Morrison v. National Broadcasting Co., Inc. Case Brief

Summary of Morrison v. National Broadcasting Co., Inc., New York, 1965.

Historical Facts: Plaintiff took part in what defendants falsely represented to him as a television quiz show. Television show aired and public was upset at plaintiff for his part in the hoax. Because of the plaintiff’s part in the television show, his reputation was damaged and his scholarships were taken away.

Procedural Facts: Special term dismissed first cause of action and plaintiff appealed. Defendants cross-appealed on grounds of legal insufficiency

Issue: If a claim does not fit into an existing category of tort law, can the complaint still constitute a cause of action?

Holding: A claim does not necessary have to fit into an existing category of tort law in order to constitute a cause action.

Ruling: Court denies defendant’s motion to dismiss the cause of action. It affirms the lower court’s decision to bar by statute of limitation.

Defendant’s Arguments: There is a failure to state a claim or cause of action because the separate elements do not all fall into any one classic category of tort law.

The claim is not for defamation because defendants did not publish in any form anything derogatory to or concerning plaintiff.

Plaintiff’s Arguments: Defendants placed plaintiff in situation which brought him personal harm.

Public did not distinguish among contestants ad wrongfully assumed that all were parties to the deception, including the plaintiff.

Reasoning: The causative acts are different from those in defamation, but the effect – harm to reputation – is the same.

The injury to the plaintiff was foreseeable by the defendants, and it was their fault.

Discussion of two views of tort law:

1) Pollock – general principles of tort

2) Salmond – torts based on specific remedies into which a case had to fit

Opera Tour, Inc. v. Weber – set precedence for Pollock view

The intentional use of wrongful means and the intentional exposure of another to the known, unreasonable risk of harm, which results in such harm, provides a classic basis for remedy.

Discounts prima facie tort doctrine becasue the means used in this case were intentional falsehood without benevolent purpose.

Gale Case – acts in this case are neither libel nor slander, but harm was the same as that as in defamation.

Evaluation: Justice Steuer, Dissenting. The deceit did not directly cause the plaintiff any damage. It is not the defendant’s fault that the public is prone to accept guilty by association.

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