Judge dismisses most of lawsuit against DeOrr Kunz private investigator
IDAHO FALLS — A judge has thrown out most of a lawsuit against the private investigator originally hired by the family of DeOrr Kunz Jr. to help find the missing toddler.
Dennis “DeOrr” Kunz, DeOrr’s grandfather, and Vernal Kunz, DeOrr’s father, filed a lawsuit in 2017 against Philip Klein of Texas-based Klein Investigations and Consulting for breach of contract, infliction of emotional distress, libel, slander and fraud.
A judge dismissed most of the case Friday.
“We appreciate the support of the people of Idaho. We thank the people for their love, care and support of our team,” Klein told EastIdahoNews.com.
The only aspect of the lawsuit still remaining is the infliction of emotional distress, specifically pertaining to Vernal. That section of the lawsuit hasn’t been argued in court yet.
The lawsuit came about after Klein made statements to news outlets concerning his investigation into DeOrr’s disappearance. In those statements, Klein gave his opinion and talked about the inconsistency in the family’s stories, blood found on the tire of a truck, a positive hit from a cadaver dog and Vernal failing multiple lie detector tests. He also claimed the family knew what happened to the child and speculated that he was dead.
Dennis and Vernal claimed in the suit that those statements were defamatory and violated the confidentiality portion of the contract made between Dennis and Klein.
The court disagreed. In his ruling, District Judge Bruce Pickett said DeOrr’s disappearance was a matter of public concern. Meaning, the statements Klein made were protected by the First Amendment of the United States Consitution. That protection requires the person making the complaint to prove the statements are false.
“A person cannot be found liable for expressions of opinion about another person, however unreasonable,” Pickett wrote in his ruling.
According to court documents, no evidence proving Klein’s statements were false was presented.
Other aspects of the lawsuit were dismissed due to Dennis’s death on January 3.
The court ruled the claims of fraud and infliction of emotional distress, pertaining to Dennis, were no longer applicable due to Dennis’s passing. Dennis hired Klein in 2016. Because it was Dennis and not Vernal who hired Klein, the court ruled Vernal had no standing to pursue a breach of contract claim.
Regardless, the original breach of contract claim didn’t fulfill all the requirements for a valid breach of contract lawsuit, according to documents.
In addition, the Kunz family had sought $20,000 in damages, which was the exact amount raised by a GoFundMe to hire Klein.
“The Plaintiffs fail to demonstrate economic damages resulting from the alleged breach,” Pickett writes. “Plaintiffs attempt to claim the $20,000 that was paid to (Klein) from a GoFundMe account that was donated to by members of the general public, but to award the Plaintiffs $20,000 that they did not pay would be to grant them a windfall where they did not suffer actual damages.”
Pickett said that since the plaintiff did not pay the defendant anything, they cannot show any economic harm resulting from the alleged breach of contract.
With the close of the lawsuit, Klein is planning to release more information about the Kunz case. In August, he announced he was going to post 15 hours of video and audio interviews online in connection to DeOrr’s disappearance. He then said he was going to wait until the end of the lawsuit against him.
Klein told EastIdahoNews.com Friday that he will release the interviews once the last part of the lawsuit is complete.
“We want everyone to still remember that DeOrr Kunz is missing. Am I closing the door completely on the DeOrr Kunz case? No. I am not. We want to see how it all plays out,” Klein said. “I’m thinking about DeOrr right now. That’s who I’m thinking about right now.”
Lemhi County Sheriff Steve Penner had no comment about the lawsuit but says the DeOrr Kunz investigation is still very active.