Pullman v Walter Hill & Company Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Date1891
Year1891
CourtCourt of Appeal
[IN THE COURT OF APPEAL.] PULLMAN AND ANOTHER v. WALTER HILL & CO., LIMITED. 1890 Dec. 18, 19. LORD ESHER, M.R., LOPES and KAY, L.JJ.

Defamation - Libel - Publication - Letter copied by Clerk - Letter addressed to Partnership Firm - Privileged Occasion.

In an action for libel it appeared that the alleged libel was contained in a letter respecting the plaintiffs, two of the members of a partnership, written on behalf of the defendants, a limited company, and sent by post in an envelope addressed to the firm. The writer did not know that there were other partners in the firm. The letter was dictated by the managing director of the defendants to a clerk, who took down the words in shorthand and then wrote them out in full by means of a type-writing machine. The letter thus written was copied by an office-boy in a copying-press. When it reached its destination, it was in the ordinary course of business opened by a clerk of the firm, and was read by two other clerks:—

Held (reversing the judgment of Day, J.), that the letter must be taken to have been published both to the plaintiffs' clerks and the defendants' clerks, and that neither occasion was privileged.

MOTION by the plaintiffs for a new trial.

At the trial before Day, J., with a jury, it appeared that the plaintiffs were members of a partnership firm of R. & J. Pullman, in which there were three other partners. The place of business of the firm was No. 17, Greek Street, Soho. The plaintiffs were the owners of some property in the Borough Road, which they had contracted in 1887 to sell to Messrs. Day & Martin. The plaintiffs remained in possession of the property for some time, and agreed to let a hoarding, which was erected upon the property, at a rent to the defendants, who were advertising agents, for the display of advertisements. In 1889 a dispute arose between the plaintiffs and Day & Martin, who were building upon the land, as to which of the two were entitled to the rent of the hoarding; and on September 14, 1889, the defendants, after some prior correspondence, wrote the following letter:—

“Messrs. Pullman & Co., 17, Greek Street, Soho.

“Re Boro' Road.

“Dear Sirs, — We must call your serious attention to this matter. The builders state distinctly that you had no right to this money whatever; consequently it has been obtained from us under false pretences. We await your reply by return of post.

“Yours faithfully,

“(Signed) …… Walter Hill & Co., Limited.”

This letter was dictated by the defendants' managing director to shorthand clerk, who transcribed it by a type-writing machine. This type-written letter was then signed by the managing director, and, having been press-copied by an office-boy, was sent by post in an envelope addressed to Messrs. Pullman & Co., 17, Greek Street, Soho. The defendants did not know that there were any other partners in the firm besides the plaintiffs. The letter was opened by a clerk of the firm in the ordinary course of business, and was read by two other clerks. The plaintiffs brought this action for libel. The defendants contended that there was no publication, and that, if there were, the occasion was privileged. The learned judge held that there was no publication, that the occasion was privileged, and that there was no evidence of malice. He therefore non-suited the plaintiffs.

Lockwood, Q.C., and Oswald, for the plaintiffs. The questions are — whether there was a publication of the libel; and, if so, whether there was privilege. It is contended that there was a publication of the libel — first, to servants of the defendant company; and secondly, to clerks employed by the plaintiffs' firm, who, in the ordinary course of business, read the letter. If that be so, no question of privilege can arise; for there was no duty towards, or interest in, those persons which could render the occasion privileged. With regard to publication to the clerks of the plaintiffs' firm, if a man writes a libellous letter, and addresses it to a business firm, he must be taken to contemplate that it may, in the ordinary course of business, be opened and read by a clerk; and, if he takes no precaution to prevent this, he is responsible for the publication. It is immaterial that he did not intend the publication. If a man writes what is libellous and puts it out of his possession, he must take care that it does not go to the wrong person: Harrison v....

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88 cases
  • Crookes et al. v. Newton, [2011] N.R. TBEd. OC.025
    • Canada
    • Canada (Federal) Supreme Court (Canada)
    • 7 December 2010
    ...997 (P.C.), refd to. [para. 16]. Lambert et al. v. Thomson et al., [1937] O.R. 341 (C.A.), refd to. [paras. 16, 82]. Pullman v. Hill, [1891] 1 Q.B. 524 (C.A.), refd to. [para. R. v. Clerk (1728), 1 Barn. K.B. 304; 94 E.R. 207, refd to. [para. 18]. Hird v. Wood (1894), 38 S.J. 234 (C.A.), re......
  • Crookes et al. v. Newton, (2011) 310 B.C.A.C. 76 (SCC)
    • Canada
    • Canada (Federal) Supreme Court (Canada)
    • 7 December 2010
    ...997 (P.C.), refd to. [para. 16]. Lambert et al. v. Thomson et al., [1937] O.R. 341 (C.A.), refd to. [paras. 16, 82]. Pullman v. Hill, [1891] 1 Q.B. 524 (C.A.), refd to. [para. R. v. Clerk (1728), 1 Barn. K.B. 304; 94 E.R. 207, refd to. [paras. 18, 83]. Hird v. Wood (1894), 38 S.J. 234 (C.A.......
  • Crookes et al. v. Newton, (2011) 421 N.R. 205 (SCC)
    • Canada
    • Canada (Federal) Supreme Court (Canada)
    • 7 December 2010
    ...997 (P.C.), refd to. [para. 16]. Lambert et al. v. Thomson et al., [1937] O.R. 341 (C.A.), refd to. [paras. 16, 82]. Pullman v. Hill, [1891] 1 Q.B. 524 (C.A.), refd to. [para. R. v. Clerk (1728), 1 Barn. K.B. 304; 94 E.R. 207, refd to. [paras. 18, 83]. Hird v. Wood (1894), 38 S.J. 234 (C.A.......
  • Crookes v. Newton, [2011] 3 SCR 269
    • Canada
    • Supreme Court (Canada)
    • 19 October 2011
    ...(2d) 341; “Truth” (N.Z.) Ltd. v. Holloway, [1960] 1 W.L.R. 997; Lambert v. Thomson, [1937] O.R. 341; Pullman v. Walter Hill & Co., [1891] 1 Q.B. 524; R. v. Clerk (1728), 1 Barn. K.B. 304, 94 E.R. 207; Hird v. Wood (1894), 38 S.J. 234; Buchanan v. Jennings, [2004] UKPC 36, [2005] 1 A.C. ......
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6 books & journal articles
  • Table of Cases
    • Canada
    • Irwin Books Cyberlibel: Information Warfare in the 21st Century? Part VIII
    • 15 June 2011
    ...v. Prud’homme, 2002 SCC 85 ................................................................................. 84 Pullman v. Hill & Co., [1891] 1 Q.B. 524 ..............................................................................108, 228 Puterbaugh v. Gold Medal Furniture Manufacturing Co......
  • Publication and Hyperlinks
    • Canada
    • Irwin Books Cyberlibel: Information Warfare in the 21st Century? Part IV
    • 15 June 2011
    ...for the purposes of libel means communication, not creation of the text for the purposes of printing. Pullman v. Hill & Co., [1891] 1 Q.B. 524 per Lord Esher M.R. at 527: What is the meaning of ‘publication’? he making known the defamatory matter ater it has been written to some person othe......
  • Jurisdiction
    • Canada
    • Irwin Books Cyberlibel: Information Warfare in the 21st Century? Part II
    • 15 June 2011
    ...for the purposes of libel means communication, not creation of the text for the purposes of printing. Pullman v. Hill & Co., [1891] 1 Q.B. 524 per Lord Esher M.R. at 527: What is the meaning of ‘publication’? he making known the defamatory matter ater it has been written to some person othe......
  • Publication and Republication
    • Canada
    • Irwin Books Canadian Libel and Slander Actions
    • 17 June 2004
    ...for the purposes of libel means communication, not creation of the text for the purposes of printing. Pullman v. Hill &> Co., [1891] 1 Q.B. 524 per Lord Esher M.R. at 527: Wha t is the meaning of 'publication'? The making known the defamatory matter after it has been written to some person ......
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