A jury concluded on Friday, July 26 that the Oxbow Country Club and three of its members slandered and defamed a former West Fargo, North Dakota man by spreading false rumors that he used cocaine at the club.
The jury awarded the plaintiff more than $2 million in damages that will have to be mostly paid out by the club and the three men found to be mainly at fault. IADC member Lori Johnson, a partner at the firm Parker Daniels Kibort, LLC, was part of the trial team.
The verdict brings closure to a lawsuit that was filed in January 2018 by Aaron Greterman against the club and members Bill Short of Fargo, Britton Mattson and David Campbell, both of Horace, North Dakota, and Scott Differding and Roger Campbell, both of Oxbow, North Dakota.
Greterman alleged the defendants slandered his name by claiming he used cocaine and hurt him economically by defaming him.
The nine-person jury concluded that Greterman sustained more than $2 million in past and future damages — which took into account his lost business income and intangible damages such as pain and suffering — caused by the rumors.
The jury furthermore divided the total fault of the slanderous rumors among the parties and attributed each individual a percentage of the fault. Each party will be responsible for that percentage of the total damages.
David Campbell, whom the jury decided is responsible for 35% of the total damage caused, will have to pay more than $700,000 to Greterman. Differding has to pay more than $500,000, having been found 25% responsible for the slanderous rumors. The Oxbow Country Club, with 20% of the fault, must pay more than $400,000. Roger Campbell, with 10% of the fault, must pay more than $200,000. Greterman, a realtor who now lives in Nashville, Tenn., was found to have 7% of the fault for the rumors spread about him. The jury allocated the remaining 3% to others who are unnamed.
Short and Mattson were found to have zero fault in the rumors and will not have to pay damages.
“The biggest message of the verdict is that any statements made about Aaron Greterman and cocaine are false,” said Andrew Parker, Greterman’s attorney.
The case stems from what allegedly occurred at the country club during its annual Battle at the Bow tournament on June, 16, 2017.
According to information provided during the trial:
Greterman was invited by Dave Campbell to participate in the tournament and at one point during play Greterman allegedly pulled out a bottle of a product called “doTERRA Lime,” described as an essential oil that can be mixed into drinks or placed on the tongue, and mixed it into his drink.
The dispute centers on what Greterman said when Dave Cambpell asked what he was mixing into his drink.
Greterman claims he described the product as “the best energy shot you’ve ever had, it’s like liquid cocaine.”
Dave Campbell recalled that Greterman said the liquid was “like cocaine, like liquid cocaine...you can snort it, you can sniff it, you can put into your drink” and that “it will give you the best rush of your life.” Greterman denies saying this.
Parker said in court that Dave Campbell and the defendants took Greterman’s wording of “like liquid cocaine” and spread the rumor he used cocaine without doing any investigation or confronting Greterman about the liquid, adding that Greterman used the oil in public without hiding it.
Parker pointed to Dave Campbell’s testimony that he told his brother, Roger Campbell, he wouldn’t play the second day of the tournament because he was uncomfortable with what Greterman said about the liquid.
Parker also presented a text message Dave Campbell sent to Jon Anas, a club member at the time of the incident and a witness in the trial, where Dave Campbell says he was uncomfortable with “that illegal stuff.”
In July 2017, Greterman said he heard from a friend he was banned from the club due to cocaine use. He testified that he heard similar comments from more people as the year went on.
Greterman, showing how the rumors affected his business, testified that he made about $32,000 in commission in the last five months of 2017 and that in all of 2018 he made about $66,000. Between 2012 and 2015, his annual commission averaged more than $200,000.
The defense maintained, as they claimed in their opening statements, that the defendants only repeated the words “like liquid cocaine,” words chosen by Greterman, and that Greterman did not explain the liquid as an essential oil at the time Dave Campbell asked what it was.
Michael Morley, an attorney on the defense team, said in his closing statement that any rumors concerning Greterman and cocaine began with Greterman. Morley added that Dave Campbell testified that he saw Greterman act “ballistic and out of control” after putting the liquid into his drink, claims Greterman denied.
The defense argued that Greterman was banned due to his “improper conduct and unacceptable behavior” during the tournament, citing that Greterman leg-wrestled with another individual and allegedly made off-color jokes to some members.
The defense also tried to cast Greterman’s testimony as unreliable, pointing to how much he had to drink during the day at the tournament.
Brian Hasbrouck, Dave Campbell’s attorney, pointed to testimony provided during the trial that Greterman was intoxicated throughout the day and paid with cash for drinks, claiming that he had more than 10 alcoholic drinks during gameplay.
Greterman denied drinking excessively and that he never paid with cash since the drinks were all placed on Dave Campbell’s bar tab. Parker urged the jury to look at the bar tab and see that Greterman could not have had as much alcohol as the defense claims he had.
The defense further tried to show during the closing statements Greterman was not a credible witness and used the testimony of a staff member who claimed Greterman did pay with cash and allegedly made sexual comments toward her on the morning of June 16, 2017.
Greterman denied making any such comments or paying with cash for drinks on the day of the tournament.
At the close of their arguments to the jury on Friday, Morley and Hasbrouck conveyed that the defendants should not be found responsible for the alleged defamatory and slanderous rumors.
Parker closed his arguments the same way he opened, emphasizing the importance of a person’s name.
“This case is perhaps about our singularly most important possession, our name,” Parker said in court. “This case is not a close call .... Aaron Greterman didn’t do anything wrong.”