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Defamation Claim Survives Motion to Dismiss

Published by on January 14, 2011

In Suarez v. Loomis Armored US, LLC, the Eastern District of Virginia denied the employer’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint, finding that the plaintiff employee had properly pled a defamation claim under Virginia law.  More after the break. The plaintiff, James Suarez, was a former employee of the defendant Loomis Armored US, LLC (“Loomis”), […]

In Suarez v. Loomis Armored US, LLC, the Eastern District of Virginia denied the employer’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint, finding that the plaintiff employee had properly pled a defamation claim under Virginia law.  More after the break.

The plaintiff, James Suarez, was a former employee of the defendant Loomis Armored US, LLC (“Loomis”), an armored vehicle company that provides services to banks.  Suarez had been employed as a driver responsible for picking up and transporting money.  Loomis terminated Suarez’s employment on May 28, 2009, in a termination letter that listed various monetary shortages Suarez was allegedly responsible for, stating that “[t]he sole common denominator with access to the cash in each loss was James Suarez.” 

Suarez alleged that Loomis accused him of theft in order to terminate him for testifying at a coworker’s unemployment hearing.  Suarez also alleged that on September 1, 2009, one of his former coworkers told a Walgreen’s employee during a service stop that Suarez “stole a bunch of money” according to Loomis employees.  Suarez subsequently filed suit, alleging that a Loomis employee had made defamatory statements about him.  Loomis filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.

The court began its analysis by setting forth the standard for ruling on a motion to dismiss.  The court stated that if the complaint alleges, either directly or indirectly, each of the elements of a claim, it is sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.  The court held that to state a defamation claim under Virginia law, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts “to raise beyond a speculative level: (1) the publication of (2) an actionable statement with (3) the requisite intent.”  Suarez argued that the statement made by the Loomis employee was defamation per se because it imputed to him the commission of a crime and unfitness to perform his job duties, and was made with malice.  Loomis argued that the statement was subject to a qualified privilege because it was made to a person with a common interest in the subject of Suarez’s termination.  The court rejected this argument, stating that Loomis had not shown that the Walgreen employee’s job duties included discussing the termination of a Loomis driver.  Therefore, the court concluded that Suarez had properly pled a defamation claim and denied Loomis’s motion to dismiss.

A copy of the opinion can be found here.

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