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Domina Law Client Wins Supreme Court Appeal of Defamation Lawsuit Against Nebraska Republican Party

Domina Law Client Wins Supreme Court Appeal of Defamation Lawsuit Against the Nebraska Republican Party – Supreme Court Says Jury Trial Should Occur

Dave Domina and our team at Domina Law Group recently secured a victory in the Nebraska Supreme Court when Justices ruled that a jury trial is warranted for a defamation lawsuit filed by our client against the Nebraska Republication Party.

The lawsuit filed by our client, a real estate agent and former GOP Legislative Candidate who claimed that she and her business suffered reputational harm when Nebraska GOP mailers falsely stated that she had been disciplined for breaking the law, had been dismissed by a lower court judge.

However, the Nebraska Supreme Court found that the trial judge erred in its decision to dismiss the case while key facts remained in dispute and that the lawsuit should be returned to the lower court for a jury trial.

About the Case

As reported by the Nebraska Examiner, Mr. Domina secured the appellate victory for Janet Palmtag, a real estate agent who ran as a general candidate for the Nebraska Legislature in 2020.

Although Palmtag was a registered Republican, the Nebraska Republican Party backed Palmtag’s opponent in the legislative primary race and subsequently sent out two mailers in October 2020 that falsely stated Palmtag had been disciplined by the Iowa Real Estate Commission for breaking the law and had lost her real estate license in Iowa.

In reality, Palmtag, who holds active real estate licenses in Nebraska and Missouri, chose to let her license in Iowa become inactive in January 2020 because she was not doing much business in the state. The only administrative action involving Palmtag’s real estate practice in Iowa occurred in 2018 when Palmtag, as the “designated broker in charge” and leading officer for a company employing 15 independent agents, signed a consent order with the Real Estate Commission acknowledging that one of her agents prematurely released money from a trust during a real estate transaction in violation of Iowa law. In addition to the acknowledgement, Palmtag also paid a fine.

While neither Palmtag nor the agent lost their real estate license in the matter, the attack mailers created and distributed by the Nebraska GOP conveyed that Palmtag had lost her license. This prompted Palmtag, with the help of Domina Law, to file a lawsuit against the state GOP, arguing that the Party’s mailers caused her and her business reputational harm. As Mr. Domina noted:

“Nobody lost their license. And nobody lost any money.”

In December 2022, a Lancaster County District Court judge dismissed Palmtag's suit after siding with Attorneys for the Nebraska GOP, who argued that Palmtag failed to prove the party acted with actual malice, a requirement Palmtag had to meet because she is considered a public figure, and that the case should not continue.

In its ruling on Friday, January 10, 2024, however, the Nebraska Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in that ruling by issuing a summary judgment while key points about the case remained in dispute – most significantly the question as to whether decisions behind the attack mailers greenlighted by the Nebraska GOP involved “actual malice,” or in other words that the state GOP said or wrote something false about her when it knew it was a lie or had serious doubts.

Ultimately, the Nebraska Supreme Court sided with Mr. Domina’s argument that a jury might be persuaded by evidence showing that the Nebraska GOP’s then-executive director could have done more to verify the mailer’s claims. This includes a copy of text messages exchanged between the director and a state party vendor, which also included a copy of the Iowa Real Estate Commission’s action against Palmtag’s firm.

“OK that’s not real,” the vendor texted, followed by “[y]our call boss.”

In its 39-page order, the state Supreme Court ruled that “there was sufficient evidence to present a genuine issue of whether the Party acted with actual malice,” and that “the court erred in granting summary judgment on the grounds that no reasonable juror could find by clear and convincing evidence that the party acted with actual malice.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling also lowered a standard in libel lawsuits that required public figures to prove special damages to prove libel.

“We find support for the premise that pleading and proving special damages is not an additional hurdle that a plaintiff in a public libel action must overcome,” the Court ruled.

In commenting on the ruling, Mr. Domina stated that the Supreme Court held that juries should decide defamation cases involving a public figure if a reasonable jury could be persuaded by a plaintiff’s “clear and convincing proof.” He also stated that the ruling and revival of the lawsuit should send a message:

“I hope it’ll sober up both parties and more candidates and make them more careful so they focus on issues and not attacks.”

You can read the Nebraska Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Palmtag v. Republican Party of Neb. here and coverage of the ruling featuring quotes from Dave Domina here.

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