United States District Court, District of Columbia
BERMAN JACKSON United States District Judge.
Patricia Smith and Charles Woods have brought this action
against the former Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton
(“Secretary Clinton”), alleging that Secretary
Clinton's use of a private email server caused the death
of their sons Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods. Plaintiffs'
theory is that Secretary Clinton's use of the private
email account when she was serving as Secretary of State
exposed confidential information about plaintiffs'
relatives to the terrorists who ultimately took their lives
in Benghazi, Libya in September of 2012. See Compl.
[Dkt. # 1] ¶¶ 26-28, 44-47. Plaintiffs also allege
that Secretary Clinton defamed them and placed them in a
false light when, as a candidate for the office of President
of the United States, she disputed their accounts of
conversations that she had with them about the circumstances
that led to attack in Benghazi. Id. ¶¶
33-42. Finally, plaintiffs allege that Secretary
Clinton's conduct - both as Secretary of State and later
on the campaign trail - intentionally and negligently caused
them to suffer emotional distress. Id. ¶¶
United States has moved to substitute itself as the defendant
for any actions that Secretary Clinton took as Secretary of
State. In that capacity, it moves to dismiss the claims for
wrongful death (Count I) and negligence (Count IV) in their
entirety, along with those portions of the claims for
intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress
(Counts V and VI, respectively) that are premised on actions
Secretary Clinton took as Secretary of State.
allows the United States to substitute itself as the
defendant where a lawsuit challenges acts taken by a
government official who was acting in the scope of his or her
employment at the time of the alleged torts. To resolve the
question of whether Secretary Clinton was acting in the scope
of her employment, the relevant inquiry is not whether her
use of the private email server was lawful or unlawful.
Instead, the only issue to be resolved is whether the
Secretary's communication with State Department personnel
concerning State Department business through that means fell
within the scope of Secretary Clinton's employment.
Because the Court finds that Secretary Clinton was acting in
the scope of her employment when she transmitted the emails
that are alleged to give rise to her liability, the motion to
substitute will be granted. And because plaintiffs failed to
raise their claims with the State Department before bringing
suit as is legally required, the government's motion to
dismiss the counts against the United States will be granted.
addition, Secretary Clinton has moved to dismiss the
defamation and false light claims (Counts II and III), as
well as the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional
distress claims insofar as they are premised on actions she
took after she left office (Count V and VI). Plaintiffs
allege that Secretary Clinton lied to them when she allegedly
told them that it was a YouTube video that prompted the
attack on the consulate in Benghazi. See Compl.
¶ 24. They further claim that when Secretary Clinton -
then candidate Clinton - was subsequently asked about
plaintiffs' allegation that she had lied, she defamed
plaintiffs or put them in a false light when she disputed
their account of their conversation with her. See
Id. ¶ 23. But because plaintiffs have not stated a
claim for defamation or false light, or for intentional
infliction of emotional distress, Secretary Clinton's
personal motion to dismiss will be granted as well.
untimely death of plaintiffs' sons is tragic, and the
Court does not mean to minimize the unspeakable loss that
plaintiffs have suffered in any way. But when one applies the
appropriate legal standards, it is clear that plaintiffs have
not alleged sufficient facts to rebut the presumption that
Secretary Clinton was acting in her official capacity when
she used her private email server to communicate with State
Department personnel about State Department business, and
that they have not stated claims that Secretary Clinton
defamed them, put them in a false light, or intentionally
inflicted emotional distress. For those reasons, the case
will be dismissed. Nothing about this decision should be
construed as making any determination or expressing any
opinion about the propriety of the use of the private email
server or the content or accuracy of the statements made by
the Secretary to the family members or to anyone else in the
days following the Benghazi attack.
purposes of this motion, the Court must assume the facts
alleged by the plaintiffs to be true.
2009 to 2013, Secretary Clinton served as the United States
Secretary of State. Compl. ¶ 8. During her tenure - as
the world has come to know - she “utilized a private
e-mail server to conduct official government business.”
Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiffs allege that Secretary
Clinton used the private server to send and receive
“thousands of e-mails regarding matters of national
security, including information that has been categorized as
‘top secret, ' ‘secret, ' and
specifically allege that Secretary Clinton used her private
e-mail server to “send and receive information about
the location of Ambassador Christopher Stevens . . . and
other government operations in Benghazi, Libya. Compl. ¶
From there, they posit that the email server was hacked by a
number of foreign countries, that terrorists thereby obtained
the e-mails, and that the terrorists used them to
“plan, orchestrate, and carry out the horrific and
devastating attack on the American diplomatic compound in
Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, resulting in the death
of four Americans, including Sean Smith and Tyrone
Woods.” Id. ¶¶ 15-16.
to plaintiffs, on the day of the attack, and in the days that
followed, Secretary Clinton attempted to blame an anti-Muslim
YouTube video for inciting the violence. Compl. ¶ 18. In
particular, on September 12, 2012, when Secretary Clinton
gave public remarks about the attack, she said: “Some
have sought to justify this vicious behavior, along with the
protest that took place at our Embassy in Cairo yesterday, as
a response to inflammatory material posted on the
internet.” Id. And the complaint states that,
two days after the attack, when Secretary Clinton met with
the families of the four Americans who were killed, she
“lied to Plaintiffs and told Plaintiffs that the
Benghazi attack was the result of the anti-Muslim YouTube
video that had been posted online, ” and she promised
the families that the “creator of the video would be
arrested.” Id. ¶ 19. According to the
complaint, plaintiff Woods “contemporaneously recorded
this September 14, 2012 interaction with [Secretary] Clinton
by writing in his diary . . . ‘I gave Hillary a hug and
shook her hand, and she said we are going to have the film
maker arrested who was responsible for the death of my
son.'” Id. ¶ 20.
narrative in the complaint then jumps forward more than three
years, and it recounts various statements that Secretary
Clinton made during the Presidential election season in late
2015 and early 2016. Secretary Clinton has long maintained
that she never told plaintiffs that the Benghazi attack was
caused by the YouTube video; plaintiffs allege that when she
advanced those denials, Secretary Clinton lied about their
September 2012 interaction and thereby defamed them.
23 of the complaint recounts four specific instances of
• December 6, 2015 interview with George
Stephanopoulos of ABC:
Stephanopoulos asked Clinton, “[d]id you tell them it
was about the film?” Compl. ¶ 23(a). Secretary
No. You know, look I understand the continuing grief at the
loss that parents experienced with the loss of these four
brave Americans. And I did testify, as you know, for 11
hours. And I answered all of these questions. Now, I
can't -I can't help it the people think there has to
be something else there. I said very clearly there had been a
terrorist group that had taken responsibility on Facebook
between the time that, I - you know, when I talked to my
daughter, that was the latest information; we were giving it
credibility. And then we learned the next day it wasn't
true. In fact, they retracted it. This was a fast-moving
series of events in the fog of war and I think most Americans
December 30, 2015 meeting with the Conway Daily Sun
Editorial Board: The complaint alleges that Conway
Daily Sun columnist Tom McLaughlin brought up the ABC
interview and asked: “Somebody is lying. Who is
it?” Compl. ¶ 23(b). Secretary Clinton responded:
“Not me, that's all I can tell you.”
March 9, 2016, during the Democratic Presidential
Debate. Secretary Clinton was asked about plaintiff
Smith's allegation that Secretary Clinton lied to her by
blaming the Benghazi attack on the YouTube video. Compl.
¶ 23(c). Secretary Clinton responded:
I feel a great deal of sympathy for the families of the four
brave Americans that we lost at Benghazi, and I certainly
can't even imagine the grief that she has for losing her
son, but she's wrong. She's absolutely wrong.
July 31, 2016 interview with Chris Wallace of Fox
News. In response to a question about “why
[plaintiffs] would make . . . up” their claims,
Secretary Clinton said:
Chris, my heart goes out to both of them. Losing a child
under any circumstances, especially in this case, two State
Department employees, extraordinary men both of them, two CIA
contractors gave their lives protecting our country, our
values. I understand the grief and the incredible sense of
loss that can motivate that. As other members of families who
lost loved ones have said, that's not what they heard. I
don't hold any ill feeling for someone who in that moment
may not fully recall everything that was or wasn't said.
Compl. ¶ 23(d).
make the conclusory assertion that Secretary Clinton
“defamed [p]laintiffs by either directly calling them
liars, or by strongly implying that they are liars.”
Compl. ¶ 23.
filed this six-count complaint on August 8, 2016. In Count I,
plaintiffs bring a claim for wrongful death, alleging that
“[t]he deaths of Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods were
directly and proximately caused by the negligent and reckless
actions of [Secretary] Clinton, who used her private email
server to send and receive secret, confidential, and
classified government information that compromised the
location of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and thus the U.S.
Department of State ... in Benghazi, Libya.” Compl.
¶ 26. In Count II, plaintiffs allege that the four
statements Secretary Clinton made during the campaign in 2015
and 2016 were defamatory, id. ¶¶ 33-37,
and in Count III, they allege that those four statements
placed them in a false light. Id. ¶¶
39-42. In Count IV, plaintiffs allege that Secretary Clinton
acted negligently in the handling of her private email
server, and that her negligence directly and proximately
caused the deaths of Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods.
Id. ¶¶ 44-48. In Count V, plaintiffs
allege that Secretary Clinton committed the tort of
intentional infliction of emotional distress (1) when she
“used her private email server to send and receive
confidential and classified government information, ”
and (2) in defaming and holding plaintiffs in a false light
during the campaign. Id. ¶¶ 50-52. And in
Count VI, plaintiffs allege that Secretary Clinton
negligently inflicted emotional distress when she (1) was
“negligent and reckless” in her “handling
of classified government information, ” and (2) when
she defamed plaintiffs and held them in a false light.
Id. ¶¶ 54-56.
October 21, 2016, the United States filed a motion pursuant
to the Westfall Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2679, arguing that the
United States should be substituted as a defendant for all
counts that arose out of Secretary Clinton's actions as
Secretary of State. U.S. Mot. for Partial Substitution [Dkt.
# 23] (“U.S. Mot. to Substitute”) at 3-4.
Accordingly, the United States has requested that Counts I
and IV be deemed to be against the United States in their
entirety, and that Counts V and VI should be deemed to be
against the United States insofar as they allege wrongdoing
arising out of events that occurred when Secretary Clinton
served as an officer of the United States. Id. Based
on that substitution, the United States filed a motion to
dismiss Counts I and IV in their entirety, and to dismiss
Counts V and VI in part, for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. United States Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 24]
(“U.S. MTD”) at 1-2. The government also moved to
dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction due to a failure to
properly serve Secretary Clinton or the United States.
Id. at 3-4.
November 14, 2016, Secretary Clinton filed a separate motion
to dismiss plaintiffs' claims based on her conduct as a
Presidential candidate for defamation, false light,
intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent
infliction of emotional distress, for failure to state a
claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Def.
Hillary Rodham Clinton's Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 28]
opposed the motions filed by the United States, Pls.'
Opp. to the U.S. Mot. to Substitute & U.S. MTD [Dkt. #
30] (“Pls.' Opp. to U.S. Mots.”), and they
opposed Secretary Clinton's motion to dismiss as well.
Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Opp. to Clinton MTD [Dkt. # 34]
(“Pls.' Opp. to Clinton MTD”). The United
States replied in support of its motions, Reply Mem. in
Further Supp. of U.S. Mot. to Substitute [Dkt. # 32]
(“U.S. Substitution Reply”); U.S. Reply Mem. in
Further Supp. of U.S. MTD [Dkt. # 33] (“U.S. MTD
Reply”), and Secretary Clinton replied in support of
her motion to dismiss as well. Def. Clinton's Reply in
Supp. of Clinton MTD [Dkt. # 35] (“Clinton MTD
evaluating a motion to dismiss under either Rule 12(b)(1) or
12(b)(6), the Court must “treat the complaint's
factual allegations as true . . . and must grant plaintiff
‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from
the facts alleged.'” Sparrow v. United Air
Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000)
(internal citations omitted), quoting Schuler v. United
States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979); see also
Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v. FDIC, 642 F.3d 1137, 1139
(D.C. Cir. 2011). Nevertheless, the Court need not accept
inferences drawn by the plaintiff if those inferences are
unsupported by facts alleged in the complaint, nor must the
Court accept plaintiff's legal conclusions. Browning
v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002).
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing
jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See
Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992);
Shekoyan v. Sibley Int'l Corp., 217 F.Supp.2d
59, 63 (D.D.C. 2002). Federal courts are courts of limited
jurisdiction and the law presumes that “a cause lies
outside this limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v.
Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994);
see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448
(D.C. Cir. 2004) (“As a court of limited jurisdiction,
we begin, and end, with an examination of our
jurisdiction.”). “[B]ecause subject-matter
jurisdiction is ‘an Art[icle] III as well as a
statutory requirement . . . no action of the parties can
confer subject-matter ...