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Justices: statements fall within qualified privilege

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The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of a company and its employee in a defamation suit because qualified privilege precludes the defamation action.

Christine Dugan sued Mittal Steel and supervisor Jay Komorowski for defamation per se and intentional infliction of emotional distress after she was fired and later re-instated following a theft investigation at the company. She claimed Komorowski’s statements – paragraphs 6 and 7 in her complaint – support that he committed defamation per se. In paragraph 6, Dugan said Komorowski told the chief of security at the company that Dugan was stealing time and attempting to defraud the company. He also accused her of stealing an air compressor. In paragraph 7, she claimed that Komorowski told employees that Dugan was working on a core exchange (theft) of welding machines with her boss.

The word “theft” was added to give context to the statement, the court noted.

In Christine Dugan v. Mittal Steel USA, et al., No. 45S05-1002-CV-121, the high court upheld the grant of summary judgment in favor of Mittal Steel and Komorowski. The justices agreed with the trial court that paragraph 6 constituted defamation per se and paragraph 7 did not. Paragraph 6 imputed criminal conduct or occupational misconduct; paragraph 7 implied it through the use of the word “theft,” but the actual words used by Komorowski don’t support a finding of defamation per se.

Even though paragraph 6 constitutes defamation per se, the Supreme Court also affirmed that the statements at issue were protected by qualified privilege. Komorowski went to the chief of security to express concerns about suspicious disappearances of company equipment. Komorowski had become concerned after seeing equipment disappear for a number of years.

“It is unreasonable and contrary to sound policy for the common interest qualified privilege for intracompany communications about theft of company property to apply only for statements made on personal knowledge and to exclude the reporting of information received from others,” wrote Justice Brent Dickson. “The designated evidence here clearly establishes that Komorowski's statements were based on an accumulation of several years of careful personal observations and gathering of information from others with first-hand knowledge and that his resulting concerns and opinions were expressed to the security chief in good faith.”
 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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