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Carr v. Watkins

Decided: February 20, 1962.

CARR
v.
WATKINS ET AL.



Appeal from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County; Shure, J.

Brune, C. J., and Henderson, Hammond, Prescott and Horney, JJ. Hammond, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.

Hammond

The appellant Carr sued Gould, an officer in the security division of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Silver Spring, and Watkins and Whalen, officers of the Montgomery County Police Department, because they had transmitted to his employer information as to charges that had been brought against him years ago and his employer had consequently discharged him. The amended declaration is in five counts, sounding respectively in slander, invasion of privacy, the divulging of information without legal right, malicious interference with the contract of employment, and conspiracy to cause termination of the plaintiff's employment. Judge Shure sustained demurrers to the declaration, holding that all the defendants were absolutely privileged as to the slander count, that the tort of invasion of privacy did not exist in Maryland, and that the conspiracy count was defective in failing to allege fraud.

The declaration alleges in the first count that in April 1960 the defendants did wrongfully and maliciously speak and publish of the plaintiff "That Carr had been fired from the Naval Ordnance Laboratory for molesting kids" and "That Carr had been fired from the Naval Ordnance Laboratory for being drunk," which caused his discharge from his employment as a security guard at a regional shopping center in Montgomery County.

The second count alleges that in April 1954 Carr was employed at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, that "certain charges" pertaining to his suitability for continued employment were then preferred against him and were heard by the appropriate officials of the installation, and that he was cleared and exonerated and his employment continued. It alleges further that despite Carr's "right to pursue in peace and privacy any employment that he chose" and his right to be secure and "let alone" in his personal life and affairs, the defendants violated their duty to let him "be let alone * * * in his employment, and personal life and affairs [by] maliciously, wilfully and wrongfully" revealing and communicating to Carr's employer the fact that charges had been preferred and "the nature, result and particulars of the same," knowing that the consequence would be his discharge from employment.

The third count alleged the defendants had a duty "not to use information obtained by them * * * outside the scope, authority and duty of their offices," and that they "wilfully, wrongfully and maliciously" violated this duty, knowing that their action would cause Carr to lose his position.

The fourth count charges that the defendants did "induce and coerce" Carr's employer to discharge him and thereby did "knowingly, wilfully, wrongfully and maliciously interfere with the plaintiff's employment and occupation."

The fifth count alleges that the defendants "maliciously, wrongfully, wilfully and knowingly" did "conspire against the plaintiff for the wrongful purposes of seeing that the plaintiff lost his then employment in Montgomery County * * * and did not obtain future employment in said county of a similar nature."

The validity of the counts of the declaration -- in slander, invasion of privacy, the divulgence of information without legal right, malicious interference with contract rights, and conspiracy to interfere with such rights (all of which to some extent, and the last two in particular, overlap, Horn v. Seth, 201 Md. 589, 597) -- depends in the final analysis, as we see it, on whether the defendants, in communicating or knowingly causing to be communicated to Carr's employer the charges made against him years ago, were sheltered from liability by

privilege or immunity because of their status as agents of a government, performing their duties.

We find it clear that if there was immunity from liability for defamation, there was immunity from liability for the other alleged torts claimed by the declaration to have been committed. In Walker v. D'Alesandro, 212 Md. 163, 169, it was noted that privilege is not limited to immunity from liability for defamation, citing 1 Restatement, Torts, Sec. 10, and Prosser, Torts (2d ed.), Sec. 16. In Barr v. Matteo, 360 U.S. 564, 569, 3 L. Ed. 2d 1434, the Supreme Court held that the acting director of the Office of Rent Stabilization, a federal agency, was entitled to an absolute privilege in an action of libel. The opinion not only spoke of the law of privilege as an absolute defense for federal officers in civil suits for libel but included "kindred torts" and cited with approval other federal cases in which absolute privilege or immunity had been held to be a defense in actions for false arrest and malicious prosecution, such as, for example, Gregoire v. Biddle, 177 F. 2d 579 (2d Cir.) (per L. Hand, C. J.), and Yaselli v. Goff, 12 F. 2d 396 (2d Cir.), aff'd ...


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