(CN) – Two Indiana men can proceed with their claim that a Papa John’s pizza delivery driver defamed them by falsely accusing one of them of pulling a gun in the store, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled, reviving the case for trial.
Sanford Kelsey and Thomas Williams were handcuffed in Williams’ driveway after Kelly Eugene Tharp told police they Kelsey took out a gun while they were picking up pizza in the store where Tharp worked.
Police searched Williams and Kelsey in full view of their friends and neighbors, but police did not find a gun. The two men sued Tharp and Papa John’s for defamation.
The state supreme court sided with Papa John’s, ruling that the plaintiffs failed to prove that Tharp knew his statement was false and abused his qualified privilege protecting citizens who report crimes.
The men appealed after Tharp pleaded guilty to filing a false police report. The trial court denied the petition, but the state appeals court said the claims should be decided by a jury.
“Appellees make much of Tharp’s insistence that he saw Kelsey pull out a gun inside the Papa John’s restaurant, but the conflict inherent in Tharp’s self-interested utterances and his insistence on pleading guilty to falsely reporting a ‘male with a gun inside of Papa John’s Pizza’ creates a paradigmatic genuine issue of fact that a jury must resolve,” Judge Terry Crone wrote.