The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that a judge was right to toss out a defamation lawsuit brought by the reality television star Nicole Curtis, host of the locally produced HGTV program “Rehab Addict,” against her former boyfriend Jason Jenny.
In an unpublished opinion released from May 4, the court also upheld Hennepin County District Court Judge Phillip Bush’s dismissal of a counterclaim Jenny lodged against Curtis.
Given Curtis’s well-known passion for old homes — she engaged Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges in an epic social media battle over a demolition in Uptown earlier this year — it’s fitting that her legal fight with Jenny centered on a real estate deal.
In 2009, Curtis and a former business partner snapped up an old pile in south Minneapolis — known to “Rehab Addict” viewers as the “the Minnehaha House” — for $350,000. After three years and much remodeling, Jenny — a dentist and restaurant owner who by then had become romantically involved with Curtis — purchased the home for $610,000.
According to Curtis, the couple intended to live in the home together, but that plan — and the relationship — fizzled not long after Curtis learned her name wasn’t included on the closing papers. Before long, Jenny had changed the locks.
In June 2012, Jenny nonetheless agreed to sell the home to Curtis — for the $610,000 he paid six months earlier — but the deal collapsed when Curtis was unable to obtain financing. In early 2013, Curtis sued, saying that Jenny had reneged on their “partnership” agreement and, additionally, was to blame for the financing woes because he had mouthed off to her banker.
Along with claims breach of contract, defamation, unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation, and tortious interference in the 14-count complaint, Curtis filed a notice of lis pendens against the Minnehaha House. Jenny responded with a motion for summary judgment and a counterclaim for slander-of-title.
Between original suit, the counterclaim, and discovery, it was pretty much War of the Roses. Not only had Jenny disparaged her to the bank, Curtis alleged, but he also told executives at her TV production companies and other associates that she had been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder, which supposedly diminished the payout in a new TV contract.
In response, Jenny sought access to all Curtis mental health records and asserted that Curtis had a “long-standing pattern” of “convincing men to buy a house and then through manipulation and cooperation, attempting to extract a financial gain.”
What’s that they say about the sound and the fury?
In the end, the judges who waded into the messy fight didn’t see much merit in any of the claims.
In affirming the district court ruling, the Court of Appeals said Curtis failed to show that Jenny’s purported statements to the bank caused the financing to fall apart. On the contrary, the court cited a letter showing that the bank decided to nix the loan prior to the alleged phone call.
Likewise, the court rejected Jenny’s appeal on the slander-of-title claim. Jenny sought to prove that Curtis had filed the notice of lis pendens in bad faith, in part, via pattern-of-conduct evidence. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision to bar such evidence, saying “evidence of Curtis’ behavior in other romantic and business relationships was not probative of [her] knowledge or intent in this situation.”
So does the ruling signal the final chapter in the fight?
Reached by phone, Brett Larson, Curtis’ attorney, was noncommittal. “We’re still evaluating the decision and how to proceed. That’s all the detail I can give you now,” he said.
Chistopher Penwell, Jenny’s attorney, was marginally more loquacious. He said it is “unlikely” that his client will pursue an appeal on the slander-of-title claim. Should Curtis choose to appeal the dismissal of her claim against Jenny, Penwell said he doubts the Supreme Court would elect to hear it.
“Generally, they take cases that have statewide impact, either first impression legal questions or a question that expands on an existing area of law that would impact a lot of people,” Penwell said. “I don’t see any unique legal issue here that would have a broad impact on a lot of people. I would be very surprised if the Supreme Court was interested. It’s not the type of case they typically accept.”