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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, February 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Labeling Son a ‘Thief’ Was Truth, Not Smear

(CN) - A Louisiana RV dealer did not defame his son by calling him a "thief" and a "liar," the state appeals court affirmed, ruling that the father has proved that the son stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from his company.

Alan and Jeff Kite sued their father, Robert Kite, in 2006 after breaking away from the the recreational vehicle dealership that Robert Kite founded in 1961.

The brothers left Kite Bros. LLC after their father objected several unauthorized pay raises the men set up to inflate their own salaries in 2005. While the brothers took an extra 10 percent of the company's revenue, Alan decided to more than triple his own salary, which already amounted to more than $200,000 a year before the raise.

Alan testified that he and his brother planned to take the extra money "until everything settled down after the storm [Hurricane Rita]," according to the court.

When Alan left, or was fired from, the company, he took business papers without his father's permission, leading the police to get involved.

Alan told the police officer that he would return the papers the next day. He did not do so, however, and instead had his attorney return some of the papers to his father's attorney seven months later.

Alan and Jeff started their own RV business and sued their father for defamation and retaliatory discharge. When the brothers had a squabble of their own, however, Jeff and his father reconciled, and Jeff dropped out of the lawsuit.

As Alan's lawsuit continued, the trial court threw out the claim that Robert defamed his son by calling him a "liar" and a "thief."

The Third District Louisiana Court of Appeals upheld the decision on Oct 5.

"The evidence clearly established Alan, without his father's permission, raised his salary substantially and also unilaterally gave himself an unauthorized percentage of all revenues of Kite Bros. LLC," Judge Sylvia Cooks wrote for a three-judge panel. "Further, it was undisputed that Alan, without permission, removed business documents from the Kite Bros. LLC office."

"He also refused to return the records, despite his statement to police that he would do so," she added. "The trial court did not err in granting summary judgment dismissing Alan's claim for defamation."

The judges also upheld dismissal of Alan's claim for a 1 percent ownership interest in his father's company, and they agreed that Alan cannot claim he was ousted for supposedly voicing an objection the business's practice of renting RVs.

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