(CN) – Board members of a watershed district are not shielded from all defamation claims, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled, reinstating a lawsuit against two members of the Middle Snake Taramac Rivers Watershed.
While serving on the watershed district board, Loren Zutz and Elden Elseth investigated alleged improprieties in the district’s payroll practices. They later sued fellow board members John Nelson and Arlyn Strobe, claiming the colleagues falsely accused them of inappropriate and illegal conduct during the investigation.
The lower court and court of appeals ruled for the defendants, citing their absolute legislative privilege, but the state high court reversed.
“We have consistently declined to extend absolute privilege to all government officials,” Justice G. Barry Anderson wrote, sending the case back to the lower court.
“Our precedent most relevant to the present dispute points us to qualified rather than absolute privilege.”