After almost eight months, a district judge ruled to dismiss a libel lawsuit filed by former Utah County Commissioner Greg Graves against his fellow commissioners.
The suit, which was filed in June, named the Utah County government, Nathan Ivie, William Lee and an employee with the county, with whom Graves claimed fellow commissioners acted in hostility, releasing malicious information about him.
In a previous meeting held in November, 4th District Judge Robert Lunnen listened to arguments from Graves’ attorney Ryan Schriever and defense attorney Andrew Morse to decide if the lawsuit met the requirements for invasion or privacy, libel and defamation.
According to court documents, Graves had a “contentious relationship” and “many political disagreements” with fellow commissioners, namely Lee and Ivie. In an internal misconduct report — conducted by an independent workplace investigator — it was found that Graves was widely viewed as the workplace bully, displaying “intimidating,” “explosive” and “threatening” behavior.
The controversy surrounding Graves came to a climax in October 2017 when a female employee came forward with allegations of sexual harassment, alleging that Graves made inappropriate comments toward her. The workplace investigator, however, was unable to find any eyewitnesses to confirm or deny Graves’ involvement in “various allegations of sexual or suggestive comments and behaviors.”
The commissioners named in the suit released a redacted version of the misconduct report, later identifying Graves as the subject of the report. Graves argued that the female employe’s allegations were falsified in an attempt to remove him from his position and other commissioners released the information with the intention of damaging his reputation.
Morse argued that his clients’ actions, including their social media posts, are protected under the Governmental Immunity Act. Not only was the public already aware that Graves was the subject of the investigation, but sharing known information with constituents would not put the commissioners at fault.
Following the November meeting, Lunnen had 60 days to complete further research and issue a final decision. Lunnen called a hearing on provisions scheduled for Monday afternoon within the 60 days, looking to specifically touch on provision 63G-7-201 in regards to immunity of government entities and employees from suit.
In section four of the provision, Utah code states a governmental entity, its officers and its employees are immune from suit for any injury caused by a negligent act committed within the scope of employment. This section specifically states that a governmental entity and its employees are not exempt from immunity when judicial or administrative action is taken — even if malicious or without probable cause — or a misrepresentation is made by an employee, whether or not it is negligent or intentional.
“The judge found it really significant that Mr. Graves was a public official at the time, and he found it very important that the public had an interest in knowing what is happening with public officials,” Schriever said.
Based on Utah code, Morse said, the court verbally dismissed the allegations. The next step in the case involves Morse drafting documents outlining the terms of the dismissal. These documents will then be presented to Schriever to negotiate specific terms before they are set before Lunnen to make changes or to sign.
Schriever said he knew it was a difficult case from the beginning. However, both Schriever and his client felt the two other commissions acted outside of their governmental duties by releasing Graves’ identity as the subject of the misconduct investigation after voting to redact the information in the initially released copy of the report. These actions, he said, caused a lot of embarrassment for Graves.
“We appreciate the judge putting a lot of thought into his decision,” Schriever said. “We’re now evaluating the next steps in the case.”
The Utah County government and the government employees named in the suit are pleased with the outcome of the Court’s decision, Morse said.