Opinion for the court filed by Circuit Judge WRIGHT.
J. SKELLY WRIGHT, Circuit Judge:
This is the second appeal of this libel action. The District Court initially found that defendants were protected by a common law privilege for communications to the legislature and dismissed the complaint. 561 F.Supp. 1184 (D.D.C.1983). On appeal a divided panel of this court found that defendants had not demonstrated all of the elements necessary to claim the privilege and remanded the case to the District Court. 731 F.2d 1 (D.C.Cir.1984). After a further evidentiary hearing the District Court once again dismissed the complaint on the basis of the common law privilege, Memorandum Opinion and Order filed March 29, 1985 (Mem.Op.), Record Excerpts (RE) 17, and plaintiff once again appeals. We affirm the District Court's decision to grant summary judgment for the defendant-appellees.
Appellant Sherwood Webster is one of the inventors of a device, the Webster-Heise valve, that is said to improve the fuel
Lindahl was enthusiastic about the potential of the device and eventually published his favorable assessment in an official CRS report, "The Webster-Heise Valve: A Significant Improvement in the Internal Combustion Engine and Its Fuels." Lindahl expressed his enthusiasm to Anderson when they met on unrelated business, and Anderson tried unsuccessfully to interest other Sun Company officials in the device. Lindahl told Anderson that the device was "worthy of further discussion" and gently chided him about Sun's inaction.
Several months later Anderson received a copy of an internal Sun Company memorandum evaluating the Webster-Heise device. The evaluation was not a response to Anderson's inquiries; it was prepared at the request of another Sun executive who had heard about the device at a seminar. Although the memorandum was distributed to only a few corporate officials, it made its way through company channels to Anderson, who sent a copy to Lindahl along with a note saying, "Thought this might interest you."
The evaluation memorandum, written by Harry Toulmin, a Sun automotive engineer, was critical of both Webster and his invention. It said, in part:
In a deposition filed with the District Court, Anderson said he had no desire to influence Lindahl or Congress with respect to the merits of the Webster-Heise valve. Rather, Anderson said, he wanted to show Lindahl that he "really had tried" to interest his colleagues in the device.
The District Court dismissed Webster's action for libel and product disparagement. It held that the statements in the memorandum were protected by the common law privilege "reflected in section 590A of the Restatement, Second, of Torts." 561 F.Supp. at 1188.
731 F.2d at 5 (footnotes omitted). The panel affirmed the District Court's finding of the necessary relationship to legislative business, but held that the "intention to
On remand Anderson testified at an evidentiary hearing, and the District Court found that Anderson had sent the memorandum both to inform and to curry favor with the CRS. Since he could not have curried much favor without providing any useful information, the District Court concluded that Anderson would not have sent the memorandum "but for" an intention to inform. Consequently, the complaint was dismissed once again.
II. COMMON LAW PRIVILEGE
A. Choice of Law
The District Court and the previous panel of this court applied a common law privilege for communications to the legislature, "reflected in section 590A of the Restatement, Second, of Torts," 561 F.Supp. at 1188, but neither court explicitly grounded the privilege in the law of any particular jurisdiction. Although we ultimately conclude that the policy of the Restatement accurately "reflects" the applicable law, we think it is necessary to explain why District of Columbia law should govern this case.
Congress has not chosen to provide any specific level of protection for those who provide it with information. Moreover, because no "significant conflict between some federal policy or interest and the use of state law in the premises [has] be[en] specifically shown," Wallis v. Pan American Petroleum Corp., 384 U.S. 63, 68, 86 S.Ct. 1301, 1304, 16 L.Ed.2d 369 (1966),
In a diversity case such as this a federal court must apply the choice of law principles of the jurisdiction in which it sits. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Manufacturing Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496-497, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 1021-1022, 85 L.Ed.2d 1477 (1941); Lee v. Flintkote Co., 593 F.2d 1275, 1278-1280 (D.C.Cir.1979). Under District of Columbia law, when there is conflict between the laws of two arguably relevant jurisdictions, we apply the law of the state that has the "more substantial interest in the resolution of the issue." Fowler v. A & A Co., 262 A.2d 344, 348 (D.C.App.1970) (citations omitted); see also Dovell v. Anne Arundel Supply Corp., 361 F.2d 543, 544 (D.C.Cir.1966).
Assuming, arguendo, that a conflict exists between the law of the District of Columbia and the law of Pennsylvania or Arizona,
Having concluded that the common law of the District of Columbia should control this case, we observe that the earlier panel's requirement of an "intention to inform" the legislature appears to have no basis in the common law of the District of Columbia,
B. The District Court's Finding on Intention
The question of intention, as this court wrote in its earlier opinion, is an "issue of material fact." 731 F.2d at 7. The findings of the District Court on issues of fact must be affirmed by this court unless they are "clearly erroneous." Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a).
On remand the District Court held a hearing at which Anderson was the sole witness. Anderson testified that he had forwarded the memorandum to Lindahl both because he wanted Lindahl to know that Sun had pursued the matter and because he thought that the information contained in the memorandum would be helpful to Lindahl and CRS. He said that because congressional aides "live on information and facts up there[,] our opinions are worthless, really. * * * If we hadn't done any work, he [Lindahl] wouldn't have been interested * * * [and] I wouldn't have sent it." Transcript at 16-17.
The District Court's opinion correctly distinguished Anderson's intention — what he meant to do — from his motivation — why he did it:
Mem.Op. at 7, RE 23.
Notwithstanding Anderson's self-serving motive, the District Court found that "[t]he credible and convincing evidence demonstrates that Anderson's intention in forwarding the memorandum to Lindahl was to provide information that would be of value to the CRS in its investigation of the Webster-Heise devise." Id. at 6, RE 22 (emphasis added). We cannot say that this factual finding is clearly erroneous.
III. CONSTITUTIONAL PRIVILEGE
Webster also argues that the "absolute" privilege of the common law cannot survive the Supreme Court's recent decision in McDonald v. Smith, 472 U.S. 479, 105 S.Ct. 2787, 86 L.Ed.2d 384 (1985). In that case McDonald had sent a letter criticizing Smith, who was a nominee for the position of United States Attorney in North Carolina, to the President and several Members of Congress. Citing White v. Nicholls, 44 U.S. (3 How.) 266, 11 L.Ed. 591 (1845) (a privilege case decided under the pre-Erie federal common law), the Court held that the right to petition was sufficiently protected by North Carolina's "malice" rule — a rule akin to the one imposed by New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686 (1964). The constitutional protection of the right to petition does not require states to provide an absolute privilege for all communications with government.
The holding in McDonald v. Smith balances the need for free flow of information
Brief for appellants at 18.
Sun distinguishes McDonald v. Smith in the first instance by noting that it involves a communication to the Executive Branch, and that such communications typically receive less protection at common law than communications with courts or legislatures. Compare RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 598 with id. § 588 and § 590A. In any event, it is not particularly "anomalous * * * for a common-law privilege to afford a greater degree of protection than a constitutional privilege." The Constitution sets out the minimum protection for First Amendment rights, but it does not prohibit state law from providing a higher level of protection. Cf. PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74, 100 S.Ct. 2035, 64 L.Ed.2d 741 (1980). As Anderson's memorandum to Lindahl is protected by the common law privilege, we need not decide whether it would be protected by the right to petition as well.
If Webster could point to a Supreme Court case that established intervening controlling authority on the limits of the privilege, we would be obligated to follow it. But it is not enough that, by analogizing to McDonald v. Smith, plaintiffs "could now make a more persuasive argument * * * than we would have thought likely when the case was last here." Fogel v. Chestnutt, 668 F.2d 100, 109 (2d Cir.1981). Absent a clear change in the governing doctrine, we must follow the law of the case set down in the opinion of the earlier panel.
The District Court's conclusion that the "intention to inform" test was satisfied in this case is not clearly erroneous. Nothing in the holding of McDonald v. Smith compels us to weaken the common law privilege traditionally afforded to communications to the legislature. The District Court's judgment in favor of appellees Sun Company, Inc. and Anthony Anderson is therefore
RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 590A (1977).