Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts - Wikipedia

Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts
Argued February 23, 1967
Decided June 12, 1967
Full case nameCurtis Publishing Company v. Wally Butts
Citations388 U.S. 130 (more)
94 S. Ct. 2997; 41 L. Ed. 2d 789; 1974 U.S. LEXIS 88; 1 Media L. Rep. 1633
Case history
PriorCert. to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
SubsequentNo. 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
PluralityHarlan, joined by Clark, Stewart, Fortas
Concur/dissentBlack, joined by Douglas
Concur/dissentBrennan, joined by White
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I

Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 (1967), was a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court establishing the standard of First Amendment protection against defamation claims brought by private individuals.[1]


The case involved a libel lawsuit filed by the former Georgia Bulldogs football coach Wally Butts against The Saturday Evening Post. The lawsuit arose from an article in the magazine, which alleged that Butts and the Alabama head coach Bear Bryant had conspired to fix games. The Butts suit was consolidated with another case, Associated Press v. Walker, and both 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 Supreme Court held that news organizations were protected from liability when they print allegations about public officials. However, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), the Supreme Court decided that news organizations are still liable to public figures if the information that they publish has been recklessly gathered or is deliberately false.[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 Saturday Evening Post and its parent corporation, the Curtis Publishing Company, two years later.[3] Butts and Bryant had sued for $10 million each. Bryant settled for $300,000.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 388 U.S. 130 (1967)
  2. ^ Anonymous. "Curtis Publishing Company v. Butts". Oyez. Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (LII), Justia, and Chicago-Kent College of Law. Retrieved January 16, 2023.
  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.

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