Former mayor Hunter appeals lawsuit dismissal

The claims in the defamation lawsuit were dismissed with prejudice, meaning the case is final and Hunter cannot bring the claims again into a courtroom. However, he had the right to appeal the judge’s ruling within 60 days with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which he moved forward with Thursday.

Photo illustration, Metro Creative Graphics, Inc.

Former Crosby Mayor James Hunter is appealing the dismissal of his defamation lawsuit against the city of Crosby, former Crosby Police Chief Kim Coughlin and former Lt. Kevin Randolph.

A news release from Hunter’s attorney Ed Shaw announced the appeal Thursday, Sept. 3.

James Hunter
James Hunter

“Mr. Hunter and I today filed an appeal in this matter as we believe that the law allows for an individual victimized by the wrongful conduct of city officials to pursue redress, and that it is the job of the Court of Appeals to interpret the laws of this state,” the release stated. “This case is about justice for Mr. Hunter, who has lost his reputation, his elected office, and spent over two years of his life charged with serious crimes as a result of the actions of Crosby city officials.”


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Crow Wing County District Judge Patricia Aanes on Aug. 7 dismissed the case brought forth by Hunter Sept. 9, 2019. The court stated Hunter failed to provide the evidence required to survive the defendants’ motion for dismissal of his 44 claims and he did not meet the requirements needed in the case under the law of defamation.

The claims were dismissed with prejudice, meaning the case is final and Hunter cannot bring the defamation claims again into a courtroom. However, he had the right to appeal the judge’s ruling within 60 days with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which he moved forward with Thursday.

Kim Coughlin
Former Crosby Police Chief Kim Coughlin. Brainerd Dispatch file photo

“It is also about accountability, holding those responsible for attacking Mr. Hunter accountable for their actions. Most important, it is about bringing basic freedoms to the citizens of Crosby, who have the right to criticize their leadership without fear of retaliation or prosecution at the hands of city leaders and their allies,” the release from Shaw’s office stated. “Mr. Hunter and I thank all of the residents of Crosby and other communities who have supported him throughout this ordeal, the citizens who sat on three separate juries, all of which found Mr. Hunter not guilty, and the members of the media who have covered this case. We are confident that the Court of Appeals will reinstate Mr. Hunter’s case.”

RELATED: Hunter speaks out: Attorney for former Crosby mayor says accusations were like ‘a bad detective novel'
Hunter, who was elected in November 2016 for a two-year term as Crosby mayor, was charged in March 2017 in Crow Wing County District Court with felonies of second-degree assault, theft by swindle, receiving stolen property and unlawful gambling, and a gross misdemeanor for selling vehicle financing without a license. Hunter also was charged in August 2017 for falsely reporting a crime in a separate case.

Kevin Randolph
Kevin Randolph


Hunter resigned as mayor in August 2017. It was a two-year-long court battle and all charges against Hunter — tried separately — were dismissed or he was acquitted by a jury of his peers. The case ended April 19, 2019, when the last two charges were dismissed. Hunter currently is running for the mayoral seat in the 2020 election in Crosby.

RELATED: Former Crosby mayor sues for defamation: City of Crosby, former police chief and lieutenant named in suit

The lawsuit

In an amended complaint, Hunter listed 44 claims against Coughlin, Randolph and the city of Crosby for making defamatory statements between 2016-19 about him.

These statements included:

  • Accusing Hunter of criminal activity and arranging for his arrest and prosecution for the crimes;

  • Speaking about Hunter in unfavorable ways to members of the Crosby community;

  • Attempting to tarnish his reputation to adversely impact his campaign and service as mayor of Crosby;

  • Contacting numerous local and statewide media outlets and making defamatory statements; and

  • Issuing news releases on Crosby Police Department letterhead containing further false and defamatory statements against Hunter.

RELATED: Attorneys in James Hunter case go head to head: County Attorney Don Ryan states it was not politically motivated, defense says it was
Shaw argued Hunter was found not guilty in three criminal trials, while the other charges were dismissed and that he suffered financial loss, marital dissolution, loss of business, loss of elected office, ethical complaints against his attorney, hospitalization due to the suffering he experienced; and he endured the loss of prestige and reputation in his community as a result of the defamation.

In her order and memorandum, Aanes ruled Hunter failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Under Minnesota common law, a plaintiff pursuing a defamation claim must prove the defendant made a false and defamatory statement about the plaintiff, did so in an unprivileged publication to a third party and that it harmed the plaintiff’s reputation in the community.

RELATED: Remaining charges against former Crosby mayor dismissed, but case may continue
Hunter alleged the statements were generally made about him by Coughlin and Randolph. The court stated this was not enough. Hunter was required to plead a defamation claim with a certain degree of specificity, including pleading who made the alleged defamatory statement, to whom the statement was made, and where the statement was made, the court document stated.

The court concluded the plaintiff didn’t have the necessary facts or requisite verbatim statements, to show or even infer whether the statements could damage his reputation in the community.


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