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Luhn v. Scott

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 7, 2019

LAURA WILLIS LUHN, Plaintiff,
v.
SUZANNE GUNDERSON SCOTT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DABNEY L. FRIEDRICH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Laura Luhn brings this suit against Fox News Network, LLC and its CEO, Suzanne Gunderson Scott. Compl., Dkt. 1. Luhn's amended complaint asserts four causes of action against Fox News and Scott: (1) defamation; (2) defamation by implication; (3) false light invasion of privacy; and (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress. Am. Compl., Dkt. 15. Before the Court is the defendants' motion to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Mot. to Dismiss, Dkt. 16. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the defendants' motion and dismiss the case.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         A. Luhn's History at Fox News

         Luhn began working for Fox News in 1996. Am. Compl. ¶ 31. She spent the next decade and a half enduring extensive and traumatic sexual abuse at the hands of Roger Ailes, the former CEO of Fox News. See Id. ¶ 33. According to Luhn's complaint, Ailes “demanded, coerced, extorted, blackmailed and forced sexual favors from her.” Id. Among other things, Ailes required Luhn to meet her at various hotel rooms, wearing a sexually suggestive “uniform, ” where he would force her to perform various sex acts. See, e.g., id. ¶ 36. Ailes also interfered constantly with Luhn's personal and professional life, isolating her from friends and family to increase his own power over her. Id. ¶¶ 48-49, 55-56. Over the course of Luhn's time at Fox News, Ailes repeatedly informed her, “I own you.” Id. ¶ 59.

         In 2011, Luhn contacted the Office of the United States Attorney General. Id. ¶ 66. The Attorney General's staff put her in touch with an Assistant United States Attorney in her area, to whom she described “in graphic detail the years of abuse and psychosexual torture that she endured at the hands of Ailes.” Id. After speaking to a psychiatrist and consulting an attorney, Luhn agreed to a settlement with Fox News, although she claims that she was “pressured, coerced and fraudulently induced” into doing so. Id. ¶ 72. Years later, several other women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against Ailes, ultimately leading to Ailes's departure from the company in 2016. Id. ¶ 7. Scott became CEO of Fox News soon thereafter, in May 2018. Am. Compl., Ex. 1, Dkt. 15.

         Luhn claims to suffer “serious, debilitating and life threatening trauma, anxiety and other serious health complications as a result of Ailes's severe psychological torture and mind control.” Id. ¶ 74. She has twice attempted suicide, and her current psychological ailments include PTSD, Stockholm Syndrome, and “bouts of intermittent anxiety and hopelessness.” Id.

         B. The Los Angeles Times Article

         This lawsuit relates not to the extensive sexual abuse allegations against Ailes but to the details of a Los Angeles Times article entitled “Fox News Chief Executive Suzanne Scott keeps her focus on winning.” That article, a general profile of Scott published by the Times on April 3, 2019, describes several of the challenges that Scott faced upon ascending to the CEO role-chief among them the “harassment lawsuits and numerous lurid reports describing alleged bad behavior by Ailes.” Id. Ex. 1. The article quotes Scott as saying that she “felt devastated for the women who work here” and “wanted to do everything [she] could to heal this place.” Id.

         Luhn's complaint principally concerns a section of the article in which Scott denies knowledge of Ailes's acts of sexual harassment. At one point, the article references one-on-one meetings that Scott held with several Fox News employees to discuss potential improvements to the corporate environment for women, and explains that “[i]n some of those discussions, it was necessary for Scott to tell employees that she had no knowledge of Ailes'[s] behavior even though she was part of his inner circle.” Id. In the next paragraph, the article quotes Scott as saying that she “had no clue on what was going on in Roger Ailes'[s] office” and “never had any issues with any sort of harassment [her]self.” Id. The article goes on to explain that Scott has since “eradicated the memory of Ailes by overseeing a massive renovation of the entire second floor where his corporate lair was located” and has implemented an internal process for women to report inappropriate behavior. Id.

         C. Procedural History

         Luhn filed her initial complaint in this lawsuit on April 23, 2019. Compl. Her amended complaint, filed on August 5, 2019, names only Fox News and Scott as defendants. Am. Compl. The amended complaint asserts four causes of action: (1) defamation; (2) defamation by implication; (3) false light invasion of privacy; and (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress. Id. ¶ 77-95. Each of Luhn's claims concerns Scott's statements to the Times denying knowledge of Ailes' misconduct, and each alleges, in essence, that those statements “created the false and misleading implication that Plaintiff Luhn is dishonest and fabricated allegations of sexual abuse against Ailes and fabricated allegations of [a] cover-up against Defendant Scott.” Id. ¶ 85.

         Attached to Luhn's amended complaint are two press releases published on the website of her attorney, Larry Klayman. See Am. Compl., Ex. 2, Dkt. 15. The first press release, published on January 9, 2019, describes Luhn's lawsuit against Hollywood studios Showtime and Blumhouse Production for misappropriation of her likeness in a miniseries entitled “Loudest Voice in the Room” that depicted Ailes's tenure at Fox News and his harassment of various female employees. Id. The second press release was published on April 4, 2019, the day after the Times article was published. This press release describes Scott's comments to the Times as “patently false, ” and explains that “Scott knew of Ailes' sexual abuse and criminality, but covered it up and continues to cover it up.” Id.

         Also attached to Luhn's amended complaint are two affidavits from Hollywood producers Judah Friedman and Jason Goodman. Am. Compl., Ex. 3, Dkt. 15. In these affidavits, the producers attest to having read the Times article and having “understood the references to sexually abused and harassed women at Fox News to refer principally to Laura Luhn.” Id. Each of the producers further attests, in identical language, that he understood Scott's statements concerning her lack of knowledge of Ailes' sexual abuse “to impugn the integrity [of] and to defame Ms. Luhn, who has reportedly tried to ...


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