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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Ind. Decisions - Yet another ruling from the Supreme Court yesterday

This opinion may have been posted sometime in the late afternoon or early evening yesterday.

In Paul Joseph "Jay" Kelley, III v. Daniel T. Tanoos, a 13-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Sullivan writes:

Daniel Tanoos believed that Paul Kelley had been the unidentified gunman who had fired a shotgun at him, though Kelley was never charged. While the police were investigating the incident, and with their knowledge and cooperation, Tanoos made accusatory statements about Kelley in a private conversation with the head of the school where Kelley worked. When Kelley learned of the statements, he sued Tanoos for defamation. We hold that Tanoos is protected from liability for defamation in these circumstances because the statements were made to assist law enforcement investigate criminal activity. * * *

[W]e conclude that Tanoos’s statements to Sinclair are not protected by a common interest privilege as a matter of law. We believe that to hold otherwise would bring within the common interest privilege in future cases communications not entitled to protection given the purpose of the privilege. * * *

We agree with the amici and the Restatement and think the public interest privilege, under a limited number of circumstances, protects communications to private citizens. Statements reporting criminal activity to law enforcement, as stated supra, are privileged to enhance public safety by facilitating the investigation of suspected criminal activity. We think certain statements to private citizens may further the same end. * * *

Just as statements to law enforcement further a public interest, similar statements made to a private citizen may further the same interest. That interest is grounded in a public policy intended to encourage private citizens and victims not only to report crime, but also to assist law enforcement with investigating and apprehending individuals who engage in criminal activity.

Here is the report today in the Indianapolis Star:
The Indiana Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of the Vigo County Schools superintendent, throwing out a defamation lawsuit brought in connection with a shooting at his home.

Superintendent Daniel T. Tanoos was grazed on the head by a bullet fired by someone outside his house in 2001. He believed Paul Joseph "Jay" Kelley III, an employee at a private school, was the culprit.

Tanoos told Kelley's supervisor of his suspicion after consulting with police investigators, who urged him to try to obtain information about Kelley. Kelley, who has never been charged, sued Tanoos for defamation.

The Supreme Court upheld a ruling by a Vigo County judge. It reversed a ruling by the Indiana Court of Appeals, which had ruled there was enough evidence to warrant a trial. In its 5-0 opinion, the Supreme Court said Tanoos' statements were covered under "public interest privilege" because he was working with police.

[More] A reader writes:
Maybe there is no such thing as an intentional tort in Indiana after yesterday's rulings. Now a "public interest privilege" extends to publication of accusatory statements made other than to the police. And this one was also unanimous.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 3, 2007 08:01 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions