a bad reputation." (Id. at 981.) The Court concluded "that the publication in question was 'of and concerning' the plaintiff, who resided in the house in question." Id. The Court also stated: "The published words did not, it is true, charge the plaintiff, or any member of his family, with an indictable offense; but, giving to the publication the meaning that the words employed generally and fairly import, it tended to subject the plaintiff, the head of the house, to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, and tended to reflect shame upon him, and to put him without the pale of social intercourse. This being true, the words were libelous per se." (Id. at 982.)