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Jergens v. Marias Medical Center

Supreme Court of Montana

May 7, 2019

JEANETTE JERGENS, Plaintiff, Appellant, and Cross-Appellee,
v.
MARIAS MEDICAL CENTER, BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF TOOLE COUNTY, and MARY FRYDENLUND, Respondents, Appellee, and Cross Appellants.

          Submitted on Briefs: March 20, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Ninth Judicial District, In and For the County of Toole, Cause No. DV-2016-046 Honorable Robert G. Olson, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellants: Joanne DeLong, Attorney at Law, Somers, Montana.

          For Appellee: Mark F. Higgins, MACo Defense Services, Helena, Montana.

          OPINION

          INGRID GUSTAFSON JUDGE.

         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 Plaintiff/Appellant/Cross-Appellee Jeanette Jergens (Jergens) appeals the orders of the Ninth Judicial District Court, Toole County, dismissing her claims of invasion of privacy and defamation against Defendant Mary Frydenlund (Frydenlund). Defendants/Cross-Appellants Board of County Commissioners of Toole County and Marias Medical Center (MMC) cross-appeal the jury's verdict finding that Jergens was wrongfully terminated from MMC and the District Court's admission into evidence records of Jergens's earnings produced on the morning of trial. We affirm.

         ¶3 Jergens was a certified surgical technologist at MMC for over twenty years. In 2015, Jergens was accused of bullying and abusive behavior at work. MMC placed Jergens on paid administrative leave and hired an outside investigator, Michele Puiggari (Puiggari), to investigate the allegations against Jergens. As part of her investigation, Puiggari contacted Jergens's former supervisor at MMC, Frydenlund, for information regarding Jergens. Frydenlund sent Puiggari a four-page letter which detailed her numerous complaints about Jergens, both at work and regarding her personal life. Frydenlund then sent an unsolicited copy of her letter to Fred Paoli (Paoli), an attorney representing Dr. Robert Clary (Dr. Clary) in a wrongful discharge suit against MMC. After Puiggari completed her investigation and issued a report, MMC fired Jergens.

         ¶4 In 2016, Jergens filed suit alleging, in relevant part, defamation and invasion of privacy against Frydenlund, and wrongful discharge by MMC. The District Court dismissed the invasion of privacy claim on summary judgment, while the defamation and wrongful discharge claims went to trial. The District Court ultimately dismissed the defamation claim after the close of Jergens's evidence on an M. R. Civ. P. 50(a) motion for judgment as a matter of law, and only the wrongful discharge claim against MMC went to the jury. The jury found that Jergens was wrongfully discharged by MMC and awarded her $71, 074.50 in lost wages and $9, 687.50 in lost benefits.

         ¶5 We review summary judgment orders de novo, performing the same M. R. Civ. P. 56 analysis as the district court. Ray v. Connell, 2016 MT 95, ¶ 9, 383 Mont. 221, 371 P.3d 391. Summary judgment is appropriate only when no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Hughes v. Lynch, 2007 MT 177, ¶ 8, 338 Mont. 214, 164 P.3d 913. "We will affirm the district court when it reaches the right result, even if it reaches the right result for the wrong reason." Talbot v. WMK-Davis, LLC, 2016 MT 247, ¶ 6, 385 Mont. 109, 380 P.3d 823 (citations omitted).

         ¶6 The District Court granted Frydenlund's summary judgment motion regarding Jergens's invasion of privacy claim stemming from Frydenlund's letter. The District Court found that the invasion of privacy claim was both barred by a provision of Montana's Wrongful Discharge From Employment Act (WDEA), specifically § 39-2-905, MCA, and that the "publication requirement for an invasion of privacy claim cannot be met."

         ¶7 Frydenlund's letter accused Jergens of frequently padding her hours on timesheets. Because Frydenlund was Jergens's former supervisor, she had non-public knowledge of Jergens's employment history. Jergens asserts that it was therefore an invasion of her privacy for Frydenlund to publish her letter to Paoli. The Restatement (Second) of Torts addresses public disclosure of private facts as follows:

One who gives publicity to a matter concerning the private life of another is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the ...

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