JAMES VERITY and SARAHNA VERITY, husband and wife, Plaintiffs-Respondents,
USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company; KTVB, a division of King Broadcasting Company, a Washington corporation; KGW, a division of Sander Operating Co. III, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company; TAMI TREMBLAY, an individual; STEPHEN REILLY, an individual, Defendants-Appellants, and JOHN / JANE DOES. Defendants.
from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of
the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Melissa Moody, District
decision of the district court as to Verity not being a
public official or public figure is affirmed. The
district court's conclusion that a reasonable jury could
find that KGW impliedly defamed Verity about having a sexual
relationship with a minor is affirmed. The district
court's rulings on all remaining claims are
reversed and this case is remanded for
further action consistent with this Opinion.
Pursley LLP, Boise, attorneys for Appellants. Debora K.
Law Group, Meridian, attorneys for Respondents. Ronald
Charles A. Brown, Lewiston, and Ballard Spahr LLP, Washington
D.C., attorneys for amici curiae.
Nature of the Case
a permissive appeal that presents a case of first impression
regarding whether the tort of defamation by implication
exists in Idaho. Respondent James Verity was a school teacher
in Oregon who lost his teaching license after engaging in an
inappropriate relationship with an eighteen-year-old female
student, whom he coached at the local high school. He
eventually obtained a teaching license in Idaho, and began
teaching shortly thereafter. When he was forced to resign his
teaching job in Idaho after USA TODAY, KTVB, KGW, Tami
Tremblay, and Stephen Reilly published articles and broadcast
news reports describing Verity's misdeeds, he and his
wife Sarahna Verity filed a lawsuit alleging defamation by
implication. The district court denied the media's motion
for summary judgment and ruled that despite the actual truth
of the statements, reasonable minds could find that the media
impliedly defamed the Veritys. The media now appeals that
decision as a permissive appeal under Idaho Appellate Rule
Factual and Procedural Background
Verity's History in Oregon and Idaho.
1998 until 2005, both James Verity and his wife Sarahna
Verity (the "Veritys") held teaching positions with
the Crook County School District in Prineville, Oregon. Mr.
Verity taught middle school and coached several sports for
the district, including varsity girls basketball and varsity
girls softball at the high school. Ms. Verity taught physical
education at the elementary school.
around spring of 2005, Verity began an inappropriate
relationship with an eighteen-year-old female student whom he
coached and used as a tutor for his middle school science
class. Spanning over four months, the relationship involved
approximately 2, 625 text messages and over 500 hours of
telephone conversations between Verity and the student,
several of which occurred between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and
6:00 a.m. Notes were also exchanged. Eventually, the
relationship escalated into inappropriate physical contact.
Despite the sexual nature of the contact, there is no
evidence that Verity and the student engaged in sexual
of 2005, Crook County school officials learned of the
relationship between Verity and the student. School officials
contacted local law enforcement and an investigation ensued.
Verity was placed on administrative leave from the school on
May 26, 2005, while the school district completed its
investigation. On July 11, a settlement agreement was
reached, under which Verity would resign from his teaching
position and the school district would inform the Oregon
Teaching Standards and Practices Commission of Verity's
resignation and the reasons behind it. Over the next year,
the Oregon Commission investigated the matter for itself and
on August 4th, 2006, it revoked Verity's Oregon teaching
license. According to the revocation order, Verity could
apply for the reinstatement of his license after one year,
provided certain conditions were met.
later, Verity applied for reinstatement. Verity submitted two
psychological evaluations with his application: one by James
R. Hamer, MS, and the other by Dr. Michelle Whitehead. While
Hamer concluded that Verity could return to teaching if he
remained in counseling, Dr. Whitehead disagreed. Dr.
Whitehead concluded that Verity should not be left alone with
any female student over the age of 12 to avoid any
misunderstanding on the part of female students. Citing Dr.
Whitehead's evaluation, the Oregon commission declined to
reinstate Verity's teaching license after a vote at a
meeting in February 2008.
March 2008, Verity applied for an Idaho teaching license. In
his application, Verity disclosed to Idaho officials that his
Oregon license had been revoked. On June 12, 2008, the Chief
Certification Officer for Idaho's Department of
Education, Christina Linder, denied Verity's application
for an Idaho teaching license, based on Verity's conduct
in Oregon and a discussion among the members of the Ethics
Committee. Verity appealed this initial denial to the Idaho
Department of Education's Professional Standards
Commission ("Idaho Commission") and a hearing to
review the denial was set for September 30, 2008.
to the hearing, Verity obtained counseling from Dr. Scott
Miller, a licensed psychologist whom Dr. Whitehead had
approved to treat Verity. Dr. Miller concluded that there was
no reason to believe Verity was at risk of ever
"cross[ing] the line with a student of any age
again." Dr. Miller's report was included with
Verity's appeal and the Idaho Commission reversed the
Chief Certification Officer's denial of Verity's
Idaho license application. In July 2009, Verity was issued an
Idaho teaching license. In September 2010, Verity applied and
was offered a position at the Caldwell School District in
Idaho to teach physical science. Amid some accusations of
inappropriate behavior (hitting students with rulers and
making violent comments) and after receiving a poor teaching
evaluation, Verity sought alternative employment with
Vallivue School District in March 2013. Verity was employed
with Vallivue School District, at Sage Valley Middle School,
from 2014 until February 2016, when he resigned after the
publication of various news articles and television
broadcasts describing his conduct in Oregon and his
subsequent move to Idaho to teach.
The Allegedly Defamatory Articles and Broadcasts.
are USA Today; Stephen Reilly, an investigative reporter and
data specialist with USA Today; KGW, a Portland, Oregon news
station; KTVB, a Boise news station; and Tami Tremblay, an
investigative reporter, anchorperson, and producer with KTVB
(collectively referred to as the "Media
original KGW broadcast in question aired on February 15,
2016, as part of a larger investigation into how states track
teacher disciplinary matters. During a broadcast titled,
"The Dishonor Roll," reporter Kyle Iboshi stated:
Jim Verity was a middle school teacher and high school
girls' softball coach in Prineville, Oregon, but, in
2005, school administrators learned Verity had exchanged
thousands of text messages, many of them late at night, with
a female student. State teacher discipline records show
Verity and the female student developed a sexual
Oregon revoked Verity's teaching license. When he tried
to re-apply several years later, a psychiatrist recommended
he "not be left alone with any female student over the
age of 12 in order to protect [Verity] and the student."
But the very next year Verity was back in the classroom. This
time 300 miles away across state lines near Boise, Idaho. And
today, he's still teaching. Our investigation found
Verity's case is not an isolated example.
the moments Verity's relationship with the female student
was discussed, the background image on the screen displayed a
copy of the Oregon Commissioner's Order Denying License
Reinstatement, with the text of the order entirely blurred
out except for the words "a sexual relationship with a
also posted on its website a version of a USA Today article,
authored by Stephen Reilly, entitled
Broken Systems Let Teachers Flee Troubled Pasts: An
investigation found fundamental defects in the teacher
screening systems used to ensure the safety of children in
the nation's more than 13, 000 school districts.
article stated the following:
[In 2005] school administrators learned that Verity had been
exchanging text messages and phone calls with a female
student. Discipline records [ ] show the state revoked
Verity's license after officials found he engaged in
physical contact with the student, including "kissing on
the lips, neck and earlobe, grinding his pelvis into her
pelvic area and touching her breasts and groin area."
When he tried to re-apply for a teaching license in 2009, a
psychiatrist evaluating Verity recommended that he "not
be left alone with any female student over the age of 12 in
order to protect Mr. Verity and the student."
The Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission denied
Verity's application to reinstate his teaching license.
After the denial, records show Verity moved to Idaho where he
was granted a teaching license. He worked in the Caldwell
School District from 2010 to 2014. Superintendent Jodie Mills
told USA Today the district was never made aware his license
was revoked in Oregon. She said the revocation would
"absolutely" have been a concern had it come to the
Since 2014, Verity has taught sixth grade science at Sage
Valley Middle School in the Vallivue School District, which
is outside Boise. Vallivue superintendent Pat Charlton said
Verity "disclosed to his building principal that there
had been an incident involving an 18-year-old ...