United States District Court, District of Columbia
C. LAMBERTH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Joseph Arpaio brings this action against three media
corporations and several of their employees for publishing or
broadcasting allegedly defamatory statements concerning Mr.
Arpaio's 2017 criminal contempt of court conviction.
Defendants erroneously represented that Mr. Arpaio had either
been convicted of a felony or had spent time in
prison. And so, Mr. Arpaio filed the instant suit
alleging defamation, tortious interference with prospective
business relations, and false light.
argue that the statements were substantially true, but even
if they were not, Mr. Arpaio has not alleged any facts
tending to prove actual malice. Each group of defendants
separately filed motions to dismiss pursuant to both Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act.
reasons that follow, the Court will grant defendants'
motions to dismiss Mr. Arpaio's claims pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6) and deny defendants' motions to dismiss Mr.
Arpaio's claims pursuant to the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act.
Arpaio served as the Sheriff of Maricopa County from 1993 to
2017. Compl. ¶ 14, ECF No. 1. During his tenure as
Sheriff, Mr. Arpaio was frequently at the center of various
controversies. Among them was Mr. Arpaio's handling of
his office's policing tactics in Latino neighborhoods, as
detailed in Melendres v. Arapaio, No.
CV-07-2513-PHX-GMS. In Melendres, Judge G. Murray
Snow enjoined then-Sheriff Arpaio and his office from
"detaining any person based only on knowledge or
reasonable belief... that the person is unlawfully present
within the United States because as a matter of law such
knowledge does not amount to reasonable belief that the
person" committed a crime. United States v.
Arpaio, No. CR-16-01012-001 -PHX-SRB, 2017 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 214888, at *4 (D. Ariz. July 31, 2017). Judge Snow
would go on to refer Mr. Arpaio for an investigation of
criminal contempt based on the court's finding that Mr.
Arpaio had knowledge of the injunction and continued to
engage in conduct that violated it. See Id. at *3;
Melendres v. Arpaio, No. CV-07-2513-PHX-GMS, 2016
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111489, at *5-6 (D. Ariz. Aug. 19, 2016).
U.S. Department of Justice brought criminal contempt charges
against Mr. Arpaio but agreed to limit the sentence it would
seek to six months. Mar. 1, 2017 Order, United States v.
Arpaio, No. CR-16-01012-001-PHX-SRB (D. Ariz.) (Dkt. No.
83) at 2-3. On July 31, 2017, Judge Susan R. Bolton found Mr.
Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt of court. Arpaio,
2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 214888, at *26; see Id. at *25
(explaining how Mr. Arpaio "flagrant[ly]
disregard[ed]" Judge Snow's order). On August 25,
2017, President Donald Trump pardoned Mr. Arpaio, thereby
mooting Mr. Arpaio's sentencing. United States v.
Arpaio, No. CR-16-01012-001-PHX-SRB, 2017 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 182254, at *4 (D. Ariz. Oct. 19, 2017).
Cable News Network, Inc. ("CNN")
January 10, 2018, CNN anchor (and defendant) Chris Cuomo
introduced a report about Mr. Arpaio's 2018 U.S. Senate
candidacy on CNN's "New Day" morning show. In
doing so, Mr. Cuomo stated that Mr. Arpaio was a convicted
felon who was later pardoned by President Trump. CNN New Day
Tr. 2:3, ECF No. 34-2. The report itself correctly stated
that Mr. Arpaio was convicted of a misdemeanor and provided
context for the conviction. Id. at 3:4-12. Within
minutes of Mr. Cuomo's erroneous statement and at the
close of the report, Mr. Cuomo corrected his statement and
clarified that Mr. Arpaio was convicted of a misdemeanor.
Id. at 5:25-6:2. CNN placed a recording of that
segment on its website which included Mr. Cuomo's
introduction and the report itself, but it did not include
Mr. Cuomo's explicit correction after it. CNN Defs.'
Mot. to Dismiss 14 n.l 1, ECF No. 34. CNN did not add Mr.
Cuomo's explicit correction to its online recording until
Mr. Arpaio filed the present lawsuit. Id.
Arpaio alleges that defendants Jeff Zucker, Chris Cuomo, and
CNN (collectively "the CNN defendants") acted in
concert and with actual malice to defame him. Compl.
¶¶ 36-37. According to Mr. Arpaio, CNN broadcasted
Mr. Cuomo's defamatory introduction, which Mr. Zucker, as
the President of CNN, later ratified. Id. ¶ 37.
Mr. Arpaio alleges that, as a result of the CNN
defendants' actions, he has suffered from
"widespread ridicule and humiliation and . . . severe
loss of reputation, which has in turn also caused him pain
and financial damage." M¶43.
their part, the CNN defendants argue that Mr. Cuomo's
statements were substantially true, but even if they were
not, Mr. Arpaio has not alleged any facts tending to prove
actual malice. CNN Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss 11.
Rolling Stone LLC ("Rolling Stone ")
November 13, 2018, Rolling Stone published an online article
written by defendant Tessa Stuart (collectively "the
Rolling Stone defendants") about Kyrsten Sinema's
electoral victory over Martha McSally in the 2018 Arizona
U.S. Senate race. The article refered to Mr. Arpaio as an
"ex-felon" when explaining who Martha McSally
defeated in the Arizona Republican primary. Compl. Ex. 2, ECF
No. 1-2. Within hours of the article's publication,
Rolling Stone revised the article and changed
"ex-felon" to "presidential pardonee."
Rolling Stone Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. B, ECF No. 36-2.
The revised article further clarified that Mr. Arpaio was
convicted of a misdemeanor and the editor's note contains
an apology. Id.
Arpaio alleges that the Rolling Stone defendants acted in
concert and with actual malice to defame him. Compl.
¶¶ 36, 39. According to Mr. Arpaio, the Rolling
Stone defendants' conduct caused him to suffer from
"widespread ridicule and humiliation and. .. severe loss
of reputation, which has in turn also caused him pain and
financial damage." Id. ¶ 43.
their part, the Rolling Stone defendants argue that the
passing reference to Mr. Arpaio as an "ex-felon"
was substantially true, but even if it was not, Mr. Arpaio
has not alleged any facts tending to prove actual malice.
Rolling Stone Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss 6, ECF No. 36.
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