Libel, slander claims against Fulmer dismissed
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A judge has dismissed claims of slander and libel filed against Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer over statements he made to NCAA officials investigating recruiting violations at Alabama.
Former player Kenny Smith and his mother, Vicki Smith Dagnan, sued Fulmer and the NCAA in January for $480 million claiming they were defamed when Fulmer told NCAA investigators in 2000 about rumors that Smith's mother was involved with an assistant coach at Alabama.
Fulmer thought the statements were confidential but they were made public when the NCAA handed over written summaries of Fulmer's interview to a federal grand jury in Memphis investigating a criminal case against an Alabama booster.
Fulmer has been accused by Alabama supporters of conspiring with the NCAA to destroy the Alabama football program. In 2002, the NCAA placed Alabama on probation for five years after finding several violations.
Knox County Chancellor John Weaver dismissed all claims against Fulmer in a written ruling dated Monday and obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday.
"Coach Fulmer, the NCAA and the University of Tennessee did the right thing in fighting to preserve the NCAA's system of self-governance," Fulmer's attorney Jeff Hagood said.
The Smiths' claims of slander and libel against the NCAA also were dismissed, but the judge ruled their claim that the NCAA invaded their privacy based on a television interview of an NCAA spokesman about Smith could proceed.
The Smiths' attorneys were waiting on the outcome of the remaining claims to decide whether to appeal. Attorney David Buuck of Knoxville said an apology would have prevented the lawsuit.
"Mr. Fulmer has been successful in using a legal loophole to avoid accountability for his reckless disregard for the truth," Buuck said. "The proper and gentlemanly course of action for him is to apologize to Kenny Smith's mother."
Smith originally signed with the Crimson Tide but later enrolled at Tennessee.
The Smiths first filed their lawsuit in Alabama, but it was dismissed by a judge citing a lack of jurisdiction.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES
- Longhorns 'shocked, upset' by resignation
- UW coach: Rules claims are 'untrue attacks'
- Report: BC, ND in talks to play at Fenway Park
- Bama LB Dickson suspended for Sugar Bowl
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
- Schutt Tennessee Volunteers Mini Authentic Football Helmet