Appeal from the 22nd Judicial District Court,
Parish of Washington, State of Louisiana Trial Court No.
108283, The Honorable William J. Knight, Judge Presiding.
J. Hogan, Jr. Hammond, Louisiana, Attorney for Plaintiff/
Appellant, Joshua Shane Barber.
O'Connor Covington, Louisiana, Attorney for Defendant/
Appellee, Willis Communications, Inc.
BEFORE: GUIDRY, PETTIGREW, AND CRAIN, JJ.
Shane Barber appeals a summary judgment dismissing his
defamation suit against his former employer, Willis
Communications, Inc. We affirm.
instituted this defamation action against Willis, alleging he
suffered injuries when Willis, his former employer, accused
him of theft in statements published to the local police
department, his former co-workers, the Louisiana Workforce
Commission (LWC), and others. Barber further alleges the
statements were made with a reckless disregard for the truth
and without a reasonable basis for believing them to be true.
Barber's petition specifically references statements in a
separation notice provided to him by Willis and forwarded to
the LWC, which stated Barber "was witnessed crumpling up
money from his drawer and putting it in his pocket." The
notice continued, "Upon inspection the following
morning, there was money missing."
trial court granted Willis' motion for summary judgment,
finding no evidence of any unprivileged communication
published to a third party, and dismissed Barber's suit.
courts review summary judgments de novo using the
same criteria that govern the trial court's consideration
of whether summary judgment is appropriate. Kennedy v.
Sheriff of East Baton Rouge, 05-1418 (La. 7/10/06), 935
So.2d 669, 686. That is, a motion for summary judgment shall
be granted if, after an opportunity for discovery, the
motion, memorandum, and supporting documents show there is no
genuine issue of material fact and the mover is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 966A(3).
burden of proof rests with the mover. La. Code Civ. Pro. art.
966D(1). If the mover will bear the burden of proof at trial
on the issue before the court in the motion, the burden of
showing there is no genuine issue of material fact remains
with the mover. See La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 966D(1);
Sims v. Maison Insurance Company, 16-1661 (La App. 1
Cir. 9/15/17), __So. 3d__, (2017WL4081531). After the mover
has made a prima facie showing that the motion
should be granted, the burden shifts to the non-moving party
to present evidence demonstrating that a material factual
issue remains. Jones v. Estate of Santiago, 03-1424
(La. 4/14/04), 870 So.2d 1002, 1006. However, if the mover
will not bear the burden of proof at trial, the mover need
not negate all essential elements of the adverse party's
claim but must point out that there is an absence of factual
support for one or more elements essential to the claim. La.
Code Civ. Pro. art. 966D(1). Thereafter, the burden shifts to
the non-moving party to produce factual support sufficient to
establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact
or that the mover is not entitled to judgment as a matter of
La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 966D(2). Because it is the applicable
substantive law that determines materiality, whether a
particular fact in dispute is material must be viewed in
light of the substantive law applicable to the case.
Bryant v. Premium Food Concepts, Inc., 16-0770
(La.App. 1 Cir. 4/26/17), 220 So.3d 79, 82, writ
denied, 17-0873 (La. 9/29/17), 227 So.3d 288.
is a tort involving the invasion of a person's interest
in his or her reputation and good name. Costello v.
Hardy, 03-1146 (La. 1/21/04), 864 So.2d 129, 139. The
essential elements required to prevail on a defamation claim
are (1) defamatory words, (2) publication, (3) falsity, (4)
malice, and (5) resulting injury. Starr v.
Boudreaux, 07-0652 (La.App. 1 Cir. 12/21/07), 978 So.2d
384, 389. Defamation actions raise issues related to the
constitutionally protected rights of free speech and freedom
of the press, and summary adjudication is recognized as a
useful procedural tool and an effective screening device for
avoiding the unnecessary harassment of defendants by
unmeritorious defamation actions that threaten those rights.
See Kennedy, 935 So.2d at 686.
motion for summary judgment, Willis asserts that Barber can
point to no evidence that Willis published defamatory
statements about him. The evidence submitted on the motion
for summary judgment established that on the morning
Barber's employment was terminated, a manager met Barber
in the parking lot and handed him the termination notice,
which accused him of theft. In his deposition, Barber
testified that no one else was present or overheard the
conversation between them. Barber further testified that he
had no knowledge of the Willis employee who signed the
termination notice relaying information regarding the alleged
theft to anyone else, including other employees or the
police. Barber also indicated that he was not contacted by
the police about the alleged theft after his termination.
However, Barber contends that Willis published ...