Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc
In Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986), a libel plaintiff public official was required to resist a motion for summary judgment by showing clear and convincing evidence of the defendant's actual malice.
In discussing the standard to be applied in evaluating a motion for summary judgment in this context, the United States Supreme Court stated:
"Thus, in ruling on a motion for a summary judgment, the judge must view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden." 477 U.S. at 254.
The Court reasoned that "where the factual dispute concerns actual malice, clearly a material issue in a New York Times Co. v. Sullivan case, the appropriate summary judgment question will be whether the evidence in the record could support a reasonable jury finding either that the plaintiff has shown actual malice by clear and convincing evidence or that the plaintiff has not." Id. at 255-56.
The Supreme Court held that Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires application of this same clear-and-convincing standard to motions for summary judgment in defamation suits by public figures.
The Court explained:
Just as the "convincing" clarity requirement is relevant in ruling on a motion for directed verdict, it is relevant in ruling on a motion for summary judgment.
When determining if a genuine factual issue as to actual malice exists in a libel suit brought by a public figure, a trial judge must bear in mind the actual quantum and quality of proof necessary to support liability under New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 279-280, 11 L. Ed. 2d 686, 84 S. Ct. 710 (1964).
For example, there is no genuine issue of material fact precluding summary judgment if the evidence presented in the opposing affidavits is of insufficient caliber or quantity to allow a rational finder of fact to find actual malice by clear and convincing evidence.
Thus, in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the judge must view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden.
This conclusion is mandated by the nature of this determination.
The question here is whether a jury could reasonably find either that the plaintiff proved his case by the quality and quantity of evidence required by the governing law or that he did not.
Whether a jury could reasonably find for either party, however, cannot be defined except by the criteria governing what evidence would enable the jury to find for either the plaintiff or the defendant: It makes no sense to say that a jury could reasonably find for either party without some benchmark as to what standards govern its deliberations and within what boundaries its ultimate decision must fall, and these standards and boundaries are in fact provided by the applicable evidentiary standards. (Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254-255).