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Arpaio v. Cottle

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 9, 2019

MICHELLE COTTLE, et al., Defendants.




         This 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.

         For the 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. Anti-SLAPP Act.


         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff 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 id.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         B. ...

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