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Houlahan v. Aiello

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

February 11, 2014

THOMAS G. HOULAHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
FREEMAN WALL AIELLO, a Partnership, and JAMES WALL, an Individual, Defendants

Page 78

THOMAS G. HOULAHAN, Plaintiff, Pro se, Washington, D.C.

For Defendants: JACK D. LAPIDUS, ESQ., OF COUNSEL, MACLEAY, LYNCH & LAPIDUS, P.C., Washington, D.C.

OPINION

Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., Senior United States District Judge.

Page 79

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Currently before the Court is Defendants James Wall and Freeman Wall Aiello's motion for summary judgment. See Dkt. No. 160. Plaintiff opposes this motion. See Dkt. No. 160.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed this action against, among others, Defendants James Wall and his public relations firm, Freeman Wall Aiello (hereinafter referred to collectively as " Defendant Wall" ).[1] In his amended complaint, Plaintiff alleged claims of intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, defamation, and abuse of process.[2] Plaintiff also sought punitive damages. Only Plaintiff's claim for defamation remains for the Court's consideration.

Plaintiff is an investigative journalist, who in 2003 began investigating the teen behavior modification industry. Former Defendant World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (" WWASPS" )

Page 80

is an association of teen behavior modification facilities. WWASPS hired Defendant Wall in 2003 to conduct public relations for the association. During the course of his investigation, Plaintiff communicated with Defendant Wall and Ken Kay, then President of WWASPS. In February 2004, WWASPS filed a lawsuit against Plaintiff. Shortly thereafter, Defendant Wall issued a press release on behalf of WWASPS regarding the lawsuit and quoting Mr. Kay. Plaintiff's defamation claim against Defendant Wall arises out of certain e-mail communications that preceded the February 2004 lawsuit and certain statements in the press release.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Summary judgment standard

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate if the " movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are facts that " might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). If the movant meets his burden, the party opposing the motion " 'may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must -- by affidavits or as otherwise provided for in [Rule 56] -- set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.'" Tate v. Dist. of Columbia, 627 F.3d 904, 908-09, 393 U.S. App. D.C. 270 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2) (2008)).

B. Plaintiff's defamation claim

At issue in this case are six statements. Plaintiff claims that four of these statements were included in e-mails and were defamatory. See Amended Complaint at ¶ ¶ 40-43. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Wall directed one of these statements to Mr. Tobin Beck, Plaintiff's editor at UPI, and initially directed the other three statements to Plaintiff and then sent them to Mr. Beck.

The three statements that Defendant Wall directed to Plaintiff are as follows:

1. " The fact that you are now purveying your perverse views (torture, abuse, battery, etc.) in personal telephone conversations to parents of children who have contractual relationships with Ivy Ridge/TB could well be an issue for their attorneys to take up." [3]
2. " I view this conduct as wholly unethical conduct from a journalistic point of view. Not only that, but what you said to Ms. Boatright [a parent of a student who attended a WWASPS-affiliated school] may well constitute defamation and tortious interference."
3. " It is clear that your role as a journalist is being eclipsed by your very negative views of WWASPS schools. Contacting a parenting [sic] and ranting forth is well beyond the scope of your duty as a reporter."

See id. at ¶ 43.

The statement that Defendant Wall published directly to Mr. ...


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