Judge dismisses defamation suit against JACC members, awards attorney fees

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Ben Myers, ex-chair of the Jordan Area Community Council (JACC) has lost a defamation lawsuit against Jordan community members Dennis Wagner and Megan Goodmundson, and JACC board member Anne McCandless. Judge Charles A. Porter dismissed the defamation suit, and ordered Meyers to pay $2334.50 in attorney’s fees to the defendants. A counter suit by the defendants against Ben Meyers for abuse of process was also dismissed. Both judgments are “with prejudice,” which means that the lawsuits may not be refilled, although an appeal is possible.

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PDF of Judge Porter’s ruling
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In the suit, Myers claimed personal and professional defamation against the three defendants for their criticism of him, which “stems from Plaintiff being elected to a voluntary neighborhood organization in the North Minneapolis area, specifically, the Jordan Area community Council,” according to Porter’s Memorandum. Myers is one of the “old” board members who claim the “new” board officials elected in January were elected illegally. Last week Porter ruled against the “old” board’s call for a temporary injunction against the current board.

Myers alleged that Dennis Wagner, a former JACC board member, had written untrue statements that Myers was “untrustworthy, irresponsible, and immoral” and had a conflict of interest in his various roles within JACC. Myers accused JACC board member Ann McCandless of saying he was a racist and womanizer, as well as untrustworthy, unethical, and immoral, and of implying that he had stolen JACC money. Myers also accused Megan Goodmundson of defaming him by filing an ethics complaint with the Minnesota Board of Professional Responsibility. Myers alleged that the complaint said he was immoral, unethical, and engaged in illegal behavior that violated the JACC’s by-laws.

The three defendants asked the court to dismiss the case based on the Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (Anti-SLAPP statute), a fairly new law which protects citizens from being sued for speaking out about public policy and officials. According to the defense, the defendants’ criticism of Myers was protected speech because they were speaking about public policy regarding the JACC, a neighborhood organization receiving government funds.

Porter said that Myers’s defamation claim failed to “clearly and convincingly show the Defendants’ statements constitute defamation, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.”

He also dismissed the three community members’ counterclaim of abuse of process, which said that Myers was abusing the legal system by filing the lawsuit. Ferdinand Peters, the lawyer for the Wagner, Goodmundson, and McCandless, said the reason Porter dismissed the counterclaim is because “the judge wants us to end the entire case. I don’t disagree with him.” According to Peters, Porter felt that Ben Myer’s complaint wasn’t so devoid of all legal standing as to be frivolous, so he didn’t rule that the complaint was an abuse of process.

Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer. Email sheila@tcdailyplanet.net