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Holmes v. Lea

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

May 18, 2018


          On appeal from the Twentieth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Feliciana State of Louisiana Docket Number 42, 599 Honorable William G. Carmichael, Judge

          Robert M. Marionneaux, Jr. Baton Rouge, LA and Brian M. Caubarreaux Amira M. Roy Marksville, LA Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant Kyle W. Holmes

          Mickey S. deLaup Travis J. Beslin Metairie, LA Counsel for Defendant/Appellee Tommy Lea


          GUIDRY, J.

         Plaintiff, who was arrested for stealing a missing dog, appeals a summary judgment dismissing his claims of defamation and emotional distress relative to the circumstances of the arrest.


         On April 30, 2013, Kyle Holmes's girlfriend discovered a stray dog at his residence. Calls to a local veterinarian and neighbors failed to reveal the owner of the dog, so the following day, Holmes posted a notice on Facebook that he was in possession of the dog and inquired whether anyone was willing to take it. A former high school classmate, Lori Williams, responded to the posting, expressing a willingness to take the dog. Holmes arranged to deliver the dog to Williams the following day. A couple of days later, Holmes left to go out of state on a six-day hunting trip.

         Soon after Holmes left on his hunting trip, he was contacted by one of his neighbors. The neighbor informed Holmes that he believed the owner of the stray dog was Tommy Lea. Although the neighbor provided Holmes with Lea's contact information, Holmes did not attempt to contact Lea until three days after he returned home from his hunting trip. In the meantime, because Lea had received no communication from Holmes, Lea contacted Kevin Garig, a deputy with the East Feliciana Parish Sheriffs Office, regarding the dog. Garig, in turn, contacted Holmes. Holmes informed Garig that he had given the dog to Williams and provided Garig with Williams's phone number. Williams, in turn, told Garig that the dog had run away.

         Due to certain discrepancies in the information conveyed by Holmes and Williams, as well as the delay in attempting to communicate with Lea about the dog, Garig filed an affidavit for warrant for Holmes's an arrest for the theft of Lea's dog.[1] Further investigation by law enforcement later revealed that Williams had not lost the dog as she had stated, but had given it away. The dog was later recovered and returned to Lea. The East Feliciana Parish District Attorney's Office, nevertheless, prosecuted Holmes on the charge of theft of an animal in violation of La. R.S. 14:67.2(B)(1).[2] Holmes was eventually found not guilty of the charge.

         On July 18, 2013, Holmes filed a petition for damages against Lea and Garig[3] claiming defamation, libel, slander, past lost wages, future lost wages, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, incurrence of legal expenses, and court costs premised on allegations that the defendants had made false and malicious statements that injured Holmes and colluded to have Holmes arrested. Lea filed an answer generally denying any liability for the injuries and damages claimed by Holmes.[4]

         On February 14, 2017, Lea filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that Holmes could not prevail on his claims of defamation, negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress, or otherwise prove entitlement to any of the damages claimed in his petition. A hearing on Lea's motion for summary judgment was held on March 13, 2017, following which the trial court granted the motion in favor of Lea and dismissed all of Holmes's claims. Holmes appeals that judgment, which was signed by the trial court on April 11, 2017.


         After adequate discovery, a motion for summary judgment is properly granted if the motion, memorandum, and supporting documents, show that there is no genuine issue as to material fact and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. La. C.C.P. art. 966(A)(3). The mover bears the burden of proving that he is entitled to summary judgment. However, if the mover will not bear the burden of proof at trial on the subject matter of the motion, he need only demonstrate the absence of factual support for one or more essential elements of his opponent's claim, action, or defense. La. C.C.P. art. 966(D)(1). If the moving party points out that there is an absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party's claim, action, or defense, then the nonmoving party must 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 law. La. C.C.P. art. 966(D)(1).

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the trial court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, appellate courts review evidence de novo under the same criteria that govern the trial court's determination of whether summary judgment is appropriate. Bice v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 16-0447, p. 3 (La.App. 1st Cir. 12/22/16), 210 So.3d 315, 318.


         Holmes assigns as error the trial court's granting of the motion for summary judgment dismissing his claims against Lea. In support of his sole assignment of error, Holmes argues genuine issues of material fact exist as to his claims of defamation, [5] intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress, such that summary judgment was improperly rendered. We will separately consider the summary judgment in relation to each of these claims.


         Defamation is a tort involving the invasion of a person's interest in his or her reputation and good name. Hence, a statement is defamatory if it tends to harm the reputation of another so as to lower the person in the estimation of the community, deter others from associating or dealing with the person, or otherwise expose the person to contempt or ridicule. Kennedy v. Sheriff of East Baton Rouge, 05-1418, p. 4 (La. 7/10/06), 935 So.2d 669, 674. In cases involving private individuals, a claim of defamation requires proof of all of the following: (1) a false and defamatory statement; (2) an unprivileged publication to a third party; (3) a showing of negligence based on the person either knowing the statement falsely defames another, acting in reckless disregard ...

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