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GRUNSETH v. MARRIOTT CORP.

November 16, 1994

JON R. GRUNSETH, PLAINTIFF
v.
MARRIOTT CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GLADYS KESSLER

 This matter comes before the Court on the Motion of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (the "Tribune") and several of its employees, none of whom are parties to this case, to Quash Subpoenas served on them by Plaintiff and for a Protective Order. Upon consideration of the Motion, Plaintiff's Opposition, and the Replies filed, separately, by the Movants and the Defendant, the Court concludes that the Motion should be granted, for the following reasons.

 Plaintiff, Jon R. Grunseth, a former candidate for governor of the State of Minnesota in 1990, is suing the Defendant Marriott Corporation for breach of implied contract, negligence, and invasion of privacy. During the 1990 gubernatorial campaign, the Tribune published a story detailing a long-standing, albeit sporadic, sexual relationship, between Plaintiff and Tamara Taylor. Plaintiff consented to a videotaped interview with reporters from the Tribune in which he admitted to having had such a relationship with Ms. Taylor in the past but vigorously denied having stayed with her at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Washington, D.C. on the night of July 12, 1989, a time when he was married and his wife was pregnant. Plaintiff claims that publication of Ms. Taylor's charges forced him to withdraw front the governor's race and resulted in his being fired as Vice-President of Ecolab.

 Plaintiff filed the present lawsuit on May 13, 1993 basing his claim against Marriott on the fact that the hotel disclosed his hotel registration records and receipts to the Tribune's reporter, Paul McEnroe, who then used such documents as corroboration of Ms. Taylor's charges. One year later, Plaintiff moved to amend his complaint to add the Tribune and McEnroe as defendants. That motion was denied on grounds of untimeliness given the degree of discovery and preparation which had already taken place in the instant lawsuit.

 Plaintiff now seeks to subpoena the Tribune, its Vice President and General Counsel, its Executive Editor, and two reporters including the writer of the story at issue Mr. McEnroe, to produce the actual Marriott Hotel bill which was supposedly shown to him during his interview, as well as all notes, records, photographs, and documents either utilized by or in the possession of the two reporters conducting the interview.

 Plaintiff's efforts are precluded by the First Amendment to the Constitution as well as statutes in both the District of Columbia and the State of Minnesota.

 In Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 707, 33 L. Ed. 2d 626, 92 S. Ct. 2646 (1972), the Supreme Court held that even though a journalist does not have an absolute privilege under the First Amendment to refuse to disclose confidential sources to a grand jury conducting a criminal investigation, some First Amendment protection must be accorded to the press and its newsgathering activities.

 Branzberg has since been interpreted by our D.C. Circuit in Zerilli v. Smith, 211 U.S. App. D.C. 116, 656 F.2d 705, 710-711 (D.C. Cir. 1981). The rationale of that case is both apt and eloquent:

 
The First Amendment guarantees a free press primarily because of the important role it can play as 'a vital source of public information.'...'The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.'...Without an unfettered press, citizens would be far less able to make informed political, social, and economic choices. But the press' function as a vital source of information is weakened whenever the ability of journalists to gather news is impaired. Compelling a reporter to disclose the identity of a source may significantly interfere with this news gathering ability...
 
Id. (citations omitted)

 "Compelling a reporter to disclose the identity of a source" is precisely what Mr. Grunseth seeks to do at this juncture. Despite all his efforts to argue to the contrary, he is essentially trying to find out who, at the Marriott Hotel, provided his hotel bill and receipt to the Tribune and its reporters. He concedes as much when, in his Opposition to the Motion to Quash, he says:

 What Plaintiff is really trying to do, through the use of discovery in the present lawsuit, is obtain the sources relied upon by the Tribune reporters so that that information can be used against them in the lawsuit he has recently filed in Superior Court against those reporters and the Tribune itself.

 Plaintiff does not deny that he now has a copy of the actual hotel bill itself--see Exhibit G attached to Marriott's Reply Memorandum in Support of the Motion to Quash. Nor, as Marriott argues in its Reply Memorandum and as Plaintiff apparently concedes (see Grunseth Deposition pp. 233-234), can it be claimed that anything in that hotel bill actually corroborates any of the facts charged by Tamara Taylor.

 For example, the hotel receipt does not indicate that any of the room service or bar charges were for more than one person (indeed the modest amounts would suggest that they were not), or that more than one person was staying in the room with Mr. Grunseth. Obviously the hotel receipt does ...


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