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Olson v. Lesch

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

July 1, 2019

Lyndsey Olson, Respondent,
v.
John Lesch, Appellant.

          Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-CV-18-975

          Lisa M. Lamm Bachman, Tessa A. Mansfield, Foley & Mansfield, PLLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Marshall H. Tanick, Teresa J. Ayling, Meyer Njus Tanick, PA, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Bratvold, Presiding Judge; Jesson, Judge; and Smith, Tracy M., Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         A legislator's actions must be within the sphere of legitimate legislative activity in order to warrant legislative immunity under Minnesota Statutes section 540.13 (2018) or the speech or debate clause of the Minnesota Constitution.

          OPINION

          JESSON, JUDGE

         Appellant John Lesch challenges the district court's determination that he is not entitled to legislative immunity from respondent Lyndsey Olson's defamation suit stemming from a letter Lesch wrote to the mayor of St. Paul. We conclude that the letter is not an act within the sphere of legitimate legislative activity. Accordingly, we affirm.

         FACTS

         Appellant John Lesch is the state representative for house district 66B, which includes part of Ramsey County. Respondent Lyndsey Olson is the current St. Paul City Attorney and has a background in the Minnesota National Guard.

         This case arises from a letter that Lesch sent to the newly elected mayor of St. Paul in early January 2018. In that letter, Lesch congratulated the mayor on a well organized inauguration ceremony. Lesch then noted his experience with previous city administrations regarding lobbying and indicated his interest in beginning a conversation with the mayor's lobbying team before the legislative session began. He then expressed reservations about the mayor's hiring process for department heads.

         After noting general apprehension about the mayor's hiring process, Lesch focused on the mayor's appointment of Olson as St. Paul City Attorney. Lesch wrote that he was surprised by the mayor's selection, and that if he had known Olson was being considered for the position, he "would have registered grave concerns over her fit for the office." The letter continued to outline Lesch's concerns, which included his assertion that his "own experience with Ms. Olson in the Minnesota National Guard revealed her to be a prosecutor who would sacrifice justice in pursuit of a political win-even going so far as to commit misconduct to do so," and that the Minnesota National Guard investigated Olson for running a "toxic working environment." Lesch stated his "great concern" over "an in-coming City Attorney with a preexisting track record of integrity questions and management problems" and expressed his vested interest in the success of the St. Paul City Attorney's office as a former member of that office. Lesch then closed his letter by requesting that the mayor disclose several documents related to the hiring of Olson, including any information about investigations of Olson by the Minnesota National Guard and Olson's disciplinary record.

         Based on Lesch's statements in his letter to the mayor, Olson filed a lawsuit against Lesch for defamation per se. Lesch filed a motion to dismiss the action, based in part on his argument that he is entitled to legislative immunity under Minnesota Statutes section 540.13 and the speech or debate clause of the Minnesota Constitution. The district court concluded that Lesch was not entitled to immunity and denied his motion to dismiss. Lesch appeals.[1]

         ISSUE

         Is Lesch entitled to legislative immunity?

         ANALYSIS

         Lesch contends that he is entitled to immunity from Olson's suit pursuant to both Minnesota Statutes section 540.13 and the speech or debate clause of the Minnesota Constitution, which provides that, "[f]or any speech or debate in either house they shall not be questioned in any other place." Minn. Const. art. IV, § 10. We review the question of ...


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