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Benz v. Washington Newspaper Publishing Co.

June 19, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge


Defendant The Washington Newspaper Publishing Company, LLC ("The Examiner") has filed a cross-claim against defendant John F. Bisney for fraudulent misrepresentation, indemnification, and contribution. Pending before the Court is Bisney's motion to dismiss The Examiner's cross-claim. Upon review of the motion, response and reply thereto, the pleadings, and applicable law, the Court DENIES the motion to dismiss.


Plaintiff Kathleen Benz met defendant Bisney sometime in 1997 while both worked on the CNN program Crossfire. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 15. The two "developed a social friendship" in or about November 2002. Id. ¶ 16; Cross-claim ¶ 7. The friendship ended in May 2005, however, when plaintiff learned that Bisney had obtained access to her email, established and maintained websites in her name, and posted personal and private information about her on the Internet. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 17; Cross-claim ¶ 7.

In July 2005, plaintiff alleges that Bisney began posting articles on various Internet sites stating that plaintiff was dating various wealthy men. Cross-claim ¶ 8; see also Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 78-82, 123. Bisney admits to posting such articles. Cross-claim ¶ 8. The content of one such article authored by Bisney was incorporated into a gossip column published by The Examiner. Id. ¶¶ 9-12.

The Examiner publishes a gossip column entitled "The Buzz." Cross-claim ¶ 9. The column is written by freelance writer Karen Feld. Id. On or about August 16, 2005, Feld received an email from the email address entitled "DC gossip." Id. ¶ 10. The email included the text of one of the articles authored by Bisney and a link to a website that contained an article about plaintiff. Id. Feld used the information from the article that she purportedly received from someone at the Los Angeles Times in her August 19, 2005 gossip column. Id. ¶ 12. That column indicated that plaintiff was linked romantically with a number of men referenced in the article forwarded to Feld. Id. The Examiner believes that Bisney, and not someone from the Los Angeles Times, sent the email to Feld and that Bisney authored that article. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. The Examiner also alleges that Bisney sent the email and article to Feld to induce her to include the information about plaintiff in her column and to induce The Examiner to publish such information. Id. ¶ 16.

In her Second Amended Complaint, plaintiff brings three claims against both The Examiner and Bisney: defamation (Claim One), invasion of privacy -- public disclosure of private facts (Claim Three), and false light invasion of privacy (Claim Four).*fn1

The claims against The Examiner revolve around the August 19, 2005 gossip column. The Examiner, in turn, brings three cross-claims against defendant Bisney: fraudulent misrepresentation, indemnification, and contribution.


A. Standard of Review

Bisney has moved to dismiss The Examiner's cross-claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). A complaint must present "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," and "above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965, 1974 (2007). The Court will accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, and give the plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be drawn from the facts alleged. See id. at 1965; Atchinson v. Dist. of Columbia, 73 F.3d 418, 422 (D.C. Cir. 1996).

B. Fraudulent Misrepresentation

The Examiner claims fraudulent misrepresentation against Bisney based on the email that Bisney allegedly sent to Feld as if it came from the Los Angeles Times. Bisney moves to dismiss, arguing that The Examiner cannot establish all the required elements of a claim of fraudulent misrepresentation. In the District of Columbia, the elements of fraudulent misrepresentation are: "(1) a false representation (2) in reference to material fact, (3) made with knowledge of its falsity, (4) with the intent to deceive, and (5) action is taken in reliance upon the representation." Atraqchi v. GUMC Unified Billing Servs., 788 A.2d 559, 563 (D.C. 2002) (quoting Bennett v. Kiggins, 377 A.2d 57, 59 (D.C. 1977). A party pleading fraud "must allege such facts as will reveal the existence of all the requisite elements of fraud." Bennett, 377 A.2d at 59-60. Moreover, the "circumstances constituting fraud . . . shall be stated with particularity." Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b). The requirements under Rule 9 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, however, should be read in conjunction with Rule 8, which only requires "a short and plain statement" of the claim or defense. United States ex rel. Williams v. Martin-Baker Aircraft Co., 389 F.3d 1251, 1256 (D.C. Cir. 2004). To satisfy Rules 8 and 9, a party must "state the time, place and content of the false misrepresentations, the fact misrepresented and what was retained or given up as a consequence of the fraud." Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The party must also identify the individuals allegedly involved in the fraud. Id.

In this case, The Examiner has sufficiently alleged all of the requisite elements of fraudulent misrepresentation. First, The Examiner alleges that Bisney falsely represented that the email he sent to Feld came from someone at the Los Angeles Times and that the facts contained in the article quoted in and linked to the email were true. The Examiner further alleges that the false representations were material, that Bisney knew that the email was falsely represented as coming from the Los Angeles Times, and that Bisney knew the article (or parts of it) were false. The Examiner also alleges that, by sending the email and article, Bisney intended to deceive both Feld and The Examiner and induce reliance on the email and article for publication in The Examiner. Finally, the Examiner claims that Feld and The Examiner did in fact rely at least in part on the email ...

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