Students Helping Students

Currently Briefing & Updating

Student Case Briefs, Outlines, Notes and Sample Tests Terms & Conditions
No content replication for monetary use of any kind is allowed without express written permission
Back To Torts Briefs

Close, Not Exact Match

Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1

United States Supreme Court










Fact Versus Opinion

Quick Notes

Fact vs. Opinion Test.  Public Figure Requirements and Private Figure requirements.

Book Name

Torts Cases, Problems, And Exercises.  Weaver, Third Edition.  ISBN:  978-1-4224-7220-0.



o         Whether a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the statements in the Diadiun column imply an assertion that petitioner Milkovich perjured himself in a judicial proceeding?  Yes.





Ohio S.Ct

o         Diaduins article was constitutionally protected.


o         Reversed and Remanded.  [The article] is NOT the sort of loose, figurative, or hyperbolic language which would negate the impression that the writer was seriously maintaining that petitioner committed the crime of perjury





Pl Milkovich

Df Lorain Journal Co

What happened?

o         Milkovich was a wrestling coach at Maple Heights High School, in Maple Heights, Ohio.

o         Lorain Journal Co owns the Herald newspaper.

o         His team was involved in an altercation at a home wrestling match.

o         Several people were injured. In response to the incident,

o         The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) held a hearing and placed the Maple Heights team on probation and ineligible for the 1975 state tournament.

o         OHSAA also censured Milkovich for his actions during the altercation.

Parents Sued

o         Thereafter, several parents and wrestlers sued OHSAA in the Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County, Ohio, seeking a restraining order against OHSAA's ruling on the grounds that they had been denied due process in the OHSAA proceeding.


o         Both Milkovich and Scott testified in that proceeding.

Court - Overturned

o         The court overturned OHSAA's probation and ineligibility orders on due process grounds.

Article Public Day after the Decision

o         Maple beat the law with the big lie.

Actual Column

o         See below

Maples Defamation Action

o         Petitioner commenced a defamation action against respondents in the Court of Common Pleas of Lake County, Ohio, alleging that the headline of Diadiun's article and the nine passages "accused plaintiff of committing the crime of perjury, an indictable offense in the State of Ohio, and damaged plaintiff directly in his life-time occupation of coach and teacher, and constituted libel per se.

Ohio Supreme Court (Constitutionally Protected Opinion)

o         Determined that Diadiuns article was a constitutionally protected opinion.


Fact vs. Opinion Test

o         Under that analysis, four factors are considered to ascertain whether, under the "totality of circumstances," a statement is fact or opinion. These factors are:

1.       the specific language used;

2.       whether the statement is verifiable;

3.       the general context of the statement; and

4.       the broader context in which the statement appeared.


First two tests (Analysis)

o         Deeming the challenged passages actionable assertions of fact.

o         These elements were trumped by the third and the forth factors.


General context of the Statement (Ohio S.Ct analysis)

o         The court explained that the large caption TD Says would indicate to even the most gullible read that the article was in an opinion.


Broader context in which the statement appeared (Ohio S.Ct Analysis)

o         Court reasoned that because the  article appeared on a sports page -- "a  traditional haven for cajoling, invective, and hyperbole" -- the article would probably be construed as opinion.


U.S Supreme Court (Granted Certiorari)

o         To review the Ohios courts recognition of a constitutionally required opinion exception to the application of it defamation law.


(Lorain Journal Co. Arg)

First Amendment Protection for Defamatory Statements categorized as opinion

o         Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea.

o         However pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries but on the competition of other ideas.

o         But there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact.


Concerning Gertz

o         We do not think Gertz was intended to create a wholesale defamation exemption for anything that might be labeled an opinion.


In my opinion Jones is a Liar

o         He implies knowledge of facts which lead to the conclusion that Jones told an untruth.

o         Even if the speaker states the facts upon which he bases his opinion, if those facts are either incorrect or incomplete, or if his assessment of them is erroneous, the statement may still imply a false assertion of fact.

o         Simply couching such statements in terms of opinion does not dispel these implications.

o         Opinions can cause as much damage to reputation as the statement,

o         It is worthy of note that at common law, even the privilege of fair comment did not extend to "a false statement of fact, whether it was expressly stated or implied from an expression of opinion."


Lorain Journal Co. Arg Defamation requires an ppinion or fact inquiry

o         Contend that in every defamation case the First Amendment mandates an inquiry into whether a statement is opinion or fact.

o         Only the latter statements may be actionable.


Courts Response

o         We think the "'breathing space'" which "freedoms of expression require in order to survive, is adequately secured by existing constitutional doctrine without the creation of an artificial dichotomy between "opinion" and fact.


o         A statement on (1) matters of public concern must be (2) provable as false before there can be liability under state defamation law.


o         A statement of opinion relating to matters of public concern which does NOT contain a provably false factual connotation will receive full constitutional protection.

Public Policy

o         This provides protection for statements that CANNOT reasonably be interpreted as stating actual facts about an individual.

o         This provides assurance that public debate will not suffer for lack of "imaginative expression" or the "rhetorical hyperbole".


New York Times (Culpability Requirements)

o         The New York Times culpability requirements further ensure that debate on public issues remains "uninhibited, robust, and wide-open."

Public Figure Requirements

o         Where a statement of "opinion" on a matter of public concern reasonably implies false and defamatory facts regarding public figures or officials, those individuals must show that such statements were made with (1) knowledge of their false implications or with (2) reckless disregard of their truth.

Private Figure on a matter of public concern

o         A plaintiff must show that the false connotations were made with some level of fault   as required by Gertz.


No need for additional constitution protection

o         [The article] is NOT the sort of loose, figurative, or hyperbolic language which would negate the impression that the writer was seriously maintaining that petitioner committed the crime of perjury.

o         Nor does the general tenor of the article negate this impression.

o         We also think the connotation that petitioner committed perjury is sufficiently factual to be susceptible of being proved true or false.


Public Policy Concerns

o         We have to acknowledge the important social values  which underlie the law of defamation, and recognized that society has a pervasive and strong interest in preventing and redressing attacks upon reputation.



o         Reversed and Remanded



Among the circumstances to be scrutinized by a court in ascertaining whether a statement purports to state or imply "actual facts about an individual,"

1.   the type of language used,

2.   the meaning of the statement in context,

3.   whether the statement is verifiable, and

4.   the broader social circumstances in which the statement was made


Where Brennan parts company

o         The challenged statements cannot reasonably be interpreted as either stating or implying defamatory facts about the petitioner.

o         The majority does not rest its decision today on any finding that the statements at issue explicitly state a false or defamatory fact.

o         Diaduins assumption that Milkovich must have lied is conjecture.

o         Diaduin was simply guessing.

o         He did not attend the court hearing.

o         Diaduin focused on the courts reversal.

o         Diaduin used the word apparently, meaning he did not know what Milkovich had actually said.  (This type of language puts the reader on notice that what is being read is opinion).

o         The tone and format is greatly exaggerated.

o         One of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize men and measures.






Class Notes



Newspaper Article

"'. . . [A] lesson was learned (or relearned) yesterday by the student body of Maple Heights High  [***9]  School, and by anyone who attended the Maple-Mentor wrestling meet of last Feb. 8.


"'A lesson which, sadly, in view of the events of the past year, is well they learned early.


"'It is simply this: If you get in a jam, lie your way out.


 [*5]  "'If you're successful enough, and powerful enough, and can sound sincere enough, you stand an excellent chance of making the lie stand up, regardless of what really happened.


"'The teachers responsible were mainly head Maple wrestling coach, Mike Milkovich, and former superintendent of schools H. Donald Scott.


. . . .


"'Anyone who attended the meet, whether he be from Maple Heights, Mentor, or impartial observer, knows in his heart that Milkovich and Scott lied at the hearing after each having given his solemn oath to tell the truth.


"'But they got away with it.


"'Is that the kind of lesson we want our young people learning from their high school administrators and coaches?


"'I think not.'"