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GRUNSETH v. MARRIOTT CORP.

January 19, 1995

JON R. GRUNSETH, Plaintiff,
v.
MARRIOTT CORPORATION, d/b/a J.W. MARRIOTT HOTEL, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GLADYS KESSLER

MEMORANDUM - OPINION

 I. Introduction

 Plaintiff is a former candidate for governor for the state of Minnesota. In his complaint, he alleges that employees of J.W. Marriott inappropriately released to Minnesota reporters a receipt indicating that he had stayed at Defendant's hotel and that such receipt provided corroboration for a story about an alleged liaison between himself and Tamara Taylor. Plaintiff also alleges that because of the story being reported, he was forced to withdraw from the governor's race, and was fired from his job. Plaintiff is suing Marriott *fn1" for breach of contract, negligence and invasion of privacy.

 This matter is now before the Court upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Upon consideration of the Motion, Plaintiff's Opposition, Defendant's Reply, the entire record herein, and the applicable case law the Court concludes, for the reasons stated below, that Defendant's Motion must be granted.

 II. Statement of Facts2

 In the fall of 1990, Plaintiff was a candidate for the office of governor of the state of Minnesota. Prior to running for governor, Plaintiff was employed as Vice President of Public Affairs for Ecolab, Inc., a Minneapolis-based environmental sanitation products manufacturer. *fn3" As a lobbyist for the company, Plaintiff visited Washington, D.C. often and stayed at one of the two downtown Marriott hotels on many occasions. One of those occasions was July 12, 1989.

 On October 15, 1990, in the midst of the gubernatorial campaign, a story was published in the Minneapolis Star & Tribune entitled "Allegations rock governor's race" which reported that Plaintiff, while nude, had encouraged four teenage girls to remove their bathing suits at a 1981 pool party.

 On October 27, 1990, Paul McEnroe and Allen Short, reporters for the Star & Tribune conducted an interview with Plaintiff which was videotaped by one of Plaintiff's own campaign workers. During the interview, after being questioned about a long-term affair with Tamara Taylor and about having spent the night with her at the Washington, D.C. Marriott in July of 1989, Plaintiff admitted having met her at the Marriott hotel, but denied spending the night with her. Mr. Short presented Plaintiff with a document which appeared to be a copy of a hotel receipt to ascertain the exact date he met with Ms. Taylor. Plaintiff simply stated that the Marriott was like a home away from home and that he could not recall when he had met with Ms. Taylor. He did admit having had dinner with her and a friend at the Marriott Hotel during 1988 or 1989, and having had an affair with her in the past.

 On October 28, 1990, the Star & Tribune published a story, "When did Grunseth [sic] 'wild years' end?", about a nine-year affair between Plaintiff and Tamara Taylor. The article also reported a sexual encounter between Plaintiff and Ms. Taylor that she alleged occurred in July of 1989 at the Marriott on an evening when they were joined by her friend, Minda Callaway, for dinner and drinks. According to the article, the date given by Ms. Taylor was corroborated by Plaintiff's hotel receipt for the night of July 12, 1989.

 Immediately after publication of this story, which was released nine days before the general election, Plaintiff withdrew from the governor's race. On the eve of the election, Plaintiff was interviewed in Hawaii by a WCCO-TV reporter. When questioned about the gubernatorial candidates, Plaintiff disparagingly referred to them as Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

 At some later date, Plaintiff discovered that a copy of the hotel receipt was missing from his expense report files. Plaintiff reported the missing hotel receipt to William Rosengren, general counsel of Ecolab, in early December, 1990.

 Because of the election-eve television interview and the Himle Horner report, Plaintiff was informed by Ecolab in December 1990, that his employment had been terminated. Plaintiff was also informed by Pierson M. Grieve, Ecolab's Chairman of the Board, that another element in the decision to terminate his employment was the Star & Tribune article about Tamara Taylor. After Plaintiff was terminated, he asserted claims against Ecolab for wrongful termination, defamation and conversion. Plaintiff and Ecolab ultimately entered into a settlement/severance agreement.

 In March 1992, an article, written by David Nimmer, entitled "Drowning Mr. Grunseth", was published in a literary magazine called The Quill. The article discussed the two stories published by the Star & Tribune about the 1981 pool party and the nine-year affair between Plaintiff and Tamara Taylor. The article said--without any attribution of sources or quotations--that McEnroe had "sweet talked" an employee at the Marriott into sending him a copy of Plaintiff's hotel receipt for the July, 1989 night that Plaintiff allegedly spent with Ms. Taylor. On March 12, 1992, Plaintiff wrote a letter to the Marriott, attaching the Nimmer article, seeking confirmation that Marriott had not disclosed confidential information about his stay at the hotel. On March 30, 1992, Marriott responded assuring Plaintiff that it was their policy not to disclose information in the manner that the article suggested and that they would investigate further.

 After an internal investigation, Marriott ultimately determined that its copy of Plaintiff's hotel receipt for July 12, 1989 was purged from its electronic records on May 25, 1990, in accordance ...


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