‘Total Idiot’ Comment Wasn’t Defamatory

     LINCOLN, Neb. (CN) – The Nebraska Supreme Court upheld dismissal of a lawsuit from a home inspector whom a real estate agent called a “total idiot” in a mass company email.
     “Exercises in ‘name-calling’ generally fall under the category of rhetorical hyperbole,” the court wrote. It found that the email “might have been distasteful, but it was a statement of opinion and, therefore, not defamatory.”
     Matthew Steinhausen, a home inspector whose business functions primarily on client referrals from real estate agents, sued HomeServices of Nebraska in 2012 claiming that his business suffered after real estate agent Shelly Nitz maligned him in an email to more than 600 people. Steinhausen sought damages for defamation and interference.
     At issue was an inspection report Steinhausen prepared for a potential sale of a home near Seward, Neb., in 2008. Nitz wrote that the report went “unquestionably beyond the scope of a typical home inspection” and could hurt the sellers’ chances of completing the sale.
     Nitz also aired her grievances in a message sent to a company email listserv.
     “He did an inspection in Seward for the agent that sold one of my listings,” the email stated. “I will never let him near on of my listings ever again!!! Total idiot.”
     Three years later, Steinhausen received an anonymous letter in the mail that contained a copy of Nitz’s remarks. He filed a complaint with the Nebraska Real Estate Commission.
     The commission found that Nitz had violated fair trade practices bylaws, and ordered her to complete six hours of ethics courses.
     Steinhausen then filed a pro se lawsuit in Lancaster County Court, claiming he suffered $30,000 in damages as a result of Nitz’s comments.
     But the state supreme court on Jan. 23 affirmed summary judgment and dismissal, as Steinhausen failed to provide evidence of actual personal harm caused by the remarks and noted that he was unqualified to represent his business in the matter.
     “Exercises in ‘name-calling’ generally fall under the category of rhetorical hyperbole,” the 22-page opinion said. “Nitz’s e-mail might have been distasteful, but it was a statement of opinion and, therefore, not defamatory.”

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