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Appellate Brief

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Appellate Brief

  1. 1. Madeleine Shore NO. A11-1093 STATE OF MINNESOTA IN COURT OF APPEALS Tiffany Flowers, Plaintiff/Appellant, v. Peggy Mitchell, Defendant/Respondent BRIEF OF APPELLANT AND ADDENDUM GRAY, PLANT, MOOTY, STEPHENSON & SUTCLIFFE, P.A. MOOTY & BENNETT, P.A. Mark G. Stephenson (#105235) Mark Mathison (#028709X) 1635 Greenview Drive, S.W. Dean LeDoux (#0176643) Rochester, MN 55902 500 IDS Center, 80 South 8th Street Phone: 507.288.7160 Minneapolis, MN 55402 Fax: 507.287.1033 Phone: 612.632.3247 markgsjd@aol.com Fax: 612.632.4247 Mark.Mathison@gpmlaw.com ATTORNEY FOR RESPONDENT ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT
  2. 2. 2 TABLE OF CONTENTS TABLE OF CONTENTS..................................................................................................2 TABLE OF AUTHORITIES ............................................................................................3 STATEMENT OF THE ISSUES......................................................................................4 STATEMENT OF THE CASE.........................................................................................4 STATEMENT OF THE FACTS ......................................................................................4 SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT ...........................................................................4-5 ARGUMENT....................................................................................................................5 I. THE TRIAL COURT IMPROPERLY RULED IN FAVOR OF PEGGY MITCHELL BECAUSE PEGGY’S STATEMENTS WERE IN FACT LIBELOUS A. Peggy’s statements were libelous and that fact is supported heavily by case law and statutory law. B. Peggy’s libelous statements were the direct cause of Tiffany losing both her job and reputation in town; therefore, punitive damages should have been awarded. II. THE STANDARD OF REVIEW IN APPELLATE CASES WILL SHOW THAT THE CASE SHOULD BE OVERTURNED BECAUSE THE LOWER COURT DID NOT CONSIDER TIFFANY’S LOST WAGES WHEN DECIDING THE CASE. CONCLUSION.................................................................................................................6
  3. 3. 3 TABLE OF AUTHORITIES CASES McKee v. Laurion, 825 N.W.2d 752 (2013). ................................................................................5 Longbehn v. Schoenrock, 727 N.W.2d 153 (Minn. App. Ct. 2007). .....................................5, 6,7 Stuempges v. Parke, Davis & Co., 297 N.W.2d 252 (1980)......................................................6,7 Sauter v. Wasemiller, 389 N.W.2d 200 (1986).............................................................................8 MINNESOTA RULES OF APPELLATE PROCEDURE Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.04 ......................................................................................................8 MINNESOTA STATUTES Minn. Stat. Ann. § 549.20...........................................................................................................6
  4. 4. 4 Statement of the Issues I. Did the trial court err in finding Peggy Mitchell not liable for defamation and not granting punitive damages? II. Did the trial court err in failing to consider Tiffany Flower’s lost wages from losing her job as a summer camp director? Statement of the Case Tiffany Flowers sued Peggy Mitchell for defamation after Peggy Mitchell wrote a fictional story in which she referred to Tiffany as a slut. The statement caused Tiffany to lose her reputation in town, caused emotional suffering, and caused Tiffany to lose her job as a summer camp director at the local YMCA. Judge Antonson ruled in favor of Peggy Mitchell. Peggy was found to not be liable for any damages caused to Tiffany. Appellant argues that the trial court erred in making that ruling because Peggy met all of the elements needed in a defamation action, and they did not consider the wages that were lost when Appellant lost her job as a summer camp director. Statement of the Facts Peggy Mitchell is an aspiring writer. She took the opportunity to write for a contest in a national magazine. She won the contest and her story was published nationally in the magazine. Although her story is fictional, she based it off of people that she knew. In Peggy’s story, she used Tiffany Flower’s name and referred to her as a slut. The story was read by many people in Peggy and Tiffany’s hometown, and many people in the town considered the story to be true and began to harass Tiffany. Tiffany began to receive harassing phone calls and comments from residents in the town. Tiffany has suffered emotionally and she has experienced mental anguish. As a result of the story, Tiffany has also lost her summer job as a camp director for the town’s YMCA. Summary of Argument Courts have often provided both general and punitive damages to plaintiffs harmed by defamatory statements made by defendants. The trial court in this case should have ruled in favor of Tiffany for many reasons. First, Peggy’s actions satisfied all of the elements needed in a defamation action. Second, the trial court should have considered applying punitive damages to this case. Third, the trial court failed to consider Tiffany’s lost wages when the case was first tried. The trial court made many errors when trying this case and the standard of review will show that the decision in this case should be reversed because Peggy’s statements were defamatory.
  5. 5. 5 Argument I. THE TRIAL COURT IMPROPERLY RULED IN FAVOR OF PEGGY BECAUSE PEGGY’S STATEMENTS WERE IN FACT LIBELOUS A. Peggy’s statements were libelous and that fact is supported heavily by case law and statutory law The elements for a defamation action are as follows: the defamatory statement was communicated to someone other than the plaintiff, the statement was false, the statement tends to harm the plaintiff’s reputation and to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of the community, and the recipient of the false statement reasonably understands it to refer to a specific individual. McKee v. Laurion, 825 N.W.2d 752 (2013). In McKee, a doctor attempted to sue the son of a patient for posting “defamatory statements” on a rate your doctor website. The son was found not guilty, as the statements were either true, simply opinion based, or unable to convey a defamatory meaning. In this case, Peggy should have been found liable, because her statements about Tiffany were not true because there is no scientific way to prove that someone is a “slut”. Peggy’s statements were not opinion based, because she was not discussing her actual view of Tiffany. The word “slut” conveys a very strong defamatory meaning because it insinuates that someone has sex with a large amount of different people. To meet the first element of a defamatory action, Peggy communicated the statement through a national magazine. Next, the statement about Tiffany was false. Then, the statement harmed Tiffany’s reputation in the community, people began to dislike her and she was fired from her job as a result of her reputation being harmed. To meet the final element, Peggy used Tiffany’s full name, making it obviously known that the statement was in regards to her. The case of Longbehn v. Schoenrock, 727 N.W.2d 153 (Minn. App. Ct. 2007) states that statements are defamatory per se if they falsely accuse a person of having a repugnant disease, of being a criminal, of being unchaste, or of poor conduct in regards to running their business or performing their work duties. In Longbehn, the defendant accused the plaintiff of being a pedophile because he was a much older man that was dating a young woman. The defendant did not start the rumor of plaintiff being a pedophile, but he did repeat it throughout the town. Although being accused of pedophilia is much more serious that being accused of being a slut as Peggy called Tiffany, the statement about Tiffany still had a detrimental effect on Tiffany’s reputation around town because they reflected upon her chastity. The court in Longbehn found that although the defendant was not responsible for starting the rumor that the plaintiff was a pedophile, he still repeated the term around town and that action made him liable for defamation per se. Peggy’s statements about Tiffany were not defamatory per se, but they were defamatory because they harmed Tiffany’s reputation and they accused Tiffany of being unchaste. Following the decision in Longbehn, the court should find Peggy liable for defamation
  6. 6. 6 because she falsely stated that Tiffany was a slut, which damaged her reputation and caused her to lose her job as a summer camp director. B. Peggy’s libelous statements were the direct cause of Tiffany losing both her job and her reputation in town; therefore, punitive damages should have been awarded. The case of Longbehn v. Schoenrock, 727 N.W.2d 153 (Minn. App. Ct. 2007) also supports the second argument in that the court found that the statements made by the defendant about plaintiff being a pedophile did not cause plaintiff to lose prospective employment. The plaintiff lost his job because he assaulted his girlfriend and she took out an order for protection against him. The plaintiff worked as a corrections officer, and these charges caused him to lose his job. In this case, Tiffany did not do anything that could cause her to lose her employment. Tiffany lost her job because she lost her good reputation in town when Peggy called her a slut. The court in Longbehn stated that if the plaintiff had not caused his own job loss, then the defendant could have been found liable. But because of his actions, the plaintiff lost his job and lost his ability to be employed as a corrections officer. Peggy should have been found liable for defamation because her statements about Tiffany were the direct cause of Tiffany losing her employment as a summer camp director at the YMCA. Stuempges v. Parke, Davis & Co., 297 N.W.2d 252 (1980) is a case in which the plaintiff resigned from his job at the defendant’s request. The defendant stated that the plaintiff could either resign and be given a good recommendation or the plaintiff would be fired and receive no recommendation whatsoever from the defendant. The plaintiff chose to resign, and when he attempted to apply for a new job in his field, the defendant gave a horrible recommendation causing the plaintiff not to be hired. Normally, this would not be considered defamation because previous employers are allowed to tell prospective employers that the person looking to be hired is not a good worker, but the previous employer is only allowed to give an honest recommendation. In Stuempges, the previous employer gave false statements to the prospective employer in regards to the work ethic of the plaintiff causing the prospective employer not to hire the plaintiff. The court in Stuempges found that the statements made by the defendant were in fact defamatory, and the court awarded pecuniary and compensatory damages to the plaintiff. The court also ordered that the defendant pay punitive damages. Tiffany lost her job because her reputation in the town was tarnished. She did not have a former employer give her a poor recommendation for her employment at the YMCA as a summer camp director; the only “recommendation” that caused her to lose her job was the statement that she is a slut in a national magazine. This statement in no way tarnishes her work ethic, but having her reputation in town tarnished was enough for her to lose her job and lose any wages that would have come with that job. The court in Stuempges stated that the defamatory statements made by the defendant were the cause of the plaintiff not being able to become
  7. 7. 7 gainfully employed in his field, so the court used that as a factor in deciding the amount of damages to award to the plaintiff. The court in Tiffany’s case should have found Peggy to be liable for defamation, and then should have considered the wages that were lost when Peggy made the defamatory statement that caused Tiffany to lose her job. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 549.20 states that punitive damages will be allowed only if there is clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with deliberate disregard to the rights or safety of other people. Tiffany, as with all people, have the right not to have their reputation tarnished by false statements made in national magazines. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 549.20 goes on to state that a defendant has acted with deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others if the defendant has knowledge of facts or intentionally disregards facts that create a high probability of injury to the rights or safety of others and deliberately proceeds to act in conscious or intentional disregard to the high degree of probability of injury to the rights or safety of others. Peggy Mitchell consciously chose to write a story in which she referred to Tiffany Flowers as a slut. Peggy Mitchell then submitted that story to be published in a national magazine. She wrote a fictional story using the names of real people, including Tiffany Flowers, and because of the story, Tiffany’s reputation in her town was tarnished. Peggy acted with deliberate disregard to Tiffany’s rights, and in doing so, she ruined Tiffany’s reputation, has caused emotional damage, and caused Tiffany to lose her job. Peggy should have been found liable and should be required to pay punitive damages to Tiffany, because of the high degree of damage she has caused in Tiffany’s personal life. II. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT FAILED TO CONSIDER TIFFANY’S LOST WAGES BECAUSE LOST WAGES SHOULD ALWAYS BE CONSIDERED IN DEFAMATION CASES. THE STANDARD OF REVIEW IN APPELLATE CASES SAYS THAT CASES SHOULD BE OVERRULED WHEN THE TRIAL COURT MAKES AN ERROR. The trial court erred when not considering Tiffany’s lost wages as a factor when deciding whether or not Peggy’s statement was defamatory. In Stuempges v. Parke, Davis & Co., 297 N.W.2d 252 (1980), the court considered the fact that the defamatory statement made by the defendant caused the plaintiff to lose employment opportunities. The jury awarded pecuniary and compensatory damages to cover the already lost wages and any wages that will be lost in the future because of the defamatory statements made by the defendant. In comparison to our case, the trial court should have considered the wages Tiffany lost when she lost her job due to Peggy’s defamatory statement because the statement was the direct cause of Tiffany losing her job. The court in Longbehn v. Schoenrock, 727 N.W.2d 153 (Minn. App. Ct. 2007) also considered the wages that were lost by the plaintiff. They concluded that although the statement was defamatory, the plaintiff was his own cause of his lost wages. The plaintiff lost wages because he assaulted his girlfriend, not because of the defamatory statement made by the defendant. The
  8. 8. 8 court in Tiffany’s case should have considered the lost wages, because the statement made by Peggy was the direct cause of Tiffany’s lost wages. Peggy’s defamatory statement was the direct and only cause of Tiffany losing employment. Peggy should have been found liable for defamation and damages should have been awarded on behalf of Tiffany’s lost wages. The scope of review is defined by Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.04 and is upheld by the opinion in Sauter v. Wasemiller, 389 N.W.2d 200 (1986) where it states that the appellate court has the authority to reverse, affirm, or modify the judgment or order appealed, and can take any other action in the interest of justice if it is required. Because of that rule, this court has the authority to review Tiffany’s case and may also overturn the decision made by the trial court. This court should overturn the decision made by the trial court because it is in the interest of justice. Tiffany was wronged by Peggy when Peggy made the defamatory statement about Tiffany in a national magazine. The defamatory statements made by Peggy harmed Tiffany’s reputation, harmed Tiffany emotionally, and harmed Tiffany’s ability to keep gainful employment. Peggy should have been found liable for defamation and for punitive damages. Conclusion For the reasons set forth above, the appellant requests this court to reverse the district court’s ruling that Peggy Mitchell is not liable for defamation and to apply punitive damages to Tiffany’s case. Respectfully submitted, Mark Mathison, Esq. Minnesota Bar Number 028709X Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty & Bennett, P.A. South 8th Street

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