By Jim Young
The Knoxville appeals court agreed with the original circuit court trial judge in dismissing a defamation lawsuit filed by former Crossville city manager Jack Miller against now former city councilman Boyd Wyatt, saying that Wyatt's comment was protected by the immunity of legislative privilege for elected officials.
Miller sued after Wyatt made comments during a discussion of political advertisements at a council meeting Oct. 12, 2010, leading up to the last mayoral election that saw incumbent Mayor J. H. Graham III facing a challenge from then-councilman Jesse Kerley. Wyatt had asked for a discussion of political ads from the campaign to be placed on the agenda as Wyatt was upset about how Kerley's ads reflected on the city, council members and city employees.
The topic proved difficult for then-council member Earl Dean, who moved that the political advertising discussion be removed from the agenda and, when his motion failed, Dean left the meeting. A lengthy discussion followed concerning the political race for mayor and the advertisements placed by Kerley.
At one point during the discussion, Wyatt asked Kerley about a letter of support Kerley had brought with him written by Miller. Wyatt then stated about Miller, “Now, he was discharged from city manager up here because of misappropriating funds and not following procedures. And then you want to bring a letter up here from him with all kind of garbage here on it about me and the mayor?”
Following the meeting, Miller filed a defamation suit against Wyatt personally based on Wyatt's statement. In the process of defending the case, Wyatt's lawyers moved for a summary judgment based on the Tennessee law that gives sitting elected officials immunity from such suits while conducting the affairs of the council. The trial judged ruled in favor of Wyatt's motion and the suit was dismissed.
Miller appealed the decision of the judge to the state appeals court. The appeals court held a hearing on the matter and released its ruling late last week, unanimously affirming the decision of the trial court, and assessed the appeal costs to Miller.
Both parties to the lawsuit were contacted by the Crossville Chronicle and neither chose to make a comment about the suit or its outcome.