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Houlahan v. World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools

January 5, 2010

THOMAS G. HOULAHAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WORLD WIDE ASSOCIATION OF SPECIALTY PROGRAMS AND SCHOOLS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

In this suit, plaintiff Thomas Houlahan, a journalist, brings various causes of action against several defendants, including World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools ("WWASPS") and its President, Kenneth Kay (collectively "defendants") asserting claims arising from defendants' actions allegedly in response to Houlahan's investigation of the teen behavior modification industry.

Before the Court is defendants' second renewed motion for partial summary judgment as to Houlahan's claim of abuse of process [#103], a claim that is grounded on a lawsuit defendants filed against Houlahan in Utah. Houlahan asserts that the lawsuit was baseless and was instituted to deter him from further investigating WWASPS and his publisher from publishing his work. Upon consideration of the motion, the opposition thereto, and the record of this case, the Court concludes that the motion should be granted.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

WWASPS is an association of teen behavior modification facilities located around the world. Houlahan, a journalist writing principally for United Press International ("UPI"), began to investigate the teen behavior modification industry in the spring of 2003. His investigation focused on alleged improprieties within facilities operated by WWASPS and led him to draft a series of articles focused on WWASPS and its member schools. During the investigation, Houlahan's work came to the attention of WWASPS and its president Kenneth Kay.

Houlahan's investigation of WWASPS led WWASPS to file a lawsuit against Houlahan in Utah, alleging claims of intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, injurious falsehood, and defamation. The Utah suit was ultimately dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction, a decision that was affirmed on appeal. See World Wide Assoc. of Specialty Programs & Sch. v. Houlahan, 2005 WL 1097321, at *1 (10th Cir. May 10, 2005). Houlahan claims that the Utah lawsuit was an abuse of process for which defendants should be held liable.

B. Procedural Background

Defendants previously sought partial summary judgment on Houlahan's abuse of process claim. This Court granted defendants' initial motion for summary judgment, but later granted Houlahan's motion to alter or amend the judgment and denied defendants' motion for summary judgment without prejudice. The Court indicated, however, that the motion could be renewed after discovery had been completed. After the completion of discovery, defendants renewed their motion for partial summary judgment as to Houlahan's abuse of process claim, to which Houlahan filed an opposition. In their filings, however, neither party addressed the threshold question of whether it is the law of the District of Columbia or Utah that supplies the substantive law by which to measure Houlahan's claim. Therefore, the Court denied without prejudice defendants' renewed motion and ordered that any future motion must address the threshold issue of which jurisdiction's substantive law should govern the abuse of process claim. Defendants' second renewed motion and Houlahan's opposition to it addresses this threshold issue.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment may be granted only where the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Burke v. Gould, 286 F.3d 513, 517 (D.C. Cir. 2002). A material fact is one that is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue is one where the "evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party," as opposed to evidence that "is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 248, 252.

A court considering a motion for summary judgment must draw all "justifiable inferences" from the evidence in favor of the non-movant. Id. at 255. But the non-moving party's opposition must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials; it must be supported by affidavits or other competent evidence setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the nonmoving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. If the ...


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