Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts

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Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued February 23, 1967
Decided June 12, 1967
Full case name Curtis Publishing Company v. Wally Butts
Citations 388 U.S. 130 (more)
94 S. Ct. 2997; 41 L. Ed. 2d 789; 1974 U.S. LEXIS 88; 1 Media L. Rep. 1633
Prior history Cert. to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Subsequent history No. 37, 351 F.2d 702, affirmed; No. 150, 393 S.W.2d 671, reversed and remanded
Libel damages may be recoverable against a news organization if the injured party is not a public official, but a claimant must demonstrate a reckless lack of professional standards, on the part of the organization, in examining allegations for reasonable credibility.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Earl Warren
Associate Justices
Hugo Black · William O. Douglas
Tom C. Clark · John M. Harlan II
William J. Brennan Jr. · Potter Stewart
Byron White · Abe Fortas
Case opinions
Plurality Harlan, joined by Clark, Stewart, Fortas
Concurrence Warren
Concur/dissent Black, joined by Douglas
Concur/dissent Brennan, joined by White
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I

Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 (1967), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States established the standard of First Amendment protection against defamation claims brought by private individuals.[1]


The case involved a libel lawsuit filed by former Georgia Bulldogs football coach Wally Butts against the Saturday Evening Post. The lawsuit arose from an article in the magazine that alleged that Butts and Alabama head coach Bear Bryant had conspired to fix games. The decision was consolidated with another case, Associated Press v. Walker, and the two cases were decided in one opinion.

In finding for Butts but against Walker, the Supreme Court gave some indications of when a "public figure" could sue for libel.


In a plurality opinion, written by Justice John Marshall Harlan II, the Court held that news organizations were protected from liability when printing allegations about public officials. However, the Supreme Court's New York Times Co. v. Sullivan decision (1964) lets them still be liable to public figures if the information that they disseminate is recklessly gathered and unchecked.[2]

The Court ultimately ruled in favor of Butts, and the Saturday Evening Post was ordered to pay $3.06 million to Butts in damages, which was later reduced on appeal to $460,000.[3]

The settlement was seen as a contributing factor in the demise of the venerable Saturday Evening Post and its parent corporation, the Curtis Publishing Company, two years later.[3] Both Butts and Bryant had sued for $10 million each. Bryant settled for $300,000.

In 1982, James Kirby, the official observer of the trial for the Southeastern Conference (SEC) where both teams played, wrote a book, "Fumble: Bear Bryant, Wally Butts and the Great College Football Scandal." Kirby claimed that both men (the coach of Alabama and the other the athletic director of Georgia) were guilty of collusion as charged and lied repeatedly during the trial. Both men were dead at the time of its publication.

See also


  1. ^ 388 U.S. 130 (1967)
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ a b "Wally Butts, Ex-Georgia Coach, Dies; Won Large Libel Suit Coached Noted Players". The New York Times. December 18, 1973. p. 46.

External links

  • Works related to Curtis Publishing Company v. Butts at Wikisource
  • Text of Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 (1967) is available from:  Cornell  CourtListener  Findlaw  Google Scholar  Justia  Library of Congress  OpenJurist  Oyez (oral argument audio) 
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