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Linn v. Montgomery

Supreme Court of Iowa

October 27, 2017

LINDA LINN and MARK SHUCK, Appellants,
v.
PAT MONTGOMERY, CHRISTY SCHRADER, and BRAD ALLEN, Appellees.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, J. Hobart Darbyshire (ruling on defendant Montgomery's motion for summary judgment), Marlita A. Greve (ruling on defendant Schrader's motion for summary judgment), Thomas G. Reidel (trial), Judges.

         Plaintiff appeals the district court order granting defendants' motions for summary judgment. AFFIRMED.

          Peter C. Riley of Tom Riley Law Firm, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellants.

          Elliott R. McDonald III and Ryan F. Gerdes of McDonald, Woodward & Carlson, P.C., Davenport, for appellee Pat Montgomery.

          Clark I. Mitchell and Aaron W. Lindebak of Grefe & Sidney, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellee Christy Schrader.

          Paula L. Roby and Nicholas J. Kilburg of Elderkin & Pirnie, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellee Brad Allen.

          WIGGINS, Justice.

         In this appeal, a plaintiff asks our court to decide if the district court properly granted summary judgment and partial summary judgment on his defamation claim based on the running of the statute of limitations. Additionally, we must determine if the court properly granted summary judgment on the plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim on the ground the defendants merely furnished information to law enforcement and thus, did not instigate his criminal prosecution. Due to an answer to a special interrogatory by the jury, we do not reach the statute of limitations arguments made on the defamation claim. On the malicious prosecution claim, we affirm the decision of the district court. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

         I. Relevant Facts.

         Linda Linn and Mark Shuck are spouses who resided in a condominium complex called Partridge Villa Building X (Building X) in Bettendorf, Scott County, Iowa. From 2004 to 2008, Shuck served as the president of the homeowners' association of Building X. Patrick Montgomery and Christy Schrader also resided in Building X. In 2012, Montgomery and Schrader reviewed financial records of Building X and prepared a written report of alleged wrongdoings by Linn and Shuck while he was president.

         On two occasions in January 2012, Montgomery spoke to an assistant county attorney with the Scott County attorney's office. In the initial meeting, after discussing the wrongdoings Linn and Shuck had allegedly perpetrated, Montgomery learned from the assistant county attorney that the statute of limitations barred all of the allegations. Montgomery then investigated further and, presumably for the first time, came across an alleged unauthorized water line scheme. This scheme concerned alleged unauthorized payments from the funds of the homeowners' association toward a water meter with a water line that serviced an outdoor spigot attached to the wall of Linn and Shuck's unit.

         On December 17, 2012, Montgomery delivered a binder summarizing the alleged wrongdoings by Linn and Shuck, including the water line scheme, to Officer Dennis Tripp with the Bettendorf Police Department. On March 4, 2013, Detective Brad Levetzow with the Bettendorf Police Department met with Montgomery to discuss the matters addressed in the binder. On March 12, Detective Levetzow interviewed Schrader about the alleged unauthorized charges and Shuck's alleged involvement. Two days later, Detective Levetzow initiated criminal charges by filing a criminal complaint and affidavit. The criminal complaint and affidavit alleged Shuck had committed theft by misappropriating homeowners' association funds to pay water bills from June 24, 1997, to March 16, 2010.

         On April 31, 2013, an assistant county attorney filed a trial information formally charging Shuck with second-degree theft. On July 3, the court dismissed the information against Shuck because the theft charge fell outside the applicable statute of limitations.

         II. Procedural History.

         On March 10, 2015, Linn and Shuck filed a petition in Scott County District Court, claiming defamation and malicious prosecution. Linn also alleged a loss of consortium claim.[1] Montgomery and Schrader filed separate motions for summary judgment.

          Specifically, Montgomery and Schrader argued they were entitled to summary judgment on the defamation claim as a whole and partial summary judgment on Shuck's defamation claim, respectively, because statements uttered before March 10, 2013, fell outside the two-year statute of limitations.[2] Schrader further argued she was entitled to summary judgment with respect to Linn's defamation claim because the summary judgment record lacked any indication that Schrader had defamed Linn. Unlike Schrader, Montgomery also sought summary judgment on Linn's loss of consortium claim. As for the malicious prosecution claim, Montgomery and Schrader asserted the ultimate decision whether to proceed with a criminal action rested with the county attorney's office. Thus, they argued, the malicious prosecution claim must fail.

         In resisting the motions for summary judgment, Linn and Shuck contended the discovery rule should apply to defamatory statements that are secretive or inherently undiscoverable, such as statements made to law enforcement, which are not public until the filing of the criminal complaint and minutes of testimony. Linn and Shuck alternatively argued the original defamer is liable for damages resulting from reasonably foreseeable republication or repetition of the statements.

         With respect to their malicious prosecution claim, Linn and Shuck argued Montgomery and Schrader knowingly made false assertions of wrongdoing because they knew about the alleged water line scheme but did not raise the issue in Montgomery's first meeting with the assistant county attorney. Thus, according to Linn and Shuck, Montgomery and Schrader did not believe the water line constituted criminal wrongdoing.

         The court granted summary judgment in favor of Montgomery on Linn and Shuck's defamation and malicious prosecution claims but denied summary judgment as to Linn's loss of consortium claim. As to Schrader, the court granted partial summary judgment on Shuck's defamation claim as to any statements made before March 10, 2013, summary judgment on Linn's defamation claim, and summary judgment on Linn and Shuck's malicious prosecution claim.

         Shuck's defamation claim against Schrader for statements made on or after March 10, 2013, and Linn's claim for her loss of consortium with her husband Shuck, based on the defamatory remarks made by Montgomery and Schrader, proceeded to a jury trial. In regards to Linn's loss of consortium claim, the court allowed the jury to consider all of the alleged defamatory remarks made by Montgomery and Schrader, including those made before March 10, 2013.

         The jury returned a verdict in favor of Montgomery and Schrader. Shuck and Linn filed a notice of appeal. However, only Shuck raises any issues in this appeal. Therefore, we will not consider any claims of Linn. We will lay out additional facts as needed.

         III. ...


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