This is a case review of a defamation and slander lawsuit in which an attorney filed suit against the owner of a restaurant for making what she described as “malicious, willful, and reckless remarks about her, all which were patently untrue.” Those remarks, the attorney said, were intended to “embarrass, humiliate and vilify” her in the community.
The owner of the restaurant claimed that the attorney had dined at his restaurant and left without paying the bill. The owner decided to make an official complaint to the police and while the police were leaving after taking the report, they noticed the attorney in the parking lot of the restaurant. The police questioned her and then placed her under arrest for the Class C Misdemeanor of “Theft Under Fifty Dollars.”
Because of the arrest, the attorney’s name appeared in the local paper’s “Police Blotter”. The negative publicity from this caused the attorney to lose several clients and a substantial sum in lost revenue.
The attorney filed a defamation and slander lawsuit against the restaurant owner. The lawsuit also accused the owner of False Arrest, in addition to the defamation.
Statement of Facts…
On March 3rd, 2011, at about 12:30 p.m. attorney Anne Lund left the courthouse after completing her morning court docket. As she was driving back to her office, she noticed what appeared to be a newly opened Russian Delicatessen, and she decided to stop and have lunch.
After being seated, she ordered a spinach salad, a roast beef sandwich and a coke. While waiting for her meal, Lund heard someone at the next table call her name. She immediately recognized the person as another attorney she knew from the courthouse. Lund said hello. About 20 minutes later, and after finishing her meal Lund beckoned to her waiter and asked for her check. The check amounted to $15.65. Lund took out a twenty-dollar bill and left it on the table to cover the check and tip.
After leaving the money, she stood up, walked past the cash register and out the front door of the restaurant. The restaurant’s owner Marty Nekt was the only person permitted to use the cash register. Nekt had stepped away from the register for a couple of minutes. When he returned and saw Lund’s empty table, he called her waiter over and asked him if the woman paid him. The waiter said no so Nekt called the police.
The police happened to be close by and responded within less than five minutes. Nekt told them a woman had just finished eating and had walked out without paying her bill. He described her to the police as wearing a black skirt with a red blouse. Nekt became upset with the officers when they told him all they could do was file the report. The police, not amused, left the restaurant.
As they were about to get back into their squad car, the officers noticed two women speaking in the adjacent parking lot. One of the women was wearing a black skirt with a red blouse. They approached the woman, who turned out to be Lund, and began to question her.
When they confirmed she just left the restaurant only minutes before, they asked her if she paid her bill. Lund said of course she did. The officers asked her if she had a credit or debit card receipt. Lund said she had no receipt since she had paid in cash. The police officers asked her to turn around. They arrested her for the Class C Misdemeanor of “Theft Under Fifty Dollars.”
Shortly after, Lund was booked into the county jail where she sat for seven hours until the local magistrate set her bail. She paid the $100 bail in cash and left. Livid, she drove back to the restaurant and confronted Nekt. She threatened him with a false arrest and defamation and slander lawsuit for telling the police she left without paying her check.
Nekt directed her attention to a small sign on the register. It read,
“Customers Must Pay At the Register.”
Telling him that was ridiculous, Lund stormed out and drove back to her office.
Later a colleague called Lund and asked her if she read the local newspaper yet. In it, the colleague said, on the Police Blotter page was Lund’s name and the crime for which she was arrested the day before. Lund had enough. She prepared and filed within five hours a lawsuit against Nekt for False Arrest and Defamation of her character.
In her lawsuit Lund contended Nekt’s statement to the police, her arrest, and the publication of her arrest in the local newspaper defamed her character. She attached as exhibits the police report, and a copy of the Police Blotter page.
Prior to trial, Lund took the sworn depositions of every waiter and bus boy on duty within two hours of her being at the restaurant. She also deposed the attorney who greeted her that day.
Lund’s fellow attorney volunteered for her deposition. She said she was glad to give it because she had some very powerful testimony. She then testified under oath she happened to see Lund as Lund was about to leave the restaurant that afternoon.
Unable to get her attention, the colleague turned away. As she did though she distinctly remembered Lund placing what appeared to be a twenty-dollar bill on the table on top of the check. At the time, she thought nothing of it. But after reading about Lund’s arrest she knew she had to say something.
The intense questioning of the waiters and bus boys followed. Using an interpreter for two of the bus boys, Lund was able to illicit the following:
One of the bus boys had a reputation for taking waiter’s tips. Although no one actually saw him do it, all the waiters had a strong suspicion he was stealing. Lund called the bus boy to testify in the deposition. Knowing he was under oath and subject to imprisonment and deportation for perjury, the bus boy admitted he saw Lund leave the twenty-dollar bill on the table that day.
When he went to clean the table, he said, he took the twenty-dollar bill and placed it in his pocket. The waiter, he thought, would think the woman paid at the register with a credit card and probably also left his tip on the card as well. Only later did the waiter realize what happened. Nekt told him the woman left without paying the check. The waiter had no reason not to believe him.
Once the bus boy admitted to having stolen the $20, Nekt’s Attorney advised him it was time to negotiate a settlement.
Lund and Nekt’s Attorney were able to negotiate a settlement for the defamation and slander suit.
Nekt agreed he would take out a full page ad in the same newspaper which printed the news of her arrest. There Nekt would apologize to Lund, explaining Lund not only paid the check, but also left a tip of almost 30%.
Nekt would also pay Lund $100,000 to settle both the False Arrest and Defamation case.
Before accusing a person of the commission of a crime, even a minor one, be aware that doing so should be done with great care. Causing to be published information which is untrue can subject the person who caused the information to be published to a lawsuit for defamation of character through means of libel or slander.
Although one should be wary of causing to be published defamatory information, one should also always realize truth will be an absolute defense 100% of the time.
*This case example is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.
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