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Libel. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Alverson. October 3, 1958.
The petition did not set forth a cause of action, and the trial court did not err in sustaining the general demurrer.
Roy Cook, Jr., filed an action for libel against Atlanta Newspapers, Inc., because of the insertion in an issue of a newspaper of an article headlined as follows: "MAKE NAME 'COOK' A CROOK ASKS COURT." Immediately beneath the headline, the article continued: "A DeKalb County man, evidently fed up with it all, has filed suit in DeKalb Superior Court to change the last name of himself and his family.
"The petition was brought by Roy Crook, Jr., who said the family surname 'is of such a caliber as to cause them each ridicule and mockery.' He said being called a Crook has 'hindered his advancement in the business world.'
"The family would like to change its name to 'Cook,' said the petition."
The petition alleged in substance that the statements are such as to infer to the public that a swindler, sharper or cheat was seeking to change his name; that they inferred he was suffering great mental distress of the nature of mental disorder, and they asserted by innuendo that others had libeled him; that the article was maliciously published with knowledge that it would injure his reputation and expose him to public contempt and ridicule; that the publication has injured his good name, led people to believe he is a thief and swindler, endangered his job, and reduced his earnings. The petition further alleges: "Petitioner shows that on or about February 8, 1958, he did file in the Superior Court of DeKalb County a petition seeking to change his surname and the surname of his wife and children to the name 'Cook,' alleging 'That their present surname is of such a caliber as to cause them each ridicule and mockery,' that his said surname has 'hindered his advancement in the business world.' " The trial court sustained a general demurrer to the petition, and the exception is to this judgment.
A fair and honest report of a judicial proceeding is conditionally privileged. Code 105-704; Atlanta Journal Co. v. Doyal, 82 Ga. App. 321 (60 S. E. 2d 802). In construing a newspaper article, the headline must be considered as an integral part thereof. Augusta Chronicle Pub. Co. v. Arrington, 42 Ga. App. 746 (157 S. E. 394); Paschal v. Georgian Co., 43 Ga. App. 195 (158 S. E. 372); 59 A.L.R. 1061. While, under the headline taken alone, the construction urged by the plaintiff might be so understood by the general reader, the headline nowhere refers to or identifies the plaintiff. In the body of the article, the plaintiff is identified, but by that very identification no other construction can be placed upon the article as a whole by the average reader than that the headline is a play on words and did not in fact refer to any person as being a rogue or thief. No allegation of the petition amounts to an affirmative statement that the article is not a truthful report of the judicial proceeding referred to therein. Truth is a complete defense in a civil action. Henderson v. Fox, 83 Ga. 233 (9 S. E. 839). The petition here accordingly falls under the same rules of law as Harrison v. Constitution Publishing Co., 41 Ga. App. 102, 107 (152 S. E. 131) wherein it was stated: "There can be no dispute that the newspaper would be fully within its rights in reporting the court proceeding against the plaintiff, charging him with maintaining a public nuisance of the kind and character described, irrespective of whether such a publication might result in loss, damage, or injury to the plaintiff or his property, the only limitation being that in reporting such a proceeding the newspaper must do so correctly." Whether the calculated publicity given a personal matter, newsworthy if at all only because of the plaintiff's sensitivity to public reaction, might be unkind, morally reprehensible, or legally actionable as an invasion of privacy, is not before this court. It was not false or libelous, and accordingly the trial court did not err in sustaining the general demurrer and dismissing the petition.
Judgment affirmed. Gardner, P.J., and Carlisle, J., concur.
B. P. Gambrell, John E. Dougherty, contra.
Marvin P. Nodvin, for plaintiff in error.
Saturday May 23 00:36 EDT

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