Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.
477, U.S. 242, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986)
Liberty Lobby was a neo-Nazi
organization. A magazine called "The Investigator" (represented
by Anderson), published some articles (written by Bermant) about Liberty
Lobby. Liberty Lobby sued for libel, saying that the articles were false
At Trial, Anderson motioned
for summary judgment under Rule
56, on the basis that Liberty Lobby was required to prove that
the articles were published with "actual malice," which they
That was the standard
established by New York Times v. Sullivan (376 U.S. 254, 279-280 (1964)). It's a pretty high standard.
Berment presented an
affidavit claiming that all of his statements were based on research, and
he provided sources for all of the statements Liberty Lobby claimed were
Liberty Lobby countered by
claiming that Bermant's sources were all unreliable and that they had
willfully failed to verify their information before publication.
The Trial Court found for
Anderson in summary judgment.
Liberty Lobby appealed.
The Appellate Court affirmed summary
judgment as to some of the allegedly
defamatory statements, but reversed as to others. Anderson appealed.
The Appellate Court found
that the heightened evidentiary requirements to apply "proof of
actual malice" did not need to be considered for the purpose of a
motion for summary judgment.
The US Supreme Court reversed
the Appellate Court and remanded the case for trial.
The US Supreme Court found
that the Appellate Court did not apply the correct standard in reviewing
the Trial Court's grant of summary judgment.
When deciding whether or not
summary judgment is appropriate,
the judge must determine whether the evidence presented is such that
there is no genuine material issue of fact, and as such only an issue of
law exists. In this case, this issue of law is whether or not Anderson's
action rise to the evidentiary standard of "proof of actual
malice." As such, the judge is required to determine if a
reasonable jury might find that that actual malice had been shown with
The Appellate Court erred
by only considering issues of fact, but not looking at those facts to
see if they met the proper evidentiary standard.
Basically, in analyzing summary
judgment, one must distinguish between
the burden of production and
the burden of persuasion
(aka burden of proof). The burden
of production is the obligation of a
side to come forward with evidence to support its claim, while the burden
of proof is what would be required to
win the case. Here, the Court is saying that if the burden of
proof is higher than normal to win a
case, then the burden of production required to get summary judgment should also increase.
Since the Appellate Court
failed to consider the increased burden of production, their decision is overturned.
Even more basically, if a
lawsuit requires that you prove something is "more likely than
not" (51%), then you only have to show that you have
"some" evidence in order to get to a jury. However, if you
have to prove something "beyond a reasonable doubt" (~99%),
then you have to show that you have "a whole lot" of evidence
in order to get to a jury, "some" evidence won't cut it. If
you can't show that you have at least a decent chance of winning based
on the appropriate evidentiary standard,
then a judge won't even let you tell it to a jury.