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COA rules against former Junior Achievement boss in defamation suit

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed that a central Indiana organization and its president did not defame the former president of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana or tortiously interfere with a business relationship.

Jeffrey Miller and his wife, Cynthia, sued numerous parties in March 2010, including the Central Indiana Community Foundation Inc. and Brian Payne. Miller argued in part that Payne defamed him and caused him to not be offered a job with the city of Indianapolis.

The allegations are based on conversation Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s former chief-of staff, Chris Cotterill, had with Payne March 9, 2010, at a meeting about the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Cotterill had been in discussions with Miller about any potential jobs in the city’s office, but nothing had been offered.

Cotterill wanted to speak with Payne to confirm information his wife told him about the Junior Achievement of Central Indiana being the subject of an audit. Miller served as president of JACI from 1994 until he retired in 2008. He also served as president of JACI’s foundation, known as Experiential Learning and Entrepreneurship Federation until February 2010.

The construction of an Ivy Tech culinary project initiated during Miller’s time as JACI president came to a halt in early 2010 after the Glick Fund at Central Indiana Community Foundation, stopped paying on a $2 million grant, pending an audit.

During the brief March 2010 discussion, Payne confirmed to Cotterill that CICF was in the process of auditing JACI due to the Glicks’ concerns of money being spent in ways not consistent with the terms of the grant, misappropriation of funds, or money moving around in an improper manner. Cotterill, however, testified during his deposition that Payne never told him that Miller was the one who may have misappropriated funds or moved money around improperly.

At the time of this conversation, there was an audit ongoing, so the statements were true. There is no evidence that Payne made any comments regarding Miller that could be considered defamatory or that Payne invaded Miller’s privacy by placing him in a false light, the appeals court held in Jeffrey M. Miller and Cynthia S. Miller v. Central Indiana Community Foundation, Inc., and Brian Payne, 49A04-1309-PL-451.

The designated evidence also shows that Payne did not commit any unjustified interference with an alleged business relationship between the city of Indianapolis and Miller. Payne did not seek out Cotterill; it was Cotterrill who wanted to verify the information his wife had told him. Also, Cotterill had concerns prior to learning of the audit that Miller was telling people that he would be working for the mayor before any employment offer had been extended. No offer was ever made.

The Millers have sued 17 parties over comments – both spoken and written – that they claim are defamatory. In April, the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for Federal Express Corp. and the 500 Festival Inc.

Some of those comments come from anonymous commenters on news websites and message boards.  The action involving those defendants was an issue of first impression for the courts.
 

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