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Lapointe v. Note

December 15, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge


The plaintiff, Eugene Lapointe, brings this action to recover damages for injuries allegedly caused by "defamation and continuing libelous attacks made by [the] defendants," Craig Van Note and Monitor Consortium ("Monitor").*fn1 Amended Complaint for Damages and Injunctive Relief ("Compl.") ¶ 2. Currently before this Court are: (1) the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Mot."); (2) the plaintiff's Opposition to the Defendants' Motion for Summary judgment ("Pl.'s Opp'n."); and (3) the defendants' Reply Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Their Motion for Summary Judgment. ("Defs.' Reply Mem.").*fn2

I. Factual Background

A. CITES and the Conference of the Parties

The Convention on International Trade for Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ("CITES") is an international agreement among various governments of approximately 170 countries, which has the objective of ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Affidavit of Michael Sandifer in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Sandier Aff."), Exhibit ("Ex.") A & Ex. B (Deposition of George Furness) ("Furness Dep.") at 24-25. Countries that have joined CITIES and agree to be bound by the convention are known as parties. Sandier Aff., Ex. A.

The supreme decision-making body under CITES is the Conference of the Parties ("COP"), which comprises all of the parties or member states to CITES. Sandier Aff., Exhibit A. The COP meets on a regular basis (approximately every 2-3 years) to determine how a particular plant or animal species should be treated with respect to international trade. Id. These meetings are designated by the "COP" initials, followed by the sequential number for each individual meeting, e.g., "COP 7" follows "COP 6." Id.

CITES categorizes species under the following three "Appendices," which dictate the treatment of the species included in them:

1. Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

2. Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. International trade in specimens of Appendix-II species may be authorized by the granting of an export permit or re-export certificate. Permits or certificates should only be granted if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.

3. Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade.

Id. Approximately 5,000 species of animals are protected by CITES against over-exploitation through international trade. Id. These animals are listed in the CITES Appendices described above. Id.

B. The CITES Secretary General

The office of the CITES Secretariat, which is administered by the United Nations Environment Program ("UNEP"), is responsible for coordinating, advising, and servicing the CITES' operations; assisting with communication and monitoring the implementation of CITES to ensure that its provisions are respected; and, distributing information relevant to the Parties, for example, proposals to amend the Appendices. Sandier Aff., Ex. A. The Secretary General governs the Secretariat and functions like the chief of the Secretariat. Furness Dep. at 26. In the role of Secretary General, defendant Lapointe was responsible to the COP and CITES. Sandifer Aff, Ex. C (Deposition of Eugene Lapointe) ("Lapointe Dep.") at 35. Lapointe had a pivotal and fundamental role in CITES, functioning as a chief executive officer and providing leadership to the Secretariat on behalf of the CITES conference of the parties. Id. at 30-31. He was responsible for executing policies on which the CITES members reached agreement. Id. at 42. When asked whether the Secretary General's position was a widely known position in the environmental community, he responded "Of course." Id. at 41.

Lapointe communicated not only the views expressed by the CITES convention, but also his own findings and recommendations on issues that had been discussed. Sandifer Aff., Ex. C (Lapointe Dep.) at 35-36. And, the Secretariat had an "obligation to step in between the supporters of two different vision" [sic]. Id. at 37-38. In making recommendations to the Secretariat, Lapointe talked not only to members of CITES and to non-governmental organizations ("NGO"), but also to the media. Id. at 38.

C. Lapointe's Performance as Secretary General: The African Elephant Controversy

Lapointe served as the CITES Secretary General from 1982 through 1990, when his contract was not renewed. Sandifer Aff., Ex. C (Lapointe Dep.) at 29, 119 & Ex. E (Compl.) ¶ 6. Lapointe's position as Secretary General was a widely-known position in the environmental community. Sandifer Aff., Ex. C (Lapointe Dep.) at 41. Lapointe essentially functioned as the "boss" of the Secretariat. Sandifer Aff., Ex. B (Furness Dep.) at 27.

In October 1989, the COP had to decide whether or not the African elephant should be transferred from Appendix II to Appendix I of the Convention (i.e., whether or not to impose a complete ban on the ivory trade). Sandifer Aff., Ex. G (United Nations Joint Appeals Board Report to the Secretary-General) at 2. As the Secretary General and on behalf of the Secretariat, Lapointe did not support a blanket ban on ivory trading and he was opposed to listing the African elephant globally on Appendix I. Sandifer Aff., Ex. C (Lapointe Dep.) at 50. Lapointe's actions and position on this matter garnered criticism beginning in May or June of 1989 from those who wanted all African elephants listed on Appendix I. Id. Allegations also began circulating of illegal activities associated within the CITES Secretariat in the form of corruption. Id. These criticisms were broadly publicized prior to the COP 7 meeting. Id. Additionally, certain conservation organizations circulated a letter addressed to the Executive Director of ...

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