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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Ind. Decisions - "Ex-professor loses appeal over lawsuit"

The Supreme Court's decision yesterday in the case of Virginia Hartman and Suzanne Swinehart v. Dr. Gabe Keri (ILB entry here - 2nd case) is the subject of a story today in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Niki Kelly reports:

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a former IPFW professor cannot sue two students who filed complaints against the teacher under the school’s anti-harassment procedure.

“We hold complaints made by a current student pursuant to a university anti-harassment policy are protected by an absolute privilege and cannot serve as the basis for civil liability to a person who is the subject of the complaint,” the court found in a unanimous decision.

Gabe Keri had sued Virginia Hartman and Suzanne Swinehart in Allen Superior Court for alleged slander, libel and malicious interference with Keri’s employment contract. The trial court refused to grant summary judgment to the women, which would have ended the case.

The Indiana Supreme Court took the case on interlocutory appeal to address an issue of first impression in Indiana – or a subject that has not yet been ruled on. * * *

Keri sued Purdue University in federal court, but the court eventually granted summary judgment on behalf of the school. He also sued Hartman and Swinehart in state court.

“Hartman and Swinehart acted under the procedure Purdue established,” the Supreme Court opinion said.

“Protecting their complaints with anything less than an absolute privilege could chill some legitimate complaints for fear of retaliatory litigation.”

The ruling also noted that Purdue’s procedure is orderly and reasonably fair and requires discipline for those who file knowingly false or malicious complaints.

“If Keri has been unfairly treated, his complaint is against Purdue University as the architect and implementer of the policy and procedures, not the students who invoked the process,” the decision said.

Karen Orr, attorney for Swinehart and Hartman, said she and her clients were pleased with the decision.

Keri’s attorney did not return several messages left Tuesday.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 2, 2008 06:09 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions