Former Moose Lake police officer wins retrial in defamation lawsuitCloquet attorney Tom Skare said he’s been told it may be a first in Minnesota court history: four trials on the same case.
By: Mark Stodghill, Duluth News Tribune, Pine Journal
Cloquet attorney Tom Skare said he’s been told it may be a first in Minnesota court history: four trials on the same case.
Skare represents Patrick Longbehn, a former Moose Lake police officer who sued a man for defamation for labeling him “Pat the Pedophile.” The case went from being the largest jury award in Carlton County history to no award when a judge overruled jurors and determined damages weren’t warranted in 2005.
In a decision issued Tuesday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals sent the case back to Carlton County District Court for a fourth trial, reversing Judge Dale Wolf’s decision denying Longbehn a new trial for damages.
Longbehn, 44, filed a lawsuit in 2001 claiming that Moose Lake resident Robin Schoenrock defamed him with the derogatory nickname. At the time, Longbehn was 34 and living with an 18-year-old woman. He claimed the pedophile label led to his firing after eight months as a Moose Lake police officer.
In November 2005, a jury determined that Longbehn should get $573,000 in damages. Wolf ruled five months later that there was no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to award damages to Longbehn.
Longbehn took his case to the Court of Appeals. The appeals court ruled that a false statement referring to another person as a pedophile is defamatory because it imputes serious sexual misconduct to another and damages are presumed. The three-judge panel ruled that Wolf didn’t err, however, in throwing out the jury award of $250,000 in punitive damages and $90,000 for past and future wage loss.
The Court of Appeals ruled that the special verdict form Wolf provided for jurors in a May 2009 retrial erroneously required Longbehn to prove he actually was harmed by Schoenrock’s defamatory statement. However, all the jury was supposed to determine was what amount of money would fairly compensate Longbehn.
The only issue for jurors to decide in last year’s retrial was general damages for past and future harm to Longbehn’s reputation, mental distress, humiliation, embarrassment and future health-care expenses. Instead, it found that Longbehn didn’t suffer harm to his reputation.
Duluth attorney Jim Balmer represents Schoenrock. Balmer said he has represented his client for free because his client can’t afford to pay for a lawyer.