Court of Appeals: Div. III – False Report of Possession Charge Not Defamation
Mr. Van Hoven (VH) filled out an application for employment at Central Washington Hospital (CWH). As part of the application process, he was required to submit to a background check which included a criminal history. VH stated on his application that he had not been convicted of any crimes.
Pre-Employee.com conducted the background check and reported that VH had been convicted of possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. While it was true that VH had been charged with both of these crimes, he was only convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia (the possession of marijuana had been dismissed). Pre-Employee later corrected the report to reflect that the marijuana charge had been dismissed.
A human resources specialist from CWH met with VH and asked him about the convictions. VH admitted that he was guilty of both charges but stated that as part of a plea bargain, the one charge had been dismissed. Because VH had provided false information on his application, his offer of employment was rescinded. VH then filed suit against Pre-Employee for defamation. DEFAMATION?! What’s the thinking process here? “I’m a possessor of drug paraphernalia NOT a possessor of drugs! How dare you! What will my neighbors think!”
The case was dismissed on summary judgment and VH appealed…after he went to Jack In the Box for 99¢ tacos. Dude!
RCW 19.182.080(6) provides:
no consumer may bring an action or proceeding in the nature of defamation, invasion of privacy, or negligence with respect to the reporting of information against a consumer reporting agency . . . based on information disclosed under this section or RCW 19.182.070, except as to false information furnished with malice or willful intent to injure the consumer.
VH argued that the statute didn’t apply, but did not argue that Pre-Employee acted with malice or willful intent to injure. The Court of Appeals found that the statute did apply. In addition, to prove defamation the plaintiff must establish (1) falsity; (2) an unprivileged communication; (3) fault; and (4) damages. Since the hospital would not have hired VH because of the possession of drug paraphernalia conviction, the wrong information about the conviction for possession of marijuana was moot. And besides…HE LIED ON HIS APPLICATION!! No damages=No case.