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Dentist’s reputation, privacy and identity are not chattel under T.R. 75(A)(2)

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The Indiana Court of Appeals decided that the preferred venue of a woman’s lawsuit against her ex-boyfriend alleging defamation and other claims is in Marion County where the man resides and not in Lake County where she works. The opinion hinged upon whether there were chattels involved.

Catherine Kroczek and William Belcher dated for a few months in 2012 but broke up in September of that year. While dating, she told Belcher she had the herpes simplex virus. After they broke up, Belcher mailed letters to the dentistry offices where Kroczek worked, telling her employers and colleagues she had herpes and had infected “only a few people.” He also registered her on several websites without her knowledge regarding her health status.

She sued Belcher in Lake County, alleging he committed defamation per se, invasion of privacy, disclosure of private facts, intentional infliction of emotional distress, identity theft and tortuous interference with a business relationship. He filed a motion to transfer to Marion County, where he lived, which was denied.

Kroczek claimed her reputation, privacy, identity and goodwill are intangible personal chattels under Trial Rule 75(A)(2), thus supporting Lake County as the preferred venue.

The courts have previously found the right to publicity or a money judgment is intangible personal chattel, but those rights are transferrable. But reputation, privacy and identity are not transferrable, Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in William M. Belcher v. Catherine Kroczek, D.D.S., 45A03-1311-CT-436. They are inherently different from patents, money judgments and publicity rights, so they are not chattels.

Goodwill may qualify as a chattel, but it can’t serve as the basis for preferred venue in this case because it does not allege an injury to enterprise goodwill, which is a business asset.

Belcher is entitled to transfer venue to Marion County based on his residence, the COA held.
 

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