United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
P. MEHTA UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
Plaintiff Wilfred Michael Stark III brings claims for
conspiracy, defamation, intentional infliction of emotion
distress (“IIED”), and false arrest and malicious
prosecution against 22 defendants. Fifteen of those
Defendants-the Republican Standard; Adam Laxalt; Robert List;
Stephen Puetz; Ryan Keller; Joseph Brown; Ed Gillepsie; the
Republican Governors Association; the Republican National
Committee; the National Republican Congressional Committee;
the National Republican Senatorial Committee; the Daily
Caller; and the United States acting on behalf of Heather
Swift, Amanda Kaster-Averill, and Tyler Dever-move to dismiss
Plaintiff's complaint in six different motions.
reasons that follow, the motions to dismiss are granted.
is a journalist who, at the time of the events at issue in
the Complaint, was employed by ShareBlue Media and later the
American Ledger,  two progressive media organizations.
Complaint, ECF No. 1-1 [hereinafter Compl.], ¶¶ 6,
13. Plaintiff was tasked with covering Republican politicians
and conservative leaders. Id. ¶¶ 7, 13. In
his Complaint, Plaintiff describes a series of altercations
with candidates, politicians, and staffers during which
Defendants allegedly made, or conspired to make, false and
damaging statements against Plaintiff and, in at least one
case, falsely accused him of assaulting a female staffer.
Id. ¶¶ 8-35. These confrontations and
alleged defamatory statements led to Plaintiff's arrest
in two instances, and his removal from the Conservative
Political Action Conference in another. Id.
¶¶ 12, 16, 19-20. Following these incidents,
Plaintiff alleges that the National Republican Congressional
Committee assigned interns to follow him around the Capitol
grounds carrying signs bearing his mugshot. Id.
March 15, 2019, Plaintiff filed a four-count complaint in the
Superior Court of the District of Columbia against 22
individual and entity defendants, alleging conspiracy (Count
I), defamation (Count II), IIED (Count III), and false arrest
and malicious prosecution (Count V).See generally Compl.
On April 10, 2019, Defendants Heather Swift, Amanda
Kaster-Averill, and Tyler Dever-all federal employees at the
relevant time-removed the suit to federal court. Notice of
Removal, ECF No. 1. Shortly thereafter, fifteen of the named
defendants filed six different motions to dismiss
Plaintiff's Complaint. See Mots. to Dismiss and
Am. Mots. to Dismiss, ECF Nos. 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 24. The
court now turns to these motions.
defendants move to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal
jurisdiction in three separate motions. A plaintiff bears
“the burden of establishing the court's personal
jurisdiction” over a defendant. FC Inv. Grp. LC v.
IFX Markets, Ltd., 529 F.3d 1087, 1091 (D.C. Cir. 2008);
see also Crane v. N.Y. Zoological Soc'y, 894
F.2d 454, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1990). To establish personal
jurisdiction, a plaintiff “‘must allege specific
acts connecting [the] defendant with the forum' and
‘cannot rely on conclusory allegations.'”
Clay v. Blue Hackle N. Am., LLC, 907 F.Supp.2d 85,
87 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Second Amendment Found. v. U.S.
Conference of Mayors, 274 F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir.
2001); Purdue Research Found. v. Sanofi-Synthelabo,
S.A., 332 F.Supp.2d 63, 66 (D.D.C. 2004)). A District of
Columbia court may exercise general jurisdiction only over
individuals who are domiciled in the District. D.C. Code
§ 13-422; Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117,
137 (2014). For an individual, “[d]omicile is
determined by two factors: physical presence in a state, and
intent to remain there for an unspecified or indefinite
period of time.” Prakash v. Am. Univ., 727
F.2d 1174, 1180 (D.C. Cir. 1984). A corporation is domiciled
where it is incorporated and where it has its principal place
of business. Daimler AG, 571 U.S. at 137.
establish personal jurisdiction over a non-resident, a court
must engage in a two-part inquiry: A court must first examine
whether jurisdiction is applicable under the state's
long-arm statute and then determine whether a finding of
jurisdiction satisfies the constitutional requirements of due
process.” GTE New Media Servs. Inc. v. BellSouth
Corp., 199 F.3d 1343, 1347 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (citing
United States v. Ferrara, 54 F.3d 825, 828 (D.C.
Cir. 1995)). As to each of the seven moving defendants, the
only actions attributed to them occurred outside of the
District. Accordingly, the only applicable section of the
District's long-arm statute is subsection 4, which
confers jurisdiction over a defendant that “caus[es]
tortious injury in the District of Columbia by an act or
omission outside the District of Columbia if he regularly
does or solicits business, engages in any other persistent
course of conduct, or derives substantial revenue from goods
used or consumed, or services rendered, in the
District.” D.C. Code § 13-423(4). The court will
assume for purposes of this motion that Plaintiff suffered a
reputational injury in the District from the alleged
defamation. See Mastro v. Potomac Elec. Power Co.,
447 F.3d 843, 857-58 (D.C. Cir. 2006). Plaintiff has not,
however, met his burden of establishing the other
requirements under subsection 4. The court will separately
discuss each motion below. Because the court finds that it
cannot exercise specific jurisdiction over any of the seven
moving defendants under the District of Columbia's
long-arm statute, it need not address whether exercising
jurisdiction over the defendants would satisfy the
Constitution's due process requirements.
Republican Standard is a Virginia-registered limited
liability company that maintains its principal place of
business in Richmond, Virginia. Am. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No.
17-3, ¶¶ 1-3. It is an online news platform that
publishes content about the Republican Party and its
candidates by means of its website. Id. ¶ 4. It
has only one, part-time employee, who works out of their
Richmond office, as well as two co-owners, both of whom
reside in Virginia. Id. ¶¶ 5-8.
Accordingly, the Republican Standard is not domiciled in the
District of Columbia, and this court cannot exercise general
jurisdiction over it. See Daimler AG, 571 U.S. at
court also cannot exercise specific jurisdiction over the
Republican Standard. Plaintiff has provided nothing in his
Complaint from which the court can infer that the Republican
Standard “regularly does or solicits business, engages
in any other persistent course of conduct, or derives
substantial revenue from goods used or consumed, or services
rendered, in the District of Columbia.” D.C. Code
§ 13-423(4). Plaintiff makes very few references to the
Republican Standard in his Complaint. At the beginning and
end of the Complaint, the Republican Standard is mentioned in
the list of all defendants. See Compl. at pp. 5, 6,
17. Plaintiff also alleges that the Republican Standard and
nineteen other defendants “communicated at various
times and instances to marginalize, discredit and defame
[Plaintiff] with the common purpose of forcing him to stop
holding Republicans accountable in the press.”
Id. ¶ 37. In neither instance does Plaintiff
assert that the Republican Standard did any business or took
part in any course of conduct in the District, even in a
tangential way. See generally Compl. The court thus
cannot exercise specific jurisdiction over the Republican
Standard. Accordingly, its motion to dismiss is granted.
Adam Laxalt, Robert List, Stephen Puetz, Ryan Keller, and
Joseph Brown (“the Las Vegas defendants”) are
each non-District of Columbia residents. Brown, Laxalt, and
List are residents of Nevada, Brown Affidavit, 14-2; Laxalt
Affidavit, ECF No. 16-2; List Affidavit, ECF No. 16-3; Keller
is a resident of Iowa, Keller Affidavit, ECF No. 15-2; and
Puetz is a resident of California, Puetz Affidavit, ECF No.
16-4. The court therefore cannot exercise general
jurisdiction over any of them.
the only allegations levelled against the Las Vegas
defendants took place in Las Vegas, Nevada. Plaintiff
contends that in October 2018, he was at an event where
Laxalt was scheduled to give remarks. Compl. ¶ 30. After
the event, Plaintiff followed Laxalt into the hallway to
question him, at which point Plaintiff alleges that
Laxalt's staff “assaulted” him. Id.
¶ 31. Police arrived on the scene, and the Las Vegas
defendants gave “false and defamatory statements to the
police, ” at which point Plaintiff was arrested and
taken to jail. Id. ¶ 32. Even viewing this
recitation of facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff,
all of the events he describes took place in Nevada. Nowhere
does he contend that the Las Vegas defendants did business in
the District of Columbia, derived revenue from activities in
the District, engaged in a course ...