United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
P. MEHTA UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
Donald Berlin is a private investigator who, in February
2003, prepared what Plaintiff Christopher Chandler terms a
“Pitch.” According to Plaintiff, the Pitch is a
134-page document that contains a host of false assertions,
accusing Plaintiff and his brother of engaging in various
criminal activities, such as money laundering and having ties
to organized crime in Russia and Russian intelligence.
Apparently, for well over a decade, the contents of the Pitch
did not see the light of day. But then in November 2017 the
person who received Berlin's work in 2003, Robert
Eringer, sent a portion of the Pitch to members of the
British media. This disclosure caused a firestorm of negative
press accounts, reporting that Plaintiff was involved in
money laundering for Russian interests and espionage. In this
action for libel per se, Plaintiff alleges that Berlin and
his various affiliated companies are liable for the harm
caused by their presenting the Pitch to Eringer in 2003, as
well as Eringer's republication of portions of the Pitch
now move to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary
judgment. Treating Defendants' motion as one for summary
judgment, the court grants the motion insofar as Plaintiff
claims that Defendants are liable for the harm arising from
the 2017 republication by Eringer. Defendants could not have
reasonably foreseen in 2003 that Eringer would republish the
Pitch fourteen years later in 2017. With respect to the
original publication of the Pitch in 2003, on the present
record the court cannot find that such claim is time barred.
There remains a genuine dispute of material fact as to when
Plaintiff reasonably could have discovered the alleged
libelous matter in the Pitch and Defendants' role in its
creation. The court, therefore, declines to enter summary
judgment in Defendants' favor as to the original
publication of the Pitch in 2003.
court, however, will not allow complete discovery on the
merits to proceed at this time. Instead, the parties may take
limited discovery on the narrow issue of when Plaintiff
reasonably could have learned about Defendants' creation
of the Pitch, so as to commence the one-year limitations
period. The court wishes to satisfy itself that
Plaintiff's libel claim as to the 2003 publication of the
Pitch is timely before permitting full discovery.
Pitch and Its Publication
2003, Defendant Donald Berlin, doing business through his
investigative services company, Defendant Investigative
Consultants, Inc. (“ICI”), compiled a 134-page
background document about Plaintiff Christopher Chandler.
See Compl., ECF No. 20 [hereinafter Compl.],
¶¶ 4, 20-24; see Defs.' Mot., ECF No.
21, Defs.' Mem., ECF No. 21-1 [hereinafter Defs.'
Mem.] (not controverting facts). Berlin prepared the
document-which Plaintiff refers to as the
“Pitch”- for one Robert Eringer, a resident of
Monaco who had ingratiated himself with Prince Albert II of
Monaco. Eringer had told the Prince that he could help
investigate people living in Monaco who were suspected of
engaging in financial improprieties, including Plaintiff and
his brother. See Id. ¶¶ 3, 35, 62;
see Defs.' Mem. (not controverting facts).
Plaintiff prepared the Pitch and gave it to Eringer no later
than February 23, 2003. The Pitch contained allegations that
Plaintiff and his brother were involved in, among other
things, money laundering, organized crime, and espionage for
Russia. See Compl., ECF No. 20-1 [hereinafter
Pitch], at 1-34. The header of every page of the Pitch,
except the first, included the words “Confidential
Memorandum to File.” See id.
November 2004, Eringer took the information in the Pitch and
incorporated it into what Plaintiff calls the “Eringer
Report.” Compl. ¶¶ 54-56. At some point
thereafter, Eringer took the Eringer Report to create what
Plaintiff terms the “Fake Dossier, ” which
Eringer disclosed to members of the British media in November
2017. See Id. ¶ 57; see also Pl.'s
Decl., ECF No. 22-2 [hereinafter Pl.'s Decl.],
¶¶ 6-11. The next month, the British media began
running articles about Plaintiff containing allegations
stemming from the Fake Dossier. See Pl.'s Decl.
¶¶ 6-9. At the time, Plaintiff was active in the
public debate around “Brexit, ” thus making the
Fake Dossier's allegations newsworthy. See
Compl. ¶ 58 n.31; Defs.' Mem. (not controverting
fact). In an effort to rebut the press reports, Plaintiff sat
down with a reporter in May 2018, who showed him a copy of
the Fake Dossier, which included the Pitch. The Pitch itself
references ICI. See Pl.'s Decl. ¶¶
10-12. Plaintiff had not seen the Pitch or heard of ICI
before May 2018. Id. ¶ 12.
asserts that he did not “give permission, authorize,
[or] know” that Eringer would disclose the Pitch to the
Prince of Monaco or any other third party. See
Berlin Decl., ECF No. 21-9 [hereinafter Berlin Decl.],
¶¶ 7-8. Plaintiff offers no facts to dispute that
contention. See Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n to
Defs.' Mot, ECF No. 22 [hereinafter Pl.'s Opp'n],
Pl.'s Objs. and Resp. to Defs.' Facts, ECF No. 22 at
38-42 [hereinafter Pl.'s Resp. to Facts], ¶ 18.
Berlin also contends that he did not “foresee”
that Eringer would disclose the Pitch. See Berlin
Decl. ¶¶ 7-8. Plaintiff attempts to rebut that
assertion with evidence. Specifically, Plaintiff cites a
litany of publicly available information about Eringer that
pre-dates the creation of the Pitch in 2003, including the
fact that Eringer was a tabloid writer, to show that Berlin
reasonably should have foreseen that Eringer would republish
the Pitch's accusations. See Pl.'s Resp. to
Facts ¶ 18.
Related Eringer Publications
2017, Eringer published the false allegations contained in
the Pitch in various ways. In 2009, Eringer brought a lawsuit
in California against Prince Albert. The complaint in that
action mentioned Eringer's investigation of Plaintiff and
accused Plaintiff of doing unregistered, unlawful business in
Monaco. See Pl.'s Resp. to Facts ¶ 8;
see also Defs.' Mem., ECF No. 21-7, ¶ 13.
In 2014, Eringer published a book titled the “Spymaster
of Monte Carlo, ” which repeated many of the
accusations of criminal wrongdoing contained in the Pitch.
See Defs.' Facts ¶¶ 9-10; Pl.'s
Resp. to Facts ¶¶ 9-10; see also Pl.'s
Opp'n, Exhibit F, ECF No. 22-12, at 17-19, 53-54, 70.
Then, in 2016, Eringer created a website posting called
“The Art of the Ruse: Richard and Christopher Chandler,
” which appears to contain excerpts from the
“Spymaster of Monte Carlo” relating to Plaintiff.