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Shaefen Huyser v. John D. Lynch Jr. and Mary Lynch

December 12, 2012

SHAEFEN HUYSER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JOHN D. LYNCH JR. AND MARY LYNCH, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Mahaska County, Daniel P. Wilson (motion to dismiss) and Joel D. Yates (trial), Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eisenhauer, C.J.

Defendants appeal the judgment entered on the jury's award of damages for slander. AFFIRMED.

Considered by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.

John Lynch Jr. and his mother, Mary Lynch, appeal a jury award of damages to plaintiff Shaefen Huyser in her civil action for slander. Finding no error, we affirm.

Shaefen and John are the unmarried parents of an eleven-year-old daughter, Z.L. John had regular phone conversations with Z.L., the conversations were tape recorded, and the tapes were played to the jury. Among other things, John told Z.L. Shaefen was sexually abused by her father, Z.L.'s grandfather, when Shaefen was a young girl. John stated Shaefen became pregnant from the incest and had an abortion. When Z.L. told John she didn't think her mother did drugs, John replied Shaefen was legally insane due to her past use of acid. John also stated Shaefen is a drunk who was trying to "hide something" and who doesn't deserve to have kids. Further, John was going to make sure Shaefen lost custody of Z.L. and two other children.

Shaefen is married to Jakab Huyser. In August 2008, defendant Mary Lynch had a conversation with Jakab's mother. At trial, Mary admitted telling Jakab's mother Shaefen "had been sexually abused by her father."

Shaefen sued John and Mary alleging slander per se and child endangerment.*fn1 Defendants answered and contemporaneously filed a motion to dismiss the child endangerment count. They argued the alleged criminal code violation did not give rise to a civil cause of action. The district court ruled:

A final ruling . . . as to whether the criminal statute in question confers or provides for a civil remedy will await further proceedings in this case. The court cannot state as a matter of law that [Shaefen's] Petition could not be granted under any state of facts shown by the pleadings.

Shaefen, individually and as the next friend of Z.L., filed an amended petition and added a count seeking damages from John for an alleged assault of Z.L. No other dispositive pretrial motions were filed by defendants, and trial to a jury commenced in August 2011. After Shaefen presented her evidence, defendants moved for a directed verdict on all counts. The court denied the motion as to the slander and assault counts, ruling:

On [slander] the tape-recordings and the testimony of . . . the mother-in-law, establish the statements that were made. Apparently the defense at this point . . . includes an admission that the statements were made . . . . Those statements are slander per se. Slander per se presumes damages. I don't believe that a directed verdict for lack of evidence of damages can be sustained in a case in which the law presumes damages by reason of slander.

With reference to [assault], Mr. Lynch admits the assault.

And the issue of damages is for the jury.

After discussing conflicting legal authorities, the court directed a verdict dismissing the child endangerment count and ruled child endangerment is not a valid tort theory and, even assuming arguendo there is a valid tort theory, the element of substantial risk had not been established.

At trial, John and Mary argued the statements were substantially true or were opinions. The jury disagreed and awarded damages for slander per se: $55,000 compensatory*fn2 and $100,000 punitive damages (John) and $10,000*fn3 compensatory and $25,000 punitive ...


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