The Tennessee Court of Appeals has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit brought against Congressman Chuck Fleischmann by former state GOP chief of staff Mark Winslow.
The lawsuit accused the state GOP of leaking confidential information in an attempt to hinder the campaign of former chairwoman Robin Smith’s for the 3rd District seat in Congress in 2010.
The complaint also charged that Rep. Fleischmann and advisor Chip Saltsman defamed Mr. Winslow in a TV ad that accused Ms. Smith of paying out “lavish bonuses” to Mr. Winslow and other staff members.
Mr. Fleischmann gained a narrow victory over Ms. Smith in the election, and he went on to win subsequent terms in 2012 and 2014.
The state GOP reached a settlement with Mr. Winslow.
The appeals court said, "Mark Winslow brought suit against Charles Fleischmann and his campaign advertising consultant, John Saltsman, to recover for allegedly false and defamatory statements made in the course of Mr. Fleishman?s campaign for election to the United States Congress, and related contractual claims. Mr. Fleishman and Mr. Saltsman moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the statements were not false or capable of defamatory meaning or published with actual malice, and that they took no action to induce a breach of contract or otherwise interfere with the relationship between Mr. Winslow and the Tennessee Republican Party.
"Mr. Winslow did not contest the grant of summary judgment on the contract claims; the trial court granted the motion as to the defamation and false light claims, holding that there was no evidence from which to infer malice, that the statements were not defamatory or capable of a defamatory meaning, and that any statements upon which the action was based which related to Mr. Winslow were either true or substantially true and, therefore, not actionable. Mr. Winslow appeals.
"Because Mr. Fleishman and Mr. Saltsman demonstrated that the undisputed facts negate the element of actual malice which is essential to the defamation and false light claims, we affirm the trial court?s grant of summary judgment."