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NC: state employee sues for libel & slander: governmental immunity applies except for malice.

CASE FACTS: Robert Dempsey, a former Polk County EMS paramedic, brought suit for libel and slander against the Polk County EMS Director, Sandra Halford, and the Polk County EMS Medical Director, Alison Van Frank (collectively "defendants"). The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting the grounds of public official immunity, qualified privilege, and statutory privilege. The trial court denied the defendants' motion and remanded the case back to the trial court for the entry of an order for summary judgment for the defendants. The defendants appealed.

COURT'S OPINION: The Court of Appeals of North Carolina reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded the case back to the court for trial. The court held, inter alia, that "Absent evidence to the contrary, it will always be presumed that public officials will discharge their duties in good faith." Evidence offered to meet or rebut the presumption of good faith must be sufficient by virtue of its reasonableness, not by mere supposition. It must be factual, not hypothetical, supported by fact, not by surmise. If a plaintiff's forecast of evidence of malice is not sufficient to permit reasonable minds to conclude that good faith was nonexistent, then summary judgment for the defendant is proper. The public immunity doctrine protects public officials from individual liability for negligence in the performance of the governmental or discretionary duties. However, as the court noted, the public immunity doctrine does not protect public officials whose actions are determined to be malicious or corrupt conduct or beyond the scope of their official duties. In libel and slander cases brought against governmental employees and/or officials, the loss of governmental immunity can only result in situations in which a governmental official or employee acts out of malice toward the one who is allegedly the victim of libel or slander. That was not the situation in this case. The court found that based on the evidence available to the trial court, the plaintiff failed to overcome the presumption that the defendants were performing their duties in good faith and without malice. Where the evidence before a trial court offers no allegations from which corruption or malice might be reasonably inferred, the plaintiff has failed to show an essential element of his claim, and summary judgment is appropriate. Accordingly, the court not only reversed the trial court's denial of the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment but remanded the case for the entry of an order of summary judgment on behalf of the defendants. Dempsey v. Halford, (06/05/2007) S.E.2d -NC

Meet the Editor & Publisher: A, David Tammelleo, JD, is a nationally recognized authority on health care law. Practicing law for over 40 years, he concentrates in health care law with the Rhode Island firm of A. David Tammelleo & Associates. He has presented seminars on medical, nursing and hospital law throughout the United States. In addition to his writings as Editor of Medical Law's, Nursing Law's & Hospital Law's Regan Reports, his legal articles have been published in the most prestigious health law journals. A prolific writer, his thousands of articles, as well as his achievements as an attorney and lecturer, have won him recognition in Martindale-Hubbell's Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, Marquis Who's Who in American law, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World.
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Title Annotation:Medical Law Cases of Note
Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Medical Law's Regan Report
Article Type:Case overview
Date:Aug 1, 2007
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