This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc.,
Filed September 12, 2006
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C2-04-011543
Paul R. Hannah, Kelly & Berens, P.A., 3720 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Minge, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.
On appeal in this defamation action, appellant argues that because genuine issues of material fact exist, the district court erred by entering summary judgment. Because appellant cannot prove that respondent published a false statement, and a false statement is an essential element of a defamation claim, we affirm.
Appellant Steven Iverson initiated this defamation action against respondent Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc., based on a report that KSTP-TV broadcasted in November 2002. The report discussed a separate defamation action appellant filed against Robert Shogren.
In January 2001, Shogren called 911 after he observed a vehicle weaving in its lane and crossing or touching the fog line and the line dividing the lanes. Shogren believed that the driver might be impaired. State Patrol Trooper Troy McCormack responded to the call and located the vehicle, which appellant was driving. McCormack observed appellant’s vehicle make contact with the lane-dividing line twice within a one-quarter mile stretch of road. McCormack pulled the vehicle over and administered several field sobriety tests. Although McCormack observed some signs of impairment, he concluded that appellant was not dangerously impaired and was safe to drive; no citation was issued, and appellant was allowed to leave the scene. Appellant subsequently sued McCormack, claiming a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The federal district court entered summary judgment in favor of McCormack and the Eight Circuit affirmed. Iverson v. McCormack, 49 F. App’x 83 (8th Cir. 2002).
filed an affidavit in appellant’s case against McCormack, appellant sued
Shogren, alleging that he made false and defamatory statements in his 911 call. See Iverson v. Shogren, No. A03-1299,
2004 WL 885769 (Minn. App.
In introducing a report broadcasted on KSTP on November 7, 2002, the news anchor referred to the high number of 911 calls police officers receive each day, and noted that many of the calls are “from good Samaritans who call to report bad drivers.” The news anchor then stated that a “man who called to report what he thought was a drunk driver wound up getting sued for his good deed” and this man was “trying to get the law changed to protect other 911 callers from similar situations.” The news program then transitioned to Stinar’s report. Shogren appeared on camera and explained that he called 911 after he observed a vehicle driving at varying speeds and also driving over the fog line and the line dividing the lanes. Stinar stated that “[t]he state patrol responded, thought [appellant’s] driving was erratic and pulled him over. Based on field sobriety tests the trooper let him go.” Stinar next explained that, one year later, appellant filed a complaint against Shogren, claiming that Shogren filed a false report and appellant “experienced anger and humiliation” when asked to perform field sobriety tests. The rest of the report discussed Shogren’s concern that the lawsuit would discourage people from calling 911, and he wanted the state legislature to extend the state’s good-Samaritan law to protect 911 callers. At the end of the report, one of the news anchors commented that appellant refused an on-camera interview but wanted viewers to know that his lawsuit would “inform people that if they are going to call , they better not be lying about it.”
In November 2004, appellant filed a complaint against respondent, alleging that the news report’s statement that the state trooper observed erratic behavior was defamatory, as was the report’s implication that appellant was driving while impaired. The district court granted respondent’s motion for summary judgment, and this appeal followed.
The plaintiff in a defamation action bears
the burden of proving three elements: (1) a false statement; (2) publication of
the statement to a third party; and (3) harm to the plaintiff’s
reputation. Weinberger v.
A published true statement, however disparaging,
is not actionable as defamation. Keuchle v. Life’s Companion P.C.A., Inc.,
653 N.W.2d 214, 219(Minn. App.
2002). A statement need not be literally
true in every part, but must be true in its overall effect.
the veracity of Stinar’s statement that “[t]he state patrol responded, thought [his]
driving was erratic and pulled him over,” and the implication that he was
driving impaired. But the record demonstrates that this
statement is substantially true. McCormack stated that he stopped appellant’s
vehicle based on the information Shogren provided and McCormack’s direct
observations of the vehicle. In a deposition, McCormack acknowledged
that he might deem the specific driving behavior he witnessed “errant” rather
than “erratic,” but paired with Shogren’s call, he could not say appellant was
not driving erratically on the night in question. The report stated only that the state patrol
believed appellant’s driving was erratic; Stinar did not limit her statement to
McCormack’s direct observations. The
report conveyed the message that, overall, McCormack believed appellant’s
driving was erratic. A statement that presents a supportable
interpretation of the underlying situation is not false for purposes of defamation. Hunter
v. Hartman, 545 N.W.2d 699, 707 (
Appellant’s contention that the news report falsely implied that he was driving while impaired similarly finds no factual support in the record. First, McCormack determined that appellant was impaired to some degree, although not to an illegal level. Second, the language used in KSTP’s report carefully implies only that Shogren initially believed appellant was driving while impaired. The news anchor introduced the story stating that Shogren called to report “what he thought was a drunk driver.” The report later noted that Shogren “thought he saw a drunk driver” but followed the statement with, “[b]ased on the field sobriety tests the trooper let him go.” The report clearly indicates that, despite initial concerns by Shogren and McCormack, appellant was not illegally driving while impaired.
important when determining whether statements are false and defamatory. Schlieman
v. Gannett Minn. Broadcasting, Inc., 637 N.W.2d 297, 304 (
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.