MN Plaintiff Can Sue for Defamation After Allegedly False Reports of Child Abuse

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: Defamation, child abuse, Minn. Stat. 626.556.

J.E.B. v. Danks. MN defamation, child abuse, Minn. Stat. 626.556.

The plaintiff brought this defamation action, alleging that the defendant had filed a false report of sexual abuse of a child, and that defendant had spread false rumors to the same effect. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendant. The trial court reasoned that the defendant was immune from suit under Reporting of Maltreatment of Minors Act, Minn. Stat. 626.556.

The Minnesota Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Chief Justice Gildea, held:

1. Summary judgment not appropriate in this case, because there was evidence from which a jury could have inferred that part of the defendant's motivation was personal spite. The high court cited defendant's language regarding "unhappiness" that that plaintiff had become "hostile and abusive." The court also took note of the defendant's lack of personal knowledge, exaggerated language in the report to authorities, and delay in making report until after plaintiff's attorney had sent cease and desist letter.

2. The immunity granted under this statute protects only good faith reports to authorities. It does not grant immunity for disclosing potentially defamatory information to third parties. Therefore, defendant was not entitled to immunity for communications beyond the report made to an official agency.

No. A08-2175 785 N.W.2d 741 (Minn. July 22, 2010).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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