ILNews

Justices: statements fall within qualified privilege

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.”
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

ADVERTISEMENT