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Neilson v. Dawson

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 16, 2014

PHILIP HALBERT NEILSON APPELLANT/CROSSAPPELLEE
v.
TOM DAWSON, ALAN LANGE, AND PEDIMENT PUBLISHING APPELLEES/CROSSAPPELLANTS

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/28/2012.

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: LAFAYETTE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ROBERT WILLIAM ELLIOTT. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: GRANTED APPELLEE'S MOTION TO DISMISS.

FOR APPELLANT: CHRISTI R. MCCOY.

FOR APPELLEES: GRADY F. TOLLISON JR. TAYLOR HAMILTON WEBB.

BEFORE LEE, C.J., ISHEE AND JAMES, JJ. IRVING, P.J., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, CARLTON, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR. GRIFFIS, P.J., AND MAXWELL, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - TORTS-OTHER THAN PERSONAL INJURY & PROPERTY DAMAGE

Page 921

LEE, C.J.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶1. On December 2, 2010, Philip Halbert Neilson filed a defamation suit in the Lafayette County Circuit Court against Tom Dawson, Alan Lange, and Pediment Publishing. Neilson alleged certain statements in the book Kings of Tort, written by Dawson and Lange (hereinafter Dawson) and published by Pediment,[1] were libelous. After some delay relating to service of process and other matters, Dawson filed a motion to dismiss. The trial court treated the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment and gave the parties timely notice to present supporting evidence. After a hearing, the trial court granted relief in favor of Dawson.

¶2. Neilson now appeals, asserting the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Dawson.

FACTS

¶3. Kings of Tort, released on or about December 2, 2009, details the events surrounding the undercover investigation and prosecution of Richard Scruggs and others. During the investigation, Dawson was the First Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi. Assisting Dawson was John Hailman, Chief of the Criminal Division of the United States Attorney for the Northern District. Both Dawson and Hailman were supervised at the time by Jim Greenlee, the United States Attorney for the Northern District. During this time, Neilson served as the FBI Supervisory Special Agent, overseeing all of the FBI agents in the Northern District of Mississippi.

¶4. A section of the book details the actions taken by Dawson, Hailman, and Greenlee after becoming aware of the attempted bribery of a local circuit court judge. The pertinent section describes the resulting decision to initiate an undercover operation:

Paramount to their success would be secrecy and how the case agent would be supervised. From past experiences Greenlee, Dawson, and Hailman had lost confidence in . . . Neilson . . . . The three resolved to travel to Jackson FBI headquarters to consult with the special agent in charge of the entire state. To complicate matters, the FBI was in the middle of changing leaders, and the new special agent[]in[]charge (SAC) had not arrived in Jackson. Greenlee ...

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