March 20, 2018, Bitterroot Star
A federal district court judge has dismissed the case filed by former Ravalli County treasurer Valerie Stamey and her husband Richard Stamey against the Bitterroot Star and the newspaper’s publishers Victoria and Michael Howell. The Stameys claimed that they were defamed by a newspaper article written by Michael Howell and published in the Bitterroot Star. The judge found that “the Stameys’ inability to establish that the newspaper story is false is fatal to their claims for libel.” Quoting a previous case, the judge noted, “It is well-established that ‘truth is a complete defense to a claim of defamation’.”
The Stameys filed their $8 million lawsuit against the Bitterroot Star over two years ago on February 11, 2016, claiming that Michael Howell had defamed them in an article that mentioned Richard Stamey’s political practices violations and Valerie Stamey’s role as treasurer of his campaign finance committee.
Ironically, the Stameys opposed the introduction of the ruling made by the Commissioner of Political Practices as evidence. But U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen allowed it.
On January 5, 2018, Stamey’s attorney Robert Myers was disbarred from the practice of law concerning actions unrelated to this case. The Court gave the Stameys 30 days to hire an attorney or decide to proceed pro se. A thirty-day extension of time in which to respond to the motion for summary judgment and the motion to strike filed by the defendant’s attorney, Michael Meloy, was also granted.
The Stameys indicated to the court that they would proceed pro se and argue the case themselves but failed to file any response. Nor did they file a request for an extension of the deadline.
That’s when Meloy filed for dismissal.
Judge Christensen’s order states that summary judgment is warranted “where the documentary evidence produced by the parties permits only one conclusion.” He notes that the party opposing a summary judgment “may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” … “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of plaintiff’s position is insufficient to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment.”
The Court then notes that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that summary judgment “by default” is prohibited even if “there is a complete failure to respond to the motion. However, if there is a failure to respond, a court is permitted to consider the facts in the motion to be undisputed for purposes of the motion.”
The Court found the facts to be in favor of summary judgment against the Stameys, stating, “The Stameys’ inability to establish that the newspaper story at issue is false is fatal to their claims for libel. It is a well-established fact that ‘truth is a complete defense to a claim of defamation’.”
All other motions in the case were denied as “moot” and judgment in favor of the newspaper and its publishers was entered on March 13th