Dismissal of home inspector's libel lawsuit over email dubbing him 'total idiot' upheld

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OMAHA, Nebraska — The Nebraska Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal of a libel lawsuit filed over an email that referred to a Seward home inspector as a "total idiot."

Friday's decision stems from a 2012 lawsuit in which Matthew Steinhausen said he was anonymously forwarded an email written by real estate agent Shelly Nitz. In the email, Nitz provided feedback on Steinhausen's performance to two real estate companies, Woods Brothers Realty and HomeServices of Nebraska, saying, "He did an inspection in Seward for the agent that sold one of my listings. I will never let him near one of my listings ever again. Total idiot."

Steinhausen's lawsuit said the email, sent to about 600 people, was libelous and hurt his business with those two major real estate companies in the Lincoln area.

Attorneys for Nitz and the real estate businesses said the email was opinion protected by the First Amendment, and a Lancaster County District judge agreed. Steinhausen, who represented himself in the lawsuit and had been an inspector for more than 10 years in 2012, appealed.

The state's high court upheld the dismissal as it pertained to Steinhausen, but vacated a dismissal related to Steinhausen's business, Steinhausen Home Inspections.

The high court found that even though Steinhausen is the sole member of Steinhausen Home Inspections, he could not represent the business entity because he is not licensed to practice law. The reversal leaves open the question of whether Steinhausen's business can again sue over the email.

Lincoln attorney Shawn Renner, who represented Nitz, declined to comment Friday. An attorney for the real estate companies did not return a phone message Friday seeking comment.

Steinhausen said Friday that he is considering his options, including whether he can hire an attorney and refile a complaint on behalf of his business.

He said the email "definitely hurt my business, no question." The real estate companies he sued typically do about 6,000 real estate transactions a year, he said. After the email was sent, he said he was hired for a property inspection on only one of those transactions the following year.

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