|Case Studies: Schmitz|
Schmitz Case Report Libel/Invasion of Privacy/Trespass
|BRIEF STATEMENT OF CLAIM: Plaintiffs and Defendants were husband/ wife couples, who owned numerous rental houses in the Trinity Park section of Durham. Defendant husband intercepted mail addressed to Plaintiff husband and mail belonging to Plaintiffs tenants by removing their mail from a mailbox at Plaintiffs rental house. Defendant husband sent libelous letters to the parents of Plaintiffs tenants, to tenants themselves, to utilities servicing Plaintiffs rental properties, and to Plaintiffs. The letters accused Plaintiff husband of being a sexual deviant and warned the tenants (female students at Duke University) and their parents that Plaintiff husband would rape and murder them. After reporting the acts to the police, Plaintiff husband conducted a four month long investigation himself to identify the anonymous person mailing the letters and later turned the results of his investigation over to postal authorities.
PRINCIPAL INJURIES: Business loss; emotional pain and suffering; punitive damages.
SPECIAL DAMAGES: Business losses (lost rents)
TRIED OR SETTLED: Jury trial.
COUNTY WHERE TRIED: Durham
CASE NAME AND NUMBER: Robert L. Schmitz and wife Amy Csorba vs. Edmund F. Bumann, Jr. and wife Joyce C. Bumann, Durham County File No.: 93 CVS 274.
DATE CONCLUDED: March, 1996.
NAME OF JUDGE: Ronald L. Stephens
AMOUNT: Judgment amount approximately $251,000.00 (compensatory verdict - $112,000.00; punitive damages - $84,000.00; attorneys fees - $25,000.00; plus various costs and interest from February, 1992)
INSURANCE CARRIER: None. Judgment is collectible based on Defendants assets.
EXPERT WITNESSES AND AREAS OF EXPERTISE: Diane Lynfors (CPA) - business loss.
ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFF: G. Jona Poe, Jr.
ATTORNEY FOR DEFENDANT: H. Wood Vann, Durham.
OTHER USEFUL INFO: One of the crucial issues to a satisfactory and collectible judgment was whether the actions of the Defendant husband were committed in furtherance of and to benefit the Defendant couples trade and profession of leasing residential real estate. Immediately after the filing of the Complaint Defendant husband had transferred numerous properties in his name alone to himself and his wife. While it might have been possible to prove later that these acts were undertaken to evade execution of a judgment against him, it was preferable to obtain a judgment against both Defendant husband and Defendant wife. The jury had to be convinced that the Defendant husbands acts were an attempt to drive away Plaintiffs tenants and to enhance the proprietorship business of the Defendant husband and wife. The Defendants position was that the husband had acted alone as the result of a personal vendetta and not for business purposes. In addition, Defendants tried to portray the Plaintiffs to the jury as wealthy, greedy landlords who were taking advantage of student renters.