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158749; 158755-6 - Bryan Punturo v Brace Kern

Bryan Punturo, Fawn Punturo, and B & A Holdings, LLC, d/b/a Parkshore Resort, LLC,

 

Jonathan Moothart

 

Plaintiffs-Appellees,

 

v

(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)

 

 

(Grand Traverse – Power, T.)

 

Brace Kern,

 

Jonathan Koch

 

Defendant-Appellant,

 

and

 

 

Saburi Boyer and Danielle Kort, f/k/a Danielle Boyer,

 

Gerald Zelenock

 

Defendants.

 

Summary

Bryan Punturo and Saburi Boyer entered into an agreement that Boyer would pay Punturo $57,000 in exchange for Punturo’s promise not to compete with Boyer’s parasailing business. Subsequently, when Boyer failed to make a required payment, Punturo sent him a threatening letter. Attorney Brace Kern, on behalf of his clients, Boyer and Danielle Kort, filed suit against Punturo and others, alleging extortion and antitrust violations. Kern also reported the allegations to the state Attorney General, who filed a criminal charge of felony extortion against Punturo. Kern, Boyer, and Kort were interviewed by the local media about their lawsuit and the AG’s extortion charge, and they made several statements about the matter. After the civil and criminal cases were dismissed, plaintiff Punturo sued defendants Kern, Boyer, and Kort for defamation. The key issue is whether defendants’ statements to the media were protected under the “fair reporting privilege,” MCL 600.2911(3). The circuit court, relying on Bedford v Witte, 318 Mich App 60 (2016), denied the parties’ motions for summary disposition, concluding that the defendants’ statements were not privileged and that questions of fact remained as to other elements of the defamation claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished opinion. The Supreme Court has ordered oral argument on defendants’ applications for leave to appeal to address: (1) whether, as a threshold matter, the fair reporting privilege, MCL 600.2911(3)—which can only be invoked “in a libel action”—applies in a case in which the defendants are not the media companies that published the allegedly defamatory statements, but are instead the persons who furnished the oral statements to the media; (2) whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that defendants’ allegedly defamatory statements to the media regarding the pending litigation were not protected under the fair reporting privilege; (3) whether Bedford v Witte was wrongly decided; and (4) whether the standards for application of the statutory fair reporting privilege are different for statements made by an attorney or by a layperson-litigant. ​