The Indiana Court of Appeals has partially reversed in favor of a man who claimed his former employers defamed him after he started his own company, leading to a criminal proceeding that resulted in his acquittal.
Upon leaving his supervisor position at Central Indiana Protection Agency Inc. in June 2013, Melvin Hall began operating his own security company, Urban Tactical Response Agency LLC.
For the next two years, Hall claimed his former CIPA employers, Bradley Shaw and Giovanni Narducci, engaged in a coordinated campaign with others to defame and drive him out of business. Specifically, Hall alleged they made false allegations that he was impersonating a police officer to the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, various state licensing boards, a local news station and local law enforcement.
Hall was eventually charged by the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office with multiple counts of impersonating a law enforcement officer, but he was acquitted of all charges after a 2017 criminal trial. During that trial, Gerald Alexander and Guillerma Lolla-Martinez testified for the state, allegedly at the direction of Shaw, Narducci and CIPA.
After Hall in May 2018 sued the defendants for defamation, abuse of process, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress, Narducci initiated a consumer complaint with the Attorney General’s Office against Hall and his new security agency in July 2018. The consumer complaint was eventually dismissed.
Also in July 2018, Narducci left an allegedly explicit voicemail for Hall, prompting Hall to add defamation and abuse of process claims to his complaint related to the consumer complaint and an IIED claim based on the voicemail, among other things.
The Marion Superior Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss all of the claims against Shaw and CIPA but denied their motion regarding defamation and abuse of process claims against Narducci based on his 2018 complaint and the IIED claim based on his voicemail. It also denied their request for attorney’s fees from Hall.
On cross-appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the defendants that Hall may not pursue defamation or abuse of process claims against Narducci based on his July 2018 consumer complaint because Hall did not dispute that the evaluation of a consumer complaint with the Attorney General’s Office qualifies as a quasi-judicial proceeding.
But as to Hall’s defamation claims based on allegations of communications made before May 22, 2016 – two years before he filed suit – the COA determined those claims did not represent a course of conduct that led to one injury from defamation. Rather, they make out a course of conduct that, if true, led to several distinct injuries, the appellate court noted.
It therefore concluded the trial court properly dismissed those claims in Melvin Hall v. Bradley Shaw, Giovanni Narducci, and Central Indiana Protection Agency, Inc.,19A-CT-2533.
However, the appellate court did find that the trial court erred in dismissing Hall’s malicious prosecution complaint.
“Hall alleges that ‘Shaw and Narducci, individually, and in their capacity as agents of CIPA, maliciously caused the Marion County Prosecutor’s office to initiate a felony prosecution against Hall by conspiring with [ ] Alexander, [ ] Lolla-Martinez[ , and others] to provide false testimony to try to incriminate Hall for impersonating a public servant.’ If this claim is true — and we stress that we must assume as much at this stage — it is sufficient to allow a finding that Defendants were the ‘proximate and efficient cause’ of Hall’s prosecution,” Senior Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote for the appellate court.
Next, the appellate panel concluded Alexander’s and Lolla-Martinez’s trial testimony was protected by absolute privilege and could not be used to support a defamation action against anyone. But it also found that Hall’s allegations regarding out-of-court statements by Alexander and Lolla-Martinez were sufficiently specific to survive a Trial Rule 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss and to support claims of a civil conspiracy to defame Hall.
Finally, the appellate court found Hall met his threshold after he asserted that the trial court erred in dismissing IIED claims against Shaw and CIPA related to Narducci’s voicemail.
“Hall alleges that Narducci left the July of 2018 voicemail as part of a conspiracy with Shaw and others, as agents of CIPA, to intentionally inflict emotional distress on Hall in furtherance of their interest in eliminating Hall as a business competitor. We conclude that these allegations are sufficient to state a claim upon which relief may be granted,” it wrote.
The case was remanded for further proceedings.