Engineer who claimed city defamed his firm loses on appeal

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An engineer who claimed Lawrenceburg officials defamed him and his company by alleging overcharges for shoddy work got no help from the Indiana Court of Appeals Tuesday.

A jury found in favor of Lawrenceburg on Robert Hrezo’s claim of defamation per quod, the only claim that Special Judge Jon W. Webster allowed to proceed to trial in the Dearborn/Ohio Circuit Court. Hrezo appealed, challenging the verdict and the trial court’s prior grant of summary judgment to the city on his claims of defamation per se, tortious interference, and RICO violations.

“Because we conclude that Appellants’ claims are without merit, we affirm,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote for the COA in Robert Hrezo, et al. v. City of Lawrenceburg, 15A01-1612-CT-2957.

Hrezo and Hrezo Engineering Inc. sued Lawrenceburg officials after City Manager Tom Steidel prepared a memo to Lawrenceburg’s mayor, city council members and clerk/treasurer alleging overstaffing, overbilling and substandard work on multiple city projects. The city decided to stop using HEI in 2005, and Hrezo sued the following year.

After losing at the trial court, Hrezo’s appeal claimed the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the defamation per se and tortious interference claims. He also challenged the trial court’s limiting of his accountant’s testimony on damages and jury instructions as well as its refusal to include several allegedly defamatory statements on the verdict form.

“We conclude that the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of the City on Appellants’ tortious interference and defamation per se claims,” Bradford wrote. “We further conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in disallowing … proffered evidence on damages and that any error it may have committed in instructing the jury … can only be considered harmless. Finally, we conclude that the trial court did not err in refusing the include six allegedly defamatory statements on the verdict form distributed to the jury.”  

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