United States District Court, District of Columbia
ROSEMARY M. COLLYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
2016, Plaintiff August Wolf sought the Connecticut Republican
Party's nomination for a seat in the United States
Senate. Mr. Wolf's campaign was derailed, however, after
one of his advisors, Defendant Samantha Menh, resigned from
his campaign and filed suit against him in Connecticut
Superior Court alleging sexual harassment, among other
misdeeds. Now Mr. Wolf has responded by suing Ms. Menh for
defamation. But Ms. Menh's allegedly defamatory
statements are protected by an absolute litigation privilege
and cannot be the basis of a defamation suit. Thus, the Court
will dismiss Mr. Wolf's Complaint.
2016, Mr. Wolf sought the Connecticut Republican Party's
nomination to run against Democrat Richard Blumenthal for the
United States Senate. Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶ 3. To help Mr.
Wolf qualify for the Republican Primary, Mr. Wolf's
campaign organization, August Wolf for Senate (AWFS), hired
Ms. Menh in March 2016 to serve as Finance Director and
Advisor. Id. ¶ 4. Apparently, things did not go
well: Ms. Menh resigned six weeks later. Id. Things
then got worse. On June 1, 2016, Ms. Menh filed a complaint
in Connecticut Superior Court alleging, among other things,
sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, and violation
of campaign finance laws by Mr. Wolf and AWFS. Compl. ¶
26; see also Complaint, Menh v. Wolf, No.
FSTCV166028725S (Conn. Super. Ct. June 1, 2016). Ms. Menh
also shared copies of her complaint with media sources, which
widely distributed the story. Compl. ¶¶ 28-29. Mr.
Wolf alleges that the salacious nature of her allegations and
the resulting negative publicity forced AWFS to suspend Mr.
Wolf's Senate campaign. Id. ¶ 32. The
negative publicity also cost Mr. Wolf his job as Managing
Director at Lebenthal Asset Management in New York City and
has allegedly dogged him ever since. Id.
Wolf denies Ms. Menh's allegations and argues that the
Connecticut litigation is a sham intended to punish Mr. Wolf
for withstanding Ms. Menh's attempts to extort money from
him. Id. ¶¶ 25-28, 31. Therefore, he has
filed this lawsuit against Ms. Menh, alleging tortious
interference with contract (Count I), defamation per
se (Count II), and common law conspiracy (Count III).
See generally Compl.
case was originally filed in federal court in the Eastern
District of Virginia. Id. ¶¶ 5-7; see
generally Wolf v. Menh, No. 18-CV-1180 (E.D. Va.).
However, Judge Liam O'Grady of that court found that the
Eastern District did not have personal jurisdiction over Ms.
Menh because she is a resident of the District of Columbia
and has not established minimum contacts with Virginia
“enough so ‘that the defendant's conduct and
connection with the forum State are such that he should
reasonably anticipate being haled into court
there.'” Order, Wolf v. Menh, No.
18-CV-1180 (E.D. Va. Feb 5, 2019), Dkt. 19 at 4
(hereinafter Transfer Order) (quoting World-Wide
Volkwagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980)).
Judge O'Grady also found that venue in the Eastern
District was improper because Ms. Menh did not live in
Virginia and a substantial part of the events giving rise to
the claim did not take place in Virginia. See Id. at
6-7 (“Rather, reading the Complaint as a whole it is
clear that the substantial part of the events or omissions
giving rise to this claim took place in the District of
Connecticut.”). At Mr. Wolf's request, Judge
O'Grady transferred the case to this Court, where venue
and personal jurisdiction are proper. See Id. at 7;
see also 28 U.S.C. § 1406 (“The district
court of a district in which is filed a case laying venue in
the wrong division or district shall . . . transfer such case
to any district or division in which it could have been
brought.”). Ms. Menh moves to dismiss this case or
compel arbitration. Mr. Wolf opposes. The matter is ripe for
Motion to Dismiss
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the
adequacy of a complaint on its face. See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A complaint must be sufficient “to
give a defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and
the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations
omitted). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must
contain sufficient factual information, accepted as true, to
“state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678,
(2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A court
must assume the truth of all well-pleaded factual allegations
and construe reasonable inferences from those allegations in
favor of the plaintiff. See Sissel v. Dep't of Health
& Human Servs., 760 F.3d 1, 4 (D.C. Cir. 2014).
However, a court need not accept inferences drawn by a
plaintiff if such inferences are not supported by the facts
set out in the complaint. See Kowal v. MCI
Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir.
1994). Further, a court need not accept legal conclusions set
forth in a complaint. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In
addition to the complaint's factual allegations, the
Court may consider “documents attached to or
incorporated in the complaint, matters of which courts may
take judicial notice, and documents appended to a motion to
dismiss whose authenticity is not disputed, if they are
referred to in the complaint and integral to a claim.”
Harris v. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, 825
F.Supp.2d 82, 85 (D.D.C. 2011).
Choice of Laws
Court has diversity jurisdiction because Mr. Wolf is a
resident of Florida, Ms. Menh the District of Columbia, and
the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. See
Compl. ¶¶ 3-4; 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
courts sitting in diversity must apply the choice-of-law
rules of the state in which they sit. Klaxon v. Stentor
Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 491 (1941). As a
preliminary matter, Mr. Wolf notes an exception to this rule:
when a plaintiff is granted a change in venue, the new court
continues to apply the laws of the forum from which the case
was transferred. See Ferens v. John Deere Co., 494
U.S. 516, 523-27 (1990); see also Van Dusen v.
Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 639 (1964) (applying the original
forum's laws when transfer was initiated by the
defendant). Accordingly, Mr. Wolf argues his case largely in
line with Virginia law. But as with so many legal rules,
there is an exception to the exception: the laws of the forum
from which a case was transferred do not follow when the
initial choice of venue was improper. See Gerena v.
Korb, 617 F.3d 197, 204 (2d Cir. 2010) (“If a
district court receives a case pursuant to a transfer under
28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), for improper venue . . . it
logically applies the law of the state in which it sits,
since the original venue, with its governing laws, was never
a proper option.”); cf. Atl. Marine Const. Co. v.
U.S. Dist. Court for the W. Dist. of Tex., 571 U.S. 49,
66 (2013) (rejecting “the rule that the law of the
court in which the plaintiff inappropriately filed suit
should follow the case to the forum contractually selected by
the parties”). To allow otherwise would create
opportunities for forum shopping and provide plaintiffs with
state-law advantages to which they are not otherwise
entitled. See Atl. Marine Const. Co., 571 U.S. at
66. Instead, the applicable law reverts to the default: the
laws of the sitting court's forum. See Gerena,
617 F.3d at 204. Because this case was transferred to the
District Court in D.C. for want of venue and jurisdiction in
Virginia, this Court will apply D.C. law, including its
choice of law rules. YWCA v. Allstate Ins. Co., 275
F.3d 1145, 1150 (D.C. Cir. 2002).
question, then, is whether Connecticut law or D.C. law should
be applied. To determine which jurisdiction's law applies
in a tort case, D.C. courts first ask whether there is a
“true conflict” between the laws of relevant
jurisdictions-“‘that is, whether more than one
jurisdiction has a potential interest in having its law
applied and, if so, whether the law of the competing
jurisdictions is different.” In re APA Assessment
Fee Litig., 766 F.3d 39, 52 (D.C. Cir. 2014). If there
is no conflict, D.C. law applies by default. Geico v.
Fetisoff, 958 F.2d 1137, 1141 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (citing
Fowler v. A & A Co., 262 A.2d 344, 348 (D.C.
1970)). If a conflict of law exists, District of Columbia
courts apply a “governmental interests analysis”
together with a “most significant relationship”
test. Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 573 F.3d
835, 842 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (citing Hercules & Co.,
Ltd. v. Shama Rest. Corp., 566 A.2d 31, 40-41 (D.C.
1989) and Jaffe v. Pallotta TeamWorks, 374 F.3d
1223, 1227 (D.C. Cir. 2004)).
the governmental interests test, a court evaluates the
governmental policies underlying the applicable law and
determines which jurisdiction's policy would be most
advanced by having its law applied. Id. To determine
which jurisdiction has the most significant relationship to a
case, courts balance the competing interests of the two
jurisdictions and apply the law of the jurisdiction with the
more significant interest. Id. The court must
consider (1) the place where the injury occurred; (2) the
place where the conduct causing the injury occurred; (3) the
domicile, residence, nationality, place of incorporation, and
place of business of the parties; and (4) the place where the
relationship, if any, between the parties is centered.
Herbert v. District of Columbia, 808 A.2d 776, 779
(D.C. 2002) (citing Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws
§ 145 (1971)). “Generally, for tort claims the
jurisdiction in which the injury occurred has the most
significant relationship.” Mattiaccio v. DHA Group,
Inc., 20 F.Supp.3d 220, 228 (D.D.C. 2014) (citing
Restatement (Second) Conflicts of Laws § 156 cmt. b
(1971)). Further, “[t]he ultimate goal of a
governmental interest analysis is to determine the
jurisdiction with ‘the most significant
relationship' to the issue in dispute.”