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Majority upholds false statement is protected

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A split Indiana Supreme Court Tuesday upheld a trial court's ruling that a Papa John's employee's false statement to police that a customer had pulled out a gun is protected by qualified privilege. The dissenting judges believed because the employee first made the false statement to a passerby and then police, he knowingly reported false information so his statement shouldn't be protected.

At issue in Thomas Williams and Sanford Kelsey v. Kelly Eugene Tharp and Papa John's U.S.A. Inc., No. 29S02-0901-CV-40, is whether Kelly Tharp's false statement to police that he saw Sanford Kelsey pull out a gun while in the pizza place should be protected by qualified privilege. Tharp told a passerby outside the store that he had seen Kelsey pull out the gun; he also told another employee, who didn't see a gun. The passerby called police, who pulled the two men over, detained them for an hour, and then determined there was no gun. Tharp gave his father's name and information to police - which he had used to get his job at Papa John's - and then left because he knew he had outstanding warrants.

Williams and Kelsey sued seeking compensatory and punitive damages, alleging defamation per se, false imprisonment, emotional distress, negligence, negligent hiring, retention, and supervision. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all counts. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and remanded on each count.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shephard, and Justices Brent Dickson and Frank Sullivan affirmed Tharp's statement to police was protected by qualified privilege. The high court determined that qualified privilege in Indiana requires more than reckless disregard of the truth to support a claim of defamation or false imprisonment based on an inaccurate report to police of possible criminal activity. The reckless standard would subject a person to liability for reporting criminal conduct not only when the speaker actually knew the statement was false but also if it could be shown they should have known the statement wasn't true, wrote Justice Dickson.

Williams and Kelsey argued there is a genuine issue of whether Tharp made his statement "without belief or grounds for belief in its truth." But the majority determined the plaintiffs hadn't designated sufficient evidence to give rise to a genuine issue about whether Tharp made his statement knowing it was false or that he was so obviously mistaken as to support a reasonable inference that he lied, the justice continued.

Justices Theodore Boehm and Robert Rucker dissented in separate opinions, agreeing with the Court of Appeals' decision. In their dissents, the justices emphasized that Tharp originally gave his false statement to a passerby, which isn't protected by qualified privilege, and then gave the same statement to police. They also noted Tharp didn't call police, misidentified himself to police, and later fled.

The majority also rejected the plaintiffs' application for leave to file a Trial Rule 60(B) motion for relief of judgment because Tharp later pleaded guilty to false reporting. The majority ruled they could file a T.R. 60(B)(8) motion. Justice Rucker, who agreed with Justice Boehm's dissent, believed Tharp's guilty plea was important to the case and the high court shouldn't turn a "blind eye" to the evidence just because the plaintiffs waited to file their motion until after the oral arguments. The justice believed the plea raises a genuine issue of material fact as it could be considered newly discovered evidence, so the high court should at least reverse the trial court's judgment and remand for further proceedings.

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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