ILNews

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. As one of the many consumers affected by this breach, I found my bank data had been lifted and used to buy over $200 of various merchandise in New York. I did a pretty good job of tracing the purchases to stores around a college campus just from the info on my bank statement. Hm. Mr. Hill, I would like my $200 back! It doesn't belong to the state, in my opinion. Give it back to the consumers affected. I had to freeze my credit and take out data protection, order a new debit card and wait until it arrived. I deserve something for my trouble!

  2. Don't we have bigger issues to concern ourselves with?

  3. Anyone who takes the time to study disciplinary and bar admission cases in Indiana ... much of which is, as a matter of course and by intent, off the record, would have a very difficult time drawing lines that did not take into account things which are not supposed to matter, such as affiliations, associations, associates and the like. Justice Hoosier style is a far departure than what issues in most other parts of North America. (More like Central America, in fact.) See, e.g., http://www.theindianalawyer.com/indiana-attorney-illegally-practicing-in-florida-suspended-for-18-months/PARAMS/article/42200 When while the Indiana court system end the cruel practice of killing prophets of due process and those advocating for blind justice?

  4. Wouldn't this call for an investigation of Government corruption? Chief Justice Loretta Rush, wrote that the case warranted the high court’s review because the method the Indiana Court of Appeals used to reach its decision was “a significant departure from the law.” Specifically, David wrote that the appellate panel ruled after reweighing of the evidence, which is NOT permissible at the appellate level. **But yet, they look the other way while an innocent child was taken by a loving mother who did nothing wrong"

  5. Different rules for different folks....

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