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Minke v. City of Minneapolis

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

August 5, 2013

Travis M. Minke, Respondent,
v.
City of Minneapolis, et al., Appellants.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Hennepin County District Court File No. 27CV1124159

Joshua Hauble, Hauble Law, PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

Susan L. Segal, Minneapolis City Attorney, Sara J. Lathrop, Kristin R. Sarff, Assistant City Attorneys, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellants)

Considered and decided by Stauber, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Schellhas, Judge.

STAUBER, Judge

In this appeal from the district court's order denying appellants' motion for summary judgment, appellants argue that respondent's defamation claim is barred by absolute privilege. Because absolute privilege does not extend to statements made by respondent's supervisor in response to a background check for employment purposes, we affirm.

FACTS

Respondent, Travis Minke, was employed by appellant City of Minneapolis (the city) between October 2006 and December 2007 as a Community Service Officer (CSO). The CSO program is designed to prepare individuals to eventually become police officers. Appellant Sgt. Janice Callaway was respondent's supervisor.

In December 2007, respondent resigned from the CSO program after his conditional job offer with the Minneapolis Police Department was rescinded. The events leading up to respondent's resignation are facts in dispute. After separating from his employment with the city, respondent applied to work for other police departments. Respondent received a conditional job offer from the White Bear Lake Police Department (WBLPD). A background investigation was conducted, but Sgt. Callaway did not respond to a request for information regarding respondent.

Respondent also applied for a position with the Mounds View Police Department (MVPD). As part of a background investigation, respondent named Sgt. Callaway as the contact person regarding his prior employment with the city, and authorized her to release information about him. An MVPD investigator, Officer Kirk Leitch, interviewed Sgt. Callaway regarding respondent. During the interview, Sgt. Callaway made several statements that respondent asserts were defamatory, including "attacks on [respondent's] honesty, integrity, character, work ethic, and performance." Respondent contends that Sgt. Callaway's statements to Officer Leitch caused the MVPD not to hire respondent.

Respondent filed a complaint in district court against appellants, claiming that Sgt. Callaway's statements were defamatory and that she intentionally interfered with respondent's prospective economic advantage, and seeking compensatory damages. Appellants moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted appellants' motion with regard to the claim for intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, but denied the motion as to respondent's defamation claim. Regarding appellant's absolute privilege defense, the district court concluded that the privilege was inapplicable because Sgt. Callaway's job duties did not require her to provide recommendations for former employees as evidenced by her failure to respond to the WBLPD's request for information regarding respondent.

This appeal, on the limited issue of whether absolute privilege bars respondent's ...


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