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 industry.

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 appeal.

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 a duty … 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 Gunder's.

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™ for the latest on this developing story.

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