PURYEAR LAW P.C. and ERIC D. PURYEAR, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
DIRK J. FISHBACK and JESSICA HARBAUGH, Defendants-Appellees.
from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Nancy S.
appeal the district court's dismissal of a defamation
action against the defendants.
D. Puryear and Eric S. Mail of Puryear Law P.C., Davenport,
Fishback and Jessica Harbaugh, Garber, pro se appellees.
Considered by Doyle, P.J., May, J., and Mahan, S.J. [*] Tabor, J., takes
Law P.C. and Eric Puryear (collectively, Puryear) appeal the
district court's dismissal of a defamation action against
Dirk Fishback and Jessica Harbaugh (collectively, Fishback),
contending the district court erred in granting
Fishback's motion for directed verdict. Upon our review,
Background Facts and Proceedings
sought Puryear's representation for a
postconviction-relief proceeding. Fishback entered into a
contract for legal services with Puryear and deposited a
$1000 retainer. Fishback made two additional payments, $192
and $135, over the next several months. Puryear reviewed
Fishback's case and explained his "options."
Fishback decided to end Puryear's representation with a
$112.50 balance remaining due on his account. Thereafter,
Fishback posted a negative online review about Puryear on
Google. "Dirk Fishbackk" wrote:
I would not recommend this lawfirm and agree with some of the
other neg[ative] reviews as I had the same issues after being
charged $1500 for really nothing being done. Can't even
make an appointment until they are paid in full and up to
date. You might get 7 days to pay. Working on the road I was
overdue before I even had a chance to get the bill.
filed a petition raising claims of breach of contract and
defamation against Fishback. The case was tried to a jury; at
the close of Puryear's evidence and again at the close of
all the evidence, Fishback moved for directed verdict on the
defamation claim. The district court granted the motion and
dismissed the defamation claim. Puryear then voluntarily
dismissed the breach-of-contract claim. Puryear
Standard of Review
review the district court's rulings on motions for
directed verdict for correction of errors at law. Estate
of Pearson ex rel. Latta v. Interstate Power & Light
Co., 700 N.W.2d 333, 340 (Iowa 2005). In reviewing such
rulings, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to
the nonmoving party to determine whether the evidence
generated a fact question. Dettmann v. Kruckenberg,
613 N.W.2d 238, 250-51 (Iowa 2000). "To overcome a
motion for directed verdict, substantial evidence must exist
to support each element of the claim or defense."
Yates v. Iowa W. Racing Ass'n, 721 N.W.2d 762,
768 (Iowa 2006). "Substantial evidence exists if
reasonable minds could accept the evidence to reach the same
defamation law "embodies the public policy that
individuals should be free to enjoy their reputation
unimpaired by false and defamatory attacks."
Bandstra v. Covenant Reformed Church, 913 N.W.2d 19,
46-47 (Iowa 2018) (citation omitted). "We recognize two
types of defamation: per quod and per se." Id.
Per se defamation has "a natural tendency to provoke the
plaintiff to wrath or expose [the plaintiff] to public
hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or to deprive [the plaintiff]
of the benefit of public confidence or social
intercourse." Bierman v. Weier, 826
N.W.2d 436, 444 (Iowa 2013) (citation omitted). In actions
between a private plaintiff and a nonmedia defendant, per se
defamation does not require proof of malice, falsity, or
damage. See id. Per quod defamation requires a third
party to refer "to facts or circumstances beyond the
words actually used to establish the defamation."
Bandstra, 913 N.W.2d at 46. "To succeed in
proving defamation per quod, a party must prove six elements:
(1) publication, (2) a defamatory statement, (3) falsity, (4)
maliciousness, (5) the statement was of or concerning the
party, and (6) a resulting injury." Id.
Puryear's petition raised the claim of defamation per se,
alleging Fishback's statements were "false" and
"attack[ed] the integrity and moral character of
[Puryear]." At the outset of trial, Puryear reiterated
it was proceeding as a defamation per se action. The parties
focused on two statements in Fishback's
review-"charged $1500 for really nothing being
done" and "[c]an't even make an appointment
until they are paid in full and up to date." Fishback
moved for directed verdict, claiming Puryear had not shown