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Saturday, March 2, 2024 | Back issues
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Paternity Claim Wasn’t Defamatory, Court Says

(CN) - A Texas man did not commit slander by saying his wife's uncle was actually her father and that he stole from him, a state appeals court ruled.

Juan Oliva began dating Pioquinto Davila's niece, Rosina, in the late 1970s, and the couple's marriage kept both families close for about 30 years.

As an accountant, Oliva also helped to plan Davila's estate and in this capacity allegedly learned that Davila thought he may actually be father to his niece, Rosina.

A 2008 DNA test eventually proved that Davila was not Rosina's father.

Davila and Oliva had developed an adversarial relationship about a year earlier when Oliva learned that Davila had written at least $50,000 in checks to his girlfriend, a Mexican national 42 years his junior.

Oliva asked Davila for an accounting of the family trust and both men hired attorneys. In July 2008, Oliva learned that property he had kept in Davila's home had been removed. He told police that Davila was one of seven people who had access to the house and thus might be considered a suspect.

In a 2009 lawsuit, Davila claimed Oliva slandered him by naming him as a suspect for the stolen property and saying he was Rosina's father.

A jury agreed in March 2010 that Oliva owed $250,000 for defaming Davila and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

The San Antonio-based fourth appellate court reversed and issued a take-nothing judgment on Dec. 14.

"Nothing in the record supports a finding that Oliva's statements in the police report or to (a police investigator) were anything more than his opinion about the circumstances surrounding his missing property," Justice Sandee Bryan Marion wrote for the court. "In fact, the evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that Oliva honestly believed Davila was a suspect."

The jury could also not have found defamation in the statements that Davila had an affair with his brother's wife, Josefina Rodriguez, and thus might be Rosina's father.

"It is true that DNA tests showed that Davila was not Rosina's father," Marion wrote. "And, Davila denied that he was Rosina's father. However, Davila was not asked and he did not deny having an 'affair' and/or 'sexual relationship' with Josefina. Because Davila denied only being Rosina's father - and no evidence was adduced denying an affair or sexual relationship - we conclude the evidence was legally insufficient to support the jury's finding that this statement was false.

Marion also noted that Davila did not show how Oliva's statements damaged Davila's reputation.

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