Dad, Babysitter Lose Defamation Appeal
(CN) - An Iowa woman did not defame her ex-husband and his 17-year-old babysitter when she incorrectly told police that he had a naked photo of the babysitter on his phone, a state appeals court ruled.
Peter and Rujuta Vidal were going through a divorce in 2008 when Peter hired Danielle Verhoef to babysit the Vidals' 9-year-old daughter.
Later that year, the daughter reported that she had seen a nude photo of the babysitter on her father's phone and that the two acted inappropriately with each other.
The girl forwarded the photo to her mother, who called the police. Thomas Kozisek, police chief of Garner, Ill., spoke to Verhoef's parents about the allegations.
Kozisek later enlarged the photo and determined that it was not of Verhoef.
Peter Vidal and Verhoef filed separate lawsuits against Rujuta for defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The trial court granted Rujuta's motions to dismiss both cases, and the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed those rulings.
"Peter and Danielle argue a reasonable trier of fact could have found Rujuta knew the figure was not Danielle but exploited the situation to gain favor in the dissolution action with Peter," Judge Michael R. Mullins wrote.
"There is no such evidence in the record to support such a finding or to generate a fact question. Rujuta testified she contacted police because she believed the figure was Danielle, whom she knew to be a minor, and she was concerned both for Danielle and her own daughter," he added.
The plaintiffs had also argued that the daughter's statement were inadmissible hearsay, but Mullins noted that Rujuta filed a notarized affidavit from the daughter repeating the allegations.
Hearsay is a statement "offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted," he wrote. Because the daughter's statements were used to explain why Rujuta called police, not to prove the truth, they are not hearsay, the appeals court ruled.
"There is also nothing in the record to support a finding that Rujuta acted with knowledge the statements were false or with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity," Mullins added. "She believed the statements she made were true, based on her experience and her daughter's belief.