Court for Baltimore County 03-C-14-011129
Wright, Berger, Leahy, JJ.
appeal arises out of a dispute between coworkers in a
mechanic shop at Coca-Cola Enterprises ("CCE").
Appellant George Lindenmuth ("Lindenmuth") appeals
the decision of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County to
grant summary judgment in favor of appellee Michael McCreer
("McCreer") on all four counts of the complaint
including (1) defamation; (2) invasion of privacy --
unreasonable publicity given to private life; (3) invasion of
privacy -- placing a person in a false light; and (4)
intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court
initially denied McCreer's motion for summary judgment.
Thereafter, McCreer filed a motion for reconsideration, and
the circuit court held a hearing on McCreer's motion for
reconsideration. After the hearing, during which the court
established a number of undisputed material facts, the
circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of McCreer on
all counts of the complaint.
presents primarily one issue on appeal, which we have
rephrased as follows: Whether the circuit court erred in
granting summary judgment in favor of McCreer on all four
counts of the complaint. For the reasons discussed below, we
affirm the circuit court's decision to grant summary
judgment in favor of McCreer.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
April of 2014, Lindenmuth was employed at CCE as a mechanic.
McCreer was employed as the lead mechanic in the same CCE
mechanic shop, with supervisory responsibilities over
Lindenmuth's work. McCreer performed audits of the work
of the mechanics and made work assignments, including to
Lindenmuth. In April 2014, Lindenmuth's manager and
supervisors brought several of Lindenmuth's mistakes to
his attention. On April 9, 2014, Lindenmuth left work early.
The next day, he returned to work and spoke with his manager,
Jimmy Young, who advised Lindenmuth to take time off from
work due to his level of stress. Starting on April 10, 2014,
Lindenmuth was on a leave of absence from work at CCE.
2, 2014, Doug Anderson, another mechanic under McCreer's
supervision in the same CCE mechanic shop, heard rumors from
others in the shop that Lindenmuth was returning to work and
that he had a permit to carry a concealed firearm. Later that
day, Anderson told McCreer the rumor he heard about
Lindenmuth returning to work, that he owned guns and had a
license to carry a concealed handgun, and that he was
concerned that Lindenmuth was going to shoot someone at work
upon his return. It was common knowledge among employees
within the mechanic shop that Lindenmuth owned firearms and
that he had a license to carry a concealed firearm, which was
issued in another state. Further, Lindenmuth was not
concerned with whether others knew that he was a gun owner or
that he had a concealed handgun permit.
asked Anderson the basis of Anderson's concerns about
Lindenmuth. Anderson described a prior experience that
occurred at a previous workplace during which a truck driver,
who had been fired, came back to the workplace, said hello to
Anderson, and then went into the supervisor's office and
shot the supervisor before shooting himself. McCreer asked
Anderson whether he wanted to tell CCE management about his
concerns directly or whether McCreer should relay
Anderson's concerns to management on his behalf. Anderson
asked McCreer to talk to management and convey his concerns.
his conversation with Anderson, McCreer went to CCE Manager,
Jimmy Young ("Young"), and relayed Anderson's
concerns. The concerns that McCreer repeated to Young for
Anderson were that (1) Lindenmuth was returning to work; (2)
Lindenmuth had guns; (3) that Lindenmuth had a permit to
carry a concealed weapon; and (4) Lindenmuth was going to
shoot someone at work. Following McCreer's conversation
with Young, Young called the police and a police officer came
to CCE and questioned several employees in the mechanic shop
about Lindenmuth. In response to the officer's questions,
McCreer and others described prior conversations or incidents
in which they alleged that Lindenmuth had described wanting
to commit violent acts, including shooting police officers.
Thereafter, Lindenmuth returned to CCE and saw that his photo
had been placed in the guard shack with a note indicating
that Lindenmuth was not allowed into the facility.
November 14, 2014, Lindenmuth filed his First Amended
Complaint against McCreer for defamation, invasion of privacy
-- unreasonable publicity given to private life, invasion of
privacy -- false light, and intentional infliction of
emotional distress. McCreer filed a motion to dismiss for
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,
which the circuit court denied. After discovery, McCreer
filed a motion for summary judgment on October 15, 2015. The
circuit court denied the motion on January 13, 2016. McCreer
filed a motion for reconsideration on January 22, 2016. On
March 29, 2016, the circuit court held a hearing on the
motion, during which the court confirmed its understanding of
Lindenmuth's allegations on each count of the complaint,
what facts remained in dispute, and reviewed the arguments in
the parties' memoranda and accompanying attachments. On
April 12, 2016, the circuit court granted summary judgment in
favor of McCreer. Thereafter, Lindenmuth filed a timely
appeal to this Court.
Standard of Review
review a circuit court's decision to grant summary
judgment to determine whether the court was correct as a
matter of law, "because the trial court decides issues
of law, and not disputes of fact, " when considering a
motion for summary judgment. Piscatelli v. Van
Smith, 424 Md. 294 (2012) (citing Rosenberg v.
Helinski, 328 Md. 664 (1992)). Our review of a circuit
court's grant of summary judgment is de novo.
See Torbit v. Baltimore City Police Dep't, 231
Md.App. 573, 586 (2017) (citing Roy v. Dackman, 445
Md. 23, 39 (2015)); see also ("Our review over
a circuit court's decision on summary judgment is
plenary.") (citing Hemmings v. Pelham Wood Ltd.
Liab. P'ship, 375 Md. 522, 533 (2003)).
Rule 2-501, governing the circuit court's issuance of
summary judgment, provides, "[a]ny party may file a
written motion for summary judgment on all or part of an
action on the ground that there is no genuine dispute as to
any material fact and that the party is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law." As Chief Judge Bell explained,
The party opposing a motion for summary judgment must produce
admissible evidence to show that a genuine dispute of
material fact, i.e., one "the resolution of which will
somehow affect the outcome of the case, " . . . does
exist . . . . This requires more than "general
allegations which do not show facts in detail and with
Rite Aid Corp. v. Hagley, 374 Md. 665, 684 (2003)
(citations omitted). Where "a reasonable dispute over a
material fact" exists, summary judgment is not
appropriate; however, "where no material fact presented
is in dispute, summary judgment is appropriate to resolve
purely legal questions." Carter,
supra, 153 Md.App. at 225 (citing Sterling
v. Johns Hopkins Hospital, 145 Md.App. 161, 168
that summary judgment is typically inappropriate in a
defamation case. See Carter,
supra, 153 Md.App. 210, 225 (2003) (citing
Hagley, supra, 374 Md. 665, 684 (2003)).
"Nevertheless, this disposition may properly obtain if
the prerequisites for summary judgment are satisfied, to wit:
the absence of a disputed issue of material fact and the
presence of a legal basis for the entry of judgment."
Carter, supra, 153 Md.App. at 226 (citing
Hagley, supra, 374 Md. at 685).
The Circuit Court Did Not Err in Granting Summary Judgment in
Favor of McCreer on All Counts of the Complaint.
argues that, at the hearing on the motion for
reconsideration, the court "would only consider facts
from the complaint and from Defendant" and that the
court "refused to acknowledge or consider any of the
material" or the "facts or inferences put into
Plaintiff's response to Defendant's motion."
Among these facts ignored by the court, Lindenmuth argues,
were disputes of material fact. On appeal, Lindenmuth points
primarily to his assertion that the parties had an
"acrimonious relationship" as a material fact in
dispute that the court did not consider. Lindenmuth refers to
the hearing transcript and his papers filed before the
circuit court as additional sources for this Court to find
issues of material facts that, he contends, are in dispute.
Lindenmuth's response to McCreer's motion for summary
judgment, Lindenmuth points to the parties'
"acrimonious relationship" as evidence that
McCreer's statements to management could have been
motivated by reasons other than safety concerns. As support
for this same assertion, Lindenmuth refers to (1) an email
from McCreer to management sent prior to McCreer's May 2,
2014 statements in which he claimed that Lindenmuth had made
a violent threat towards him; (2) notes taken by McCreer in
which he had critiqued Lindenmuth's work; and (3) his
allegation that McCreer did not report other comments made by
Lindenmuth about police officers.
Lindenmuth argued in his response to McCreer's motion for
reconsideration that another factual dispute existed over
whether Lindenmuth had actually made statements regarding
shooting police officers. Lindenmuth presented the following
rationale that this dispute was material: "If those
comments are true and undisputed as the Defendant argues,
then the inference that Plaintiff had a desire and history of
violent speech would bolster the argument for conditional
privilege -- a defense in this case." Finally,
Lindenmuth argued in his response that McCreer's email to
management contradicted a statement he made during his
deposition that he did not know that Lindenmuth had spoken to
management on the day he left work early.
argument fails, however, because the circuit court was
required to consider only the material facts-i.e.
facts that could somehow affect the outcome of the case. For
this reason, the circuit court painstakingly sorted through
the material facts, as well as some immaterial facts, to
determine what was in dispute. For each fact asserted by McCreer as a
basis to grant summary judgment in his favor, the court
inquired into whether the fact was disputed. Further, the
trial court's inquiries paralleled the required elements
of each count of the complaint as well as the defenses
asserted in this case. The circuit court's task was to
determine, based upon the undisputed material facts, and
viewing all reasonable inferences from those facts in the
light most favorable to Lindenmuth as the nonmoving party,
whether McCreer was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
argument on appeal that the circuit court failed to consider
certain facts that he put forward overlooks the immateriality
of the facts the court excluded from the basis of its
opinion. We focus, first, on Lindenmuth's allegation of
defamation and whether McCreer was entitled to judgment as a
matter of law based on a conditional privilege. All four
counts of the complaint, however, flow out of the same
The Circuit Court was Correct as a Matter of Law in Granting
Summary Judgment in Favor of McCreer on Count I:
First Amended Complaint, Lindenmuth alleged that "[o]n
or about May 2, 2014, Defendant reported to the management
that he heard a rumor from another employee that Plaintiff
owned guns and therefore concluded that Plaintiff was a
threat to the workplace." Lindenmuth conceded in the
complaint, however, that he "does own shotguns, rifles
and handguns, which were all legally purchased" and that
he has a permit for the firearms from another state.
count of defamation, specifically, Lindenmuth alleged that
"[i]n [McCreer's] statements to the management and
employees regarding the rumor that
Plaintiff may shoot at the facility, Defendant knowingly made
the aforementioned false and defamatory statements about
Plaintiff Lindenmuth." Next, Lindenmuth alleged, "McCreer
acted with knowledge of this falsity of the statements and
with the intent to harm Plaintiff Lindenmuth's chances to
return to work at Coca Cola when verbally publishing these
false and defamatory statements about Plaintiff
Lindenmuth." Thereafter, Lindenmuth asserted that his
reputation and character were harmed as well as his standing
in the community, and that he had suffered mental anguish,
personal humiliation, and was "forced to leave his
position as a mechanic at Coca Cola and take a lesser paying
job with another company" as a result of McCreer's
Lindenmuth's defamation claim is based on McCreer's
statement to his manager, Young, during which McCreer relayed
the statements and concerns of his subordinate mechanic,
Anderson. More specifically, the crux of the cause of action
for defamation concerns Anderson hearing a rumor that
Lindenmuth was returning to work, that Lindenmuth owned a
handgun and possessed a permit to carry a gun, and that
Anderson was concerned that Lindenmuth might shoot someone at
elements must be present for a plaintiff to establish a
prima facie case of defamation, including that:
"(1) . . . the defendant made a defamatory statement to
a third person, (2) . . . the statement was false, (3) . . .
the defendant was legally at fault in making the statement,
and (4) . . . the plaintiff suffered harm." Hosmane
v. Seley-Radtke, 227 Md.App. 11, 20-21 (2016) (citing
Offen v. Brenner,402 Md. 191, 198 (2007)),