Michael A. Wartell, Appellant-Defendant,
Lawrence H. Lee, Appellee-Plaintiff
from the Allen Superior Court. The Honorable Stanley A.
Levine, Judge. Trial Court Cause No. 02D03-1306-PL-232 .
FOR APPELLANT: J. Blake Hike, Larry L. Barnard, Carson
Boxberger LLP, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
FOR APPELLEE: James J. Shea, Sr., Linda A. Polley, Jeremy D.
Lemon, Hunt Suedhoff Kalamaros LLP, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Judge. Barnes, J., and Crone, J., concur.
Dr. Michael Wartell (" Wartell" ), former
Chancellor of Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne
(" IPFW" ), filed a complaint in Allen Superior
Court against Lawrence Lee (" Lee" ), alleging
among other claims, defamation per se because Lee
sent a private letter to then-Purdue president Dr. France
Córdova (" Córdova" ) urging her to
deny Wartell's request for an exception to Purdue's
retirement policy. The trial court subsequently granted
Lee's motion for partial summary judgment on the claim of
defamation per se. Wartell now appeals and argues
that the trial court erred in concluding that Lee's
statements in the letter to Córdova did not constitute
defamation per se.
and Procedural History
Wartell served as the chancellor of IPFW for eighteen years,
from 1994 until June 30, 2012. IPFW is the largest state
university in Northeast Indiana and had an enrollment of over
14,000 students when Wartell left his position as chancellor.
During Wartell's tenure, IPFW experienced positive growth
and a strong reputation as a university. As chancellor,
Wartell was well-known in the Fort Wayne community.
Wartell was employed by Purdue University ("
Purdue" ) and reported to the Purdue Board of Trustees
(" the Board" ) through the Purdue president.
Appellant's App. p. 126. Throughout his service as
chancellor, Wartell was subject to administrative review,
where Purdue and IPFW officials would interview individuals
from Purdue, IPFW, and the community about Wartell's job
performance. Integrity was one of the areas subject to review
and a category in which Wartell always received " the
highest marks." Appellant's App. pp. 119-20.
At the time, Purdue procedure required that chancellors be
re-appointed on a year-to-year basis with the underlying
contract renewed each year. Purdue policy required
high-ranking administrators to retire from their positions
during the fiscal year which they turn sixty-five.
Appellant's App. p. 128. See also Appellee's
App. pp. 23-25. Because of the policy, Wartell was required
to retire at the end of the fiscal year in 2012 unless the
Board agreed to extend his chancellorship. Wartell was aware
of this policy, but he did not believe that he would be
required to retire because no other high-ranking Purdue
officials had been previously denied an extension request. On
May 19, 2011, Wartell received a phone call from then-Purdue
President Córdova, notifying him that the Board wanted
Wartell to retire. In response to the call, Wartell submitted
a request to the Board to extend his position beyond the
mandatory retirement date. Appellee's App. p. 18.
Wartell's request was denied, and he retired as
chancellor on June 30, 2012.
Lee, a Fort Wayne businessman and owner of Leepoxy Plastics
and president of Midwest Epoxy Applicators, is an active
citizen in the Fort Wayne community and a longtime IPFW donor
and supporter. Appellee's App. pp. 13, 70, 78-80. Lee was
also on the Advisory Board for the Doermer School of Business
at IPFW. Id. at 32-33. Lee had worked with Wartell
on numerous occasions over the years, and that collaboration
had sparked some disagreements. After discovering that
Wartell had requested that the Board extend his
chancellorship in spring of 2011, Lee contacted several other
prominent businessmen in the community to arrange a meeting
with Córdova to convince her that the Board should
deny Wartell's request. Lee referred to this group of men
as " the Worthy Brothers" which consisted of Keith
Busse (" Busse" ), Ian Rolland ("
Rolland" ), and Jim Vann (" Vann" ).
In an email sent to the group on June 22, 2011, Lee confirmed
that their goals in a meeting with Córdova were "
two-fold: (1) to express our conviction that Wartell's
request to delay his retirement should be denied, and (2) his
successor as chancellor at IPFW be of impeccable integrity,
able to earn and command the respect of local and area
business leaders." Appellant's App. p. 201.
Additionally, Lee informed the group that he had learned
" from a very reliable source that Córdova is the
one and only determiner on Wartell's petition to delay
[Wartell's] retirement date." Appellant's App.
pp. 167, 201. A Skype meeting was scheduled on June 29, 2011,
for Lee, Rolland, Busse, and Vann to discuss Wartell's
extension request with Córdova. At the end of the
meeting, Córdova requested that each of the men submit
written comments to her and that she would confidentially
submit the information to the Board. Appellant's App. pp.
Lee sent a confidential letter to Córdova as requested
on July 1, 2011. Lee discussed some of Wartell's
accomplishments as chancellor but also expressed his concerns
to Córdova about the Board granting Wartell's
At issue in this appeal are the following allegedly
defamatory statements contained in Lee's letter, as
asserted in ...