FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2002-19037,
DIVISION "E" Honorable Clare Jupiter, Judge
S. Hilferty COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT
Richard E. King Renee S. Melchiode MELCHIODE MARKS KING, LLC,
Jeff Landry ATTORNEY GENERAL Lance Guest Shelley Winters
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERALS LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
LITIGATION DIVISION COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES
composed of Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Daniel L. Dysart,
Judge Madeleine M. Landrieu, Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Judge
Sandra Cabrina Jenkins
Madeleine M. Landrieu Judge
Jamus Jacobs, appeals the district court's granting of
two motions for summary judgment against him, and the trial
court's denial of his motions for new trial as to each
ruling. The trial court's rulings dismissed with
prejudice the defamation claims brought by Mr. Jacobs against
two separate groups of defendants. For the reasons that
follow, we affirm.
AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW
plaintiff is a former employee of The Oath for Louisiana,
Inc. (the "Oath"), a private insurance company
operating in Louisiana. On December 10, 2002, Mr. Jacobs
filed suit against the Oath, Venture Health Partnership
Group, Inc. ("VHPG"), The Scheur Management Group,
Inc. ("SMG"), Barry S. Scheur, Nancy Belle, the
Louisiana Department of Insurance (the "DOI"),
James Robert Wooley (individually and in his capacity as
Acting Commissioner of the Louisiana Department of
Insurance), and Amy Whittington. Mr. Scheur, Ms. Belle, and
SMG (collectively, the "Scheur defendants") filed
one of the motions for summary judgment under consideration
here; Mr. Wooley, Ms. Whittington, and the DOI (collectively,
the "DOI defendants") filed the other. The facts
underlying Mr. Jacobs' action are as follows.
Scheur began operating the Oath through the companies he
solely controlled, SMG and VHPG, when the state of Louisiana
allowed him to take over Southeast Medical Alliance in 1999.
Mr. Jacobs was hired by Mr. Scheur to assume the position of
Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Oath, and began
working for the company on August 1, 2000. Between late
October and early November of 2000, Mr. Jacobs supported the
decision of the Oath's Chief Financial Officer, who
refused to sign the Oath's third quarter financial report
required by the DOI. Mr. Jacobs objected to the report
because it included an improper reclassification of certain
claims by the Oath, which made a loss of several million
dollars appear to be a profit of $500, 000.00. As a result of
this improper reporting, the Oath appeared to be in
compliance with the DOI's statutory reserve requirements.
Later, in December of 2000 and January of 2001, in reviewing
the Oath's budget, Mr. Jacobs questioned the $325, 000
monthly consulting fee the Oath was paying to Mr.
Scheur's company, SMG. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Jacobs was
fired, allegedly without being given a reason for his
termination. The termination became effective February 2,
October 26, 2001, Mr. Jacobs filed a wrongful termination
claim (the "2001 lawsuit"). In addition to alleging
that he had been wrongfully terminated, Mr. Jacobs alleged
that Mr. Scheur had made improper payments from the Oath to
his children's trust accounts, that Mr. Scheur was taking
excessive consulting fees, that Mr. Scheur had illegally
reclassified claims, and that the DOI's Deputy
Commissioner had improperly provided information to the Oath
about another insurance company's products. The 2001
lawsuit was settled in December of 2001.
December 10, 2001, before Mr. Scheur had paid Mr. Jacobs the
final installment of the money due to him under the
settlement agreement, an article was published in the New
Orleans City Business titled "State Launches
Investigation Based on Suit Against Oath." The article
focused on allegations made by Mr. Jacobs in the 2001
lawsuit. The article contained quotes from Mr. Scheur and Mr.
Wooley in response to those allegations. In pertinent part,
the article read:
Scheur says the allegations are "beyond absurdity."
"This was a disgruntled employee who was a former senior
executive for one of our competitors" Scheur says.
"The lawsuit has been settled and withdrawn. I
vehemently deny all of the allegations."
reporter also noted that Mr. Scheur had refused to provide
the financial terms of the settlement with Mr. Jacobs. The
article also contained statements made by Mr. Scheur
concerning the DOI's investigation. Mr. Scheur was quoted
as saying that he "welcomes the investigation" and
also: "I have a great relationship with the Department
of Insurance. I know that I am going to be vindicated."
Mr. Scheur also stated, regarding the Oath's finances,
"I've never tried to hide when we have had financial
difficulties. When we have had losses, we have reported
losses. I wouldn't even know how to change the
Wooley, too, was quoted in the City Business article. As to
Mr. Wooley, the article read:
Acting Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley says he
opened an investigation two weeks ago into the accusations in
the lawsuit. Nevertheless, he says the motive behind the
allegations makes him "a little leery" of them.
"There was a lot of stuff in the lawsuit that seems
intended to get publicity so they could try to get a
settlement, " Wooley says.
days later, on December 13, 2001, the Baton Rouge Advocate
published an article entitled "Insurance chief eyes The
Oath Operations." The article restated many of the
allegations raised by Jacobs in his 2001 lawsuit. In
responding to these allegations, Mr. Scheur was quoted in the
article as stating:
I welcome any review that the DOI believes is necessary. The
lawsuit is frivolous, baseless, and absurd. The allegations
have been withdrawn by the party filing them.
Whittington, acting as a spokesperson for the DOI, was also
quoted in the Advocate article. That portion of the Advocate
Acting Insurance Commissioner J. Robert Wooley confirmed
through a spokeswoman [Wooley] Tuesday that he is
"looking into" The Oath's financial reports
filed in the third quarter of 2000 after accusations of
accounting irregularities were leveled in a wrongful
termination lawsuit filed by the company's former
marketing director…But Wooley's action was not an
investigation, the spokeswoman said…. "A person
at the Department of Insurance has been given the task of
looking at the allegations, " Amy Whittington said.
"This is not a big thing. It's not a top priority
for the Department of Insurance." Whittington said
Wooley took action because he thought it was the
"responsible thing to do" since the allegations
were made in a lawsuit….But the review was not a high
priority since the allegations were made by "a
disgruntled employee, " she said.
2002, following the publication of these articles, Mr. Jacobs
filed the defamation lawsuit that is the subject of the
instant appeal. The matter was stayed by the district court
for approximately ten years (from March 11, 2003, until April
2, 2013) while the Oath and VHPG completed liquidation.
March 4, 2015, the Scheur defendants filed a motion for
summary judgment and on September 22, 2015, the DOI
defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, both motions
asserting that Mr. Jacobs, as a matter of law, could not
prove his defamation claims. The motions were heard by the
district court on January 8, 2016. The court issued written
judgment granting both motions on February 26, 2016. Mr.
Jacobs filed motions for new trial regarding both grants of
summary judgment against him, which were denied by written
judgment dated May 19, 2016. This appeal followed.