Pearson v. Dodd

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, 1969.

410 F.2d 701, cert. denied. 395 U.S. 947, 89 S.Ct. 2021, 23 L.Ed2d 465 (1969).

Facts

“This case arises out of the exposure of the alleged misdeeds of Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut by newspaper columnists Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson.”

Procedural History

Trial court grants partial summary judgment for Plaintiff for an action of conversion, but not for invasion of privacy.

Issue

Can secrets of misdeeds be legally converted?

Holding

Court affirms for trial court’s decision on invasion of privacy, but reverses the lower court’s holding on conversion. Holds for Defendants.

Reasoning behind Holding

Conversion is somewhat like that of an action of forced sale. Court states that in terms of ideas being legally protected, these could be in the form of trade secrets, literary or scientific works – where the ideas are created with labor and or inventive genius. Or “Where information is gathered and arranged at some cost and sold as a commodity on the market.” I find this reasoning of the court’s to be in favor of the plaintiff. This information was gathered by the plaintiff, or defendant in this case, and was sold to the market via the newspaper. The newspaper specifically does gather information and sells it to the public, as a commodity. The plaintiff deserves the right to sell that information to whomever he pleases, whether to another newspaper or via an autobiography later. And by the defendants’ interference with that property, they have damaged that property to an extent that it represents a virtual total loss to said value of that information.

Rule

Conversion is the intentional meddling of another’s property that interferes with the owner’s rights to said property, to an extent which constitutes a total loss of said property to owner.

Policy Arguments

I think the court got it wrong. But if the court did hold for the plaintiff, the decision might limit the freedom of the press. Any party could say you cannot print such and such if their history is their property. Is someone’s history their property?

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