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E-FILED 2018 MAY 21 1:39 PM CARROLL - CLERK OF DISTRICT COURT

IN THE IOWA DISTRICT COURT FOR CARROLL COUNTY


______________________________
)
JACOB M. SMITH, )
)
Plaintiff, ) No. CVCV039797
)
vs. )
)
JARED J. STRONG and )RULING ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION
HERALD PUBLISHING COMPANY, ) FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
)
Defendants. )
______________________________)

On May 11, 2018, Defendant’s Motion for Summary

Judgment came before the Court for hearing. Jim VanDyke

appeared for the Plaintiff; Michael Giudicessi and Susan

Elgin appeared for the Defendants.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has filed this civil lawsuit stating

causes of action of libel, slander, and related claims.

The operative undisputed facts indicate the following:

1. Plaintiff, Jacob Smith, worked as a police

officer for the City of Carroll, Iowa. He “resigned” on

July 17, 2017, after being informed by Carroll Police Chief

Brad Burke that he would otherwise be fired.

2. Plaintiff’s claims arise from a newspaper

article that appeared in the Carroll Daily Times Herald

that was written by Defendant Jared Strong and published on

July 18, 2017. The headline for the article indicated

“Carroll cop who courted teenage girls resigns.”


E-FILED 2018 MAY 21 1:39 PM CARROLL - CLERK OF DISTRICT COURT

3. The record submitted indicates the following

additional undisputed facts:

a. Smith met Randi Rinehart when she was 17

and still in high school. The initial meeting was the

result of Smith responding in his police capacity to a 911

call. Smith was married.

b. A relationship developed between Smith

and Rinehart, at age 17, that led to a sexual encounter.

Rinehart moved in with Smith while still a senior in high

school.

c. Smith also had an intimate relationship

during this period with Brooke Warneka, who was 19 years

old at the time.

d. Smith had previously been fired by the

City of Sumner for an inappropriate relationship with a 16-

year-old girl. The reason for his firing was reported as

“actions unbecoming of a police officer” and this, as

required, was reported to the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

e. Smith’s supervising police sergeant read

the news article in question and noted, under oath, that

the article was factually correct.

f. Carroll’s City Manager testified, via

deposition, that cultivating sexual relations by a police

officer with high-school-aged females is not reflective of

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good moral conduct and the citizens of Carroll would not

condone such activity.

g. The Carroll Police Department did an

“internal investigation” of the situation, which confirmed

that Smith and Rinehart had an intimate relationship that

began when she was a 17-year-old high school student. It

was confirmed that Rinehart moved in with Smith and lived

with him during her senior year.

h. Officer Smith testified at his deposition

that the investigation of his relationship with Rinehart

was “bullshit.”

i. Jacob Smith also testified at his

deposition that having sex with a 17-year-old girl “looks

like shit” and his relationship with Ms. Rinehart “wasn’t

right.”

j. That the news article written by Jared

Strong was based upon records obtained from the City of

Carroll through an open records request and numerous

interviews, which included Rinehart’s former boyfriend and

Smith’s ex-wife. Strong also reviewed public records from

the City of Sumner, City of Carroll, and Iowa Courts Online

in preparation of the article in question.

k. In Strong’s interview with Smith’s ex-

wife, she referred to Smith as a “pedophile” or “predator.”

Those terms were not defined. Strong used those quotes


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E-FILED 2018 MAY 21 1:39 PM CARROLL - CLERK OF DISTRICT COURT

from Smith’s ex-wife in his article. Strong indicated he

used those references in the article because they

represented opinions from Smith’s ex-wife, and given the

factual circumstances, were substantially true.

l. Smith’s ex-wife, in her deposition for

this case, indicated that she thought the use of the terms

“pedophile” or “predator” were appropriate given Jacob

Smith’s use of his position of authority (i.e. police

officer) to seduce an underage female.

m. The terms used in the story (i.e.

“pedophile”/”predator”) were considered by the publisher to

be imprecise terms that were undefined and were the

“opinions” of Smith’s ex-wife. The publisher of the

article in question takes the position that the reporting

about Officer Smith was accurate and true.

n. On August 1, 2017, after the date the

article was published, Chief Burke of the Carroll Police

Department sent a memo to the Daily Times Herald, which

stated:

Jacob Smith resigned from the Carroll


Police Department in lieu of
termination on July 17, 2017 after
being informed that a department
investigation concluded he had violated
Carroll Police Department Standard
Operating Procedure Professional
Conduct and Responsibilities subsection
1 STANDARD OF CONDUCT: members and
employees shall conduct their private
and profession [sic] lives in such a
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manner as to reflect credit on the


department and city of Carroll.

o. Plaintiff, at his deposition, offered no

substantive evidence that the news article resulted in

reputational harm other than his own statement.

p. The record submitted indicates a total

lack of evidence that Defendants knew that the article

published on July 18, 2017, was false or published with

malice.

DISCUSSION

Iowa law clearly indicates that “[t]he public has

a right to have for peace officers [persons] of character,

sobriety, judgment and discretion.” Millsap v. Cedar

Rapids Civil Service Comm’n, 249 N.W.2d 679, 684 (Iowa

1977) (quoting Edward v. Civil Service Comm’n, 297 N.W.2d

85, 288 (Iowa 1939)). This statement of long-standing

policy serves as the foundation upon which this ruling is

based.

The rules and standards applicable to summary

judgment are well-known and require minimal reference.

When the pleadings, discovery, and other filings show the

absence of a genuine issue of fact, the moving party is

entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Iowa R.Civ.P.

1.981. See also Estate of Gottschalk v. Pomeroy Dev. Inc.,

893 N.W.2d 579, 584 (Iowa 2017). Once undisputed facts are

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shown, the burden shifts to the resisting party to

demonstrate the existence of genuine facts to be tried by a

jury. See Iowa R.Civ.P. 1.981; Konz v. Ehly, 451 N.W.2d

504, 506 (Iowa Ct. App. 1989)(citations omitted).

Here, this case involves First Amendment rights

and freedoms and the courts are instructed “to determine

whether allowing a case to go to a jury would, in the

totality of the circumstances, endanger first amendment

freedoms.” See Jones v. Palmer Commc’ns, Inc., 440 N.W.2d

884, 889 (Iowa 1989)(citations omitted).

Officer Smith alleges defamation and related

false light privacy claims based on the article authored by

Jared Strong and published by the Herald Publishing Company

in the Carroll Daily Times Herald on July 17, 2017. Out of

context, Smith objects to no less than 20 statements

contained within the article.

In this case, the Defendants are representatives

of a media outlet. As such, the doctrine of libel per se

is not applicable. See Bierman v. Weier, 826 N.W.2d 436,

448 (Iowa 2013). To prevail on his defamation claim, Smith

has the burden, amongst other elements, of showing that the

publication was false and defamatory. See Johnson v.

Nickerson, 542 N.W.2d 506, 511 & n.3 (Iowa 1996). Smith

must also prove the requisite degree of fault. See Jones,

440 N.W.2d at 900; Nickerson, 542 N.W.2d at 511. Where


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proving actual malice, Smith must not only prove falsity

but also that Defendants either knew of the falsity at the

time the article was published or they acted with reckless

disregard of the truth. See Blessum v. Howard Cnty. Bd. of

Supervisors, 295 N.W.2d 836, 843 (Iowa 1980). The showing

of actual malice must be by clear and convincing evidence.

See Stevens v. Iowa Newspapers, Inc., 728 N.W.2d 823, 830

(Iowa 2007). Bertrand v. Mullin, 846 N.W.2d 884 (Iowa

2014). Statements of opinion and hyperbole are not

actionable.

From a review of the record presented here, the

article at issue is accurate and true and the underlying

facts undisputed. Further, Plaintiff fails to show that

the alleged defamatory publication was false or published

with reckless disregard as to the article’s falsity. See

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 280 (1964);

Barreca v. Nickolas, 683 N.W.2d 111, 121 (Iowa 2004).

Under Iowa law, “[t]he fact the statement is true or

substantially true is a complete defense [to a defamation

claim], regardless of bad faith or malicious purpose.”

Smith v. Des Moines Public School System, 153 F.Supp.2d

1044, 1054 (S.D. Iowa 2000) (quoting Iowa Civil Jury

Instruction 2100.6), affirmed, 259 F.3d 942 (8th Cir 2001);

see also Wilson v. IBP, Inc., 558 N.W.2d 132, 140 (Iowa

1996). Further, Smith’s status as a law enforcement


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officer makes him a “public figure” and gives rise to an

issue of public interest. Cf. Mercer v. City of Cedar

Rapids, 104 F.Supp.2d 1130, 1168-69 (N.D. Iowa

2000)(discussing general public’s valid interest in

termination of public employee), affirmed, 308 F.3d 840 (8th

Cir. 2002). See also Iowa Code Section 22.7(11)(a)(5).

Plaintiff’s main claim relates to a reference

made by his ex-wife where she refers to Smith as a

“pedophile” and a “predator.” The article in question

clearly attributes those statements of opinion to Ms.

Harford, who is Smith’s ex-wife. Such statements

constitute “rhetorical hyperbole” and opinion; and, in the

context presented, are not actionable. See Jones v. Palmer

Commc’ns, Inc., 440 N.W.2d 884, 891 (Iowa 1989)(opinion);

Suntken v. Den Ouden, 548 N.W.2d 164, 169 (Iowa Ct. App.

1996)(hyperbole). “Opinion is absolutely protected under

the first amendment.” Jones, 440 N.W.2d at 891 (citing

Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 339 (1974)).

The expression of opinion is protected speech. See Kiesau

v. Bantz, 686 N.W.2d 164, 177 (Iowa 2004), overruled other

grounds by Alcala v. Marriott Int’l, Inc., 880 N.W.2d 699,

708 (Iowa 2016).

Plaintiff’s “false light and intentional

infliction” claims likewise must fail due to the rights of

press and speech freedoms noted herein. “The Free Speech


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Clause of the First Amendment . . . can serve as a defense

to state tort suits, including suits for intentional

infliction of emotional distress.” Snyder v. Phelps, 562

U.S. 443, 451, 131 S. Ct. 1207, 1211 (2011) (citing Hustler

Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46, 50-51, 108 S. Ct.

876 (1988)); see also Jones, 440 N.W.2d at 891 (citing

Behr v. Meredith Corp., 414 N.W.2d 339, 342 (Iowa 1987)).

As noted above, as demonstrated by the record

presented in support of summary judgment and the undisputed

material facts and applicable law, Plaintiff’s claims fail

to generate genuine issues of fact; and, accordingly,

Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment should be

sustained.

ORDER

IT IS ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion for Summary

Judgment as to all counts is SUSTAINED and this case is

DISMISSED.

Costs assessed to Plaintiff.

Clerk to furnish copies to:

Jim VanDyke
Michael Giudicessi
Susan Elgin

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State of Iowa Courts

Type: OTHER ORDER

Case Number Case Title


CVCV039797 JACOB SMITH VS. JARED STRONG & DAILY TIMES HERALD
(TJB)

So Ordered

Electronically signed on 2018-05-21 13:39:39 page 10 of 10