Appeals Court Upholds Dismissal of Slander
Case Filed Against State Farm; Supreme Court Review Sought
July 6, 2011
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently issued
a ruling upholding a Florida District Court's dismissal of a slander
suit brought by a Florida auto body shop against State Farm. However,
Lakeland, Fla.-based Gunder's Auto Center is seeking Supreme Court
review of the case, which could have implications for the auto glass
Gunder's Auto Center, based in Lakeland, Fla., filed
the original suit in March 2009, and alleged that State Farm
tortiously interfered with at least three of its customers and made
"slanderous and/or tortious statements to those identified
prospective customers." Gunder's claimed these false statements
included State Farm advising that the shop was overcharging its
customers; that it doesn't repair its customers' vehicles in a timely
and efficient way; and that Gunder's repair equipment does not pass
State Farm's inspection and is lacking in quality.
The suit was dismissed
in a summary judgment in April 2010, leading to the later
State Farm had argued in the case that "even if State Farm
agents uttered false statements about the plaintiff, the statements
are privileged." Florida law defines privileged statements
as "a communication made in good faith on any subject matter
by one having an interest therein, or in reference to which he has
if made to a person having a corresponding interest
or duty, even though it contains matter which would otherwise be
actionable, and though the duty is not a legal one but only a moral
or social obligation."
Based on this idea, the company argued that "because it was
acting as an insurer and was communicating with a party seeking
benefits under the insurance contract about an issue in which they
have a common interest-the prompt and full payment of the repairs,"
any statements made to insureds were "privileged."
The original judge agreed, and the recent decision of the appeals
court upheld the same opinion. However, the company is requesting
that the Supreme Court again review the decision.
"[Gunder's] respectfully submits that the decision by the
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal ... conflicts with a previous decision
and holding of the Florida Supreme Court ..." writes Brent
Geohagan of Geohagan P.A. in Lakeland, Fla., whose firm is representing
Ray Gunder, owner of Gunder's Auto Center, says the decision to
seek Supreme Court review came "after considerable thought,
counsel and discussion with family and close friends."
"... As I've said before, we're all-in and we're too close
to quit now and will continue until we either prevail or exhaust
all opportunities to do so," he adds.
Stay tuned to www.glassBYTEs.com
for the latest on this developing story.
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