United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
P. MEHTA UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
case arises out of the publication of an article in The New
York Times about Plaintiff Joseph Arpaio. Plaintiff filed
this action against Defendants The New York Times Company and
the article's author, Michelle Cottle, alleging that the
article's false content caused him significant
reputational and financial harm. Plaintiff advances claims
for defamation, tortious interference with prospective
business relations, and false light invasion of privacy.
Defendants now move to dismiss the Complaint for failure to
state a claim and, separately, for dismissal under the
District of Columbia Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public
Participation (“Anti-SLAPP”) Act.
reasons outlined below, the court grants Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim and denies
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to the D.C.
Joseph Arpaio served as Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona,
for almost 25 years before running for Arizona's United
States Senate seat in 2018. Compl., ECF No. 1 [hereinafter
Compl.], ¶¶ 9-10. Plaintiff was defeated in the
Republican primary. On August 29, 2018, the day after the
primary election, Defendant The New York Times published an
article written by Defendant Michelle Cottle titled,
“Well, at least Sheriff Joe Isn't Going to
Congress-Arpaio's Loss in Arizona's Senate Republican
Primary is a Fitting End to the Public Life of a Truly
Sadistic Man.” Compl., Ex. 1 [hereinafter Article], at
1. Published in the Opinions section of the paper, the
Article details Arpaio's actions, statements, and
viewpoints during his 25-year tenure as Sheriff. See
Article sarcastically begins by “mark[ing] the loss of
a fierce and tireless public servant.” Id.
Cottle describes Plaintiff as someone “who so robustly
devoted himself to terrorizing immigrants that he was
eventually convicted of contempt of court and would have
lived out his twilight years with a well-deserved criminal
record if President Trump . . . had not granted him a
pardon.” Id. She calls Plaintiff's
election loss “a fitting end to the public life of a
true American villain.” Id.
Article then follows with perhaps its most excoriating
paragraph. Cottle says about Plaintiff:
As “America's toughest sheriff, ” as Mr.
Arpaio liked to call himself, prepares to ride off into the
sunset, it bears recalling that he was so much more than a
run-of-the-mill immigrant basher. His 24-year reign of terror
was medieval in its brutality. In addition to conducting
racial profiling on a mass scale and terrorizing immigrant
neighborhoods with gratuitous raids and traffic stops and
detentions, he oversaw a jail where mistreatment of inmates
was the stuff of legend. Abuses ranged from the humiliating
to the lethal. He brought back chain gangs. He forced
prisoners to wear pink underwear. He set up an outdoor
“tent city, ” which he once referred to as a
“concentration camp, ” to hold the overflow of
prisoners. Inmates were beaten, fed rancid food, denied
medical care (this included pregnant women) and, in at least
one case, left battered on the floor to die.
Id. at 1.
Article then recounts features of Plaintiff's time as
Sheriff of Maricopa County. It states that “many
prisoners died in Mr. Arpaio's jail-at an alarming clip,
” noting that the “number of inmates who hanged
themselves in his facilities was far higher than in jails
elsewhere in the country.” Id. at 2. It
continues that his department “failed to properly
investigate, or in some cases to investigate at all, more
than 400 sex-crime cases, including those involving the rape
of young children.” Id. Elsewhere, the Article
says that, “[i]t was no secret that Mr. Arpaio's
methods often crossed the line into the not-so-legal, ”
and references Plaintiff's “practice of stopping
and detaining people on no other grounds than suspecting them
of being undocumented immigrants.” Id. The
Article adds that Plaintiff “was found guilty of
criminal contempt of court for blatantly thumbing his nose at
the law.” Id.
Article concludes by stating: “For nearly a
quarter-century, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was a disgrace to law
enforcement, a sadist masquerading as a public servant. In a
just system, we would not see his like again.”
Id. at 3.