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 and defamatory.
  • 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 didn’t do.
    • 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 libelous.
    • 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 convincing clarity.
      • 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.