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Question over spirit in which statements were made is enough for jury to deliberate

September 21, 2012

A defamation suit against an employee will proceed following the Indiana Court of Appeals' finding that there is doubt as to what conclusion a jury could reach in determining whether statements were made in good faith and without malice.

Between August 2009 and July 2010, a series of articles appeared in a Whitley County newspaper about Coupled Products’ proposed move of equipment from an Ohio facility to Columbia City. On Sept. 16, 2009, one article contained a number of statements that Coupled contended were false.

The company believed Janice Brandom, an employee and chair of the UAW Local 2049’s bargaining committee, made the statements.

Coupled sued Brandom for defamation, submitting evidence to contradict the statements she allegedly made to the paper. Brandom moved to dismiss pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute on the grounds the statements were made in furtherance of her right of free speech in connection with an issue of public interest.

The trial court denied Brandom’s motion to dismiss.

The COA affirmed the ruling in Janice Brandom v. Coupled Products, LLC, 92A03-1112-PL-542. The court found her statements were in the public interest but there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether Brandom knew her statements were false, entertained serious doubts as to their truth, or made the statements with reckless disregard of whether they were false.

In his dissent, Judge Michael Barnes argued the evidence does not establish that Brandom acted in bad faith or without a reason basis in law and fact.

“The good faith requirement should and must be present, but in this context, with collective bargaining in play, I believe Brandom’s conversation with the reporter was had in good faith. Remember, too, there is no direct quote in the article in question and the reporter was free to, and undoubtedly did, capsulize, summarize, and characterize the conversation. In my view, the anti-SLAPP statute provides protection in such instances.”

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