United States District Court, District of Columbia
G. SULLIVAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Rinat Akhmetshin (“Mr. Akhmetshin”), a dual
citizen of Russia and the United States, brings this
defamation action against Defendant William Browder
(“Mr. Browder”), a British foreign national. Mr.
Akhmetshin alleges that Mr. Browder's lobbying efforts in
the United States led to the enactment of the Russia and
Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law
Accountability Act of 2012 (“Magnitsky Act”),
Pub. L. No. 112-208, 126 Stat. 1496. Mr. Akhmetshin claims
that Mr. Browder identified him as a threat to Mr.
Browder's lobbying efforts, and that Mr. Browder later
defamed him by stating that Mr. Akhmetshin is a Russian spy.
Mr. Akhmetshin asserts that Mr. Browder made that claim in
four defamatory and false statements-two statements on his
Twitter account, another statement during a televised
interview, and one quote in a news article.
Browder moves to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rules
12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. Mr. Browder separately moves to dismiss under the
District of Columbia's Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against
Public Participation Act (“Anti-SLAPP Act”). Upon
careful consideration of the motions, the responses, the
replies thereto, the applicable law, and the entire record
herein, the Court concludes that it lacks personal
jurisdiction over Mr. Browder, and that Mr. Akhmetshin is not
entitled to jurisdictional discovery. Therefore, the Court
GRANTS Mr. Browder's Motion to Dismiss
for lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2),
DENIES Mr. Browder's Motion to Dismiss
under the Anti-SLAPP Act, DENIES Mr.
Akhmetshin's request for jurisdictional discovery, and
DISMISSES WITHOUT PREJUDICE this case.
following facts-drawn from the Complaint and documents
incorporated by reference therein-are assumed to be true.
See Banneker Ventures, LLC v. Graham, 798 F.3d 1119,
1129 (D.C. Cir. 2015). Mr. Browder is a British citizen who
renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1998. Compl., ECF No. 1 at
2 ¶ 10. At some point, Mr. Browder moved to Russia
where he founded Hermitage Capital Management
(“Hermitage”). Id. at 4 ¶ 18.
Hermitage, one of the largest Russian hedge funds, has
amassed over $4 billion in assets. Id. In 2008,
Russian authorities detained an auditor for Hermitage's
law firm, Sergei Magnitsky (“Mr. Magnitsky”),
who, in 2009, died in a Russian prison. Id. at 4
¶¶ 19-20. Mr. Browder maintains that “Russian
prison guards killed [Mr.] Magnitsky because [Mr.] Magnitsky
discovered that Russian government officials and members of
organized crime had perpetrated a tax fraud scheme using the
identities of several Hermitage portfolio companies (the
‘Hermitage Tax Refund Scheme').” Id.
at 4 ¶ 21.
Browder started a lobbying campaign after Mr. Magnitsky's
death. See id. at 4 ¶¶ 22-24. Mr. Browder
“engaged numerous lobbying and public relations firms
in Washington D.C.; met with members of Congress and their
staff, including Senators Benjamin Cardin and John McCain in
Washington D.C.; and testified in congressional hearings to
advance his narrative about [Mr.] Magnitsky and the Hermitage
Tax Refund Scheme.” Id. at 4 ¶ 23. Mr.
Browder eventually wrote a book, Red Notice,
“purport[ing] to tell the truth about the Hermitage Tax
Refund Scheme and the Magnitsky affair.” Id.
at 11 ¶ 60.
December 14, 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act,
id. at 4 ¶ 24, authorizing the President to
impose sanctions against certain individuals who committed
human rights violations, including those individuals
responsible for the detention, abuse, or death of Mr.
Magnitsky, id. at 5 ¶ 26. In response,
Russia implemented a ban on U.S. citizens adopting Russian
orphans. Id. at 5 ¶ 27. Soon thereafter, Mr.
Akhmetshin began working for a newly-formed lobbying
organization aimed to restart “Russian adoptions in
America by, among other things, removing [Mr.]
Magnitsky's name from the Magnitsky Act.”
Id. at 6 ¶ 34. The lobbying organization was
formed based on Mr. Akhmetshin's interest in educating
the public about “[Mr.] Browder's version of [the]
events” regarding the passage of the Magnitsky Act.
Id. at 6 ¶ 33. Mr. Akhmetshin became convinced
that Congress enacted the Magnitsky Act based on falsehoods.
Id. at 6 ¶ 32.
embarking on his lobbying campaign, Mr. Akhmetshin learned
that Mr. Browder was the “driving force behind [a]
lawsuit” in the United States District Court for the
Southern District of New York involving a group of Russian
officials and individuals responsible for stealing documents
from Hermitage's investment fund, id. at 5
¶ 29, and that the documents produced during discovery
in that case led him to “question [Mr.] Browder's
version of events concerning the Hermitage Tax Refund Scheme
and [Mr.] Magnitsky's death[, ]” id. at 6
¶ 31. In April 2016, Mr. Akhmetshin became a
“registered lobbyist, ” crafting a
counternarrative to the factual findings set forth in the
Magnitsky Act. Id. at 6-7 ¶¶ 35-37. Mr.
Akhmetshin is a resident of the District of Columbia,
id. at 2 ¶ 9, where he worked as a lobbyist,
id. at 11 ¶ 66. In June 2016, Mr. Akhmetshin
organized a screening in the District for a documentary that
challenged the accuracy of the Magnitsky Act's findings.
Id. at 7 ¶ 37. In July 2016, Mr. Browder
“caused Hermitage to submit a letter to the Department
of Justice . . . alleging that [Mr.] Akhmetshin and others
had violated the Foreign Agent Registration Act.”
Id. at 7 ¶ 39. Mr. Browder later
“identified [Mr.] Akhmetshin as a rival and a threat to
his lobbying efforts, upon information and belief, [Mr.]
Browder then defamed [Mr.] Akhmetshin by falsely stating to
reporters and others that [Mr.] Akhmetshin is a Russian
spy.” Id. at 8 ¶ 43.
The Four Alleged Defamatory Statements
to Mr. Akhmetshin, “[Mr.] Browder directed [four]
defamatory statements about [Mr.] Akhmetshin at the District
of Columbia.” Id. at 11 ¶ 63. In July
2017, news media outlets widely reported that Mr. Akhmetshin
and others met with Donald Trump, Jr., at Trump Tower in New
York on June 9, 2016. Id. at 8 ¶ 45. On July
14, 2017, Mr. Browder posted two tweets on his personal
Twitter account. Id. at 8 ¶¶ 48-49. First,
Mr. Browder tweeted: “Huge development in the
Veselnitskaya/Trump Jr story. Russian GRU officer
Rinat Akhmetshin was also present.”
Id. at 8 ¶ 48 (emphasis added); see
also Ex. A, Decl. of Melissa Shube (“Shube
Decl.”), ECF No. 20-5 at 2-7. Mr. Browder then shared a
hyperlink to the NBC News article entitled “Former
Soviet counterintelligence officer at meeting With Donald
Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer” in that tweet. Ex. A, ECF
No. 20-5 at 2. More than one hour later, Mr. Browder issued a
second statement, tweeting that “Russian
intelligence asset Rinat Akhmetshin confirms he was
in the meeting with Trump Jr[, ]” and sharing a
hyperlink to an Associated Press (“AP”) article
in that Twitter post. Compl., ECF No. 1 at 8 ¶ 49
(emphasis added); see also Ex. B, Shube Decl., ECF
No. 20-6 at 2-12.
same day, the website Business Insider published an
article entitled “A Soviet military officer turned
lobbyist attended the Trump Jr. meeting - and there may have
been a 6th person, too.” Ex. C, Shube Decl., ECF No.
20-7 at 2. That article included a quote from Mr. Browder:
“So in my opinion you had a member of Putin's
secret police directly meeting with the son of the future
next president of the United States asking to change U.S.
sanctions policy crucial to Putin.”
Id. According to Mr. Akhmetshin, “[Mr.]
Browder intended his [third] statement to be interpreted as a
statement of fact that [Mr.] Akhmetshin was ‘a member
of Putin's secret police.'” Compl., ECF No. 1
at 9 ¶ 50. Finally, Mr. Browder made the fourth
statement in an interview on CBS This Morning on
July 18, 2017. Id. at 9 ¶ 51. Mr. Browder
stated that “[Natalia Veselnitskaya] then hires this
guy Rinat Akhmetshin, who is a - by all accounts, some kind
of shady former Soviet spy, current
spy operator in Washington.” Id.
(emphasis added). Mr. Browder also stated that “[Mr.
Akhmetshin] then organizes a full-on lobbying campaign hiring
the top lobbyists, the top law firms, the top PR firms, to
try to get rid of this Magnitsky Act.” Def.'s Mot.
to Dismiss, ECF No. 20 at 24 (quoting Ex. D, Shube Decl., ECF
No. 20-8 at 1).
12, 2018, Mr. Akhmetshin filed this lawsuit, asserting that
Mr. Browder's four statements were false and defamatory.
Compl., ECF No. 1 at 9 ¶ 52. Mr. Akhmetshin denies being
a “Russian GRU officer, intelligence asset, or spy for
the Russian Federation or former Soviet Union.”
Id. at 9 ¶ 53. And Mr. Browder had “no
good faith basis” for stating those falsehoods, and he
made “no effort to verify the truth of those
allegations . . . .” Id. at 10 ¶ 58. Mr.
Akhmetshin claims that “[Mr.] Browder's defamatory
statements against [him] were clearly designed to undermine
[his] credibility as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.”
Id. at 11 ¶ 66. As a result, Mr. Akhmetshin
asserts that he has been labeled as a spy, and he has
struggled to obtain work. Id. at 12 ¶¶
71-72. Thereafter, Mr. Browder filed a motion to dismiss
pursuant to Rules 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6). See
Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 20. Mr. Akhmetshin filed
the opposition brief, see Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF
No. 22, and Mr. Browder filed the reply brief, see
Reply, ECF No. 26. The briefing is now complete, and the
motions are ripe and ready for the Court's adjudication.
Rule 12(b)(2), a defendant can move to dismiss a lawsuit if
the court lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendant.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). A plaintiff bears the burden of making
a prima facie showing that the court has personal
jurisdiction over a defendant. Kurtz v. United
States, 779 F.Supp.2d 50, 51 (D.D.C. 2011). “A
plaintiff must plead specific facts providing a basis for
personal jurisdiction[, ]” id., and a
plaintiff cannot rely on merely conclusory allegations,
Buesgens v. Brown, 567 F.Supp.2d 26, 31 (D.D.C.
2008). Accordingly, to establish personal jurisdiction over a
defendant, the “plaintiff must allege specific acts
connecting [the] defendant with the forum[.]”
Second Amendment Found. v. U.S. Conf. of Mayors, 274
F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (quoting First Chicago
Int'l v. United Exch. Co., 836 F.2d 1375, 1378 (D.C.
motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, a court
may consider materials outside of the pleadings. Thompson
Hine LLP v. Smoking Everywhere Inc., 840 F.Supp.2d 138,
141 (D.D.C. 2012), aff'd sub nom. Thompson Hine, LLP
v. Taieb, 734 F.3d 1187 (D.C. Cir. 2013). “When
considering whether personal jurisdiction exists, the Court
need not treat all of plaintiff's jurisdictional
allegations as true.” Buesgens, 567 F.Supp.2d
at 31. “Instead, the Court may receive and weigh
affidavits and any other relevant matter to assist it in
determining the jurisdictional facts.” Id.
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Any factual
discrepancies should be resolved in favor of the plaintiff.
Id. The court “need not accept inferences
drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the
facts[.]” Livnat v. Palestinian Auth., 851
F.3d 45, 56-57 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (citation
initial matter, this Court must determine whether to exercise
personal jurisdiction over Mr. Browder, a non-resident of the
District of Columbia, by reference to the District of
Columbia's long-arm statute and the Due Process Clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
United States v. Ferrara, 54 F.3d 825, 828 (D.C.
Cir. 1995); see also Bradley v. DeWine, 55 F.Supp.3d
31, 39 (D.D.C. 2014) (“[T]he defendant must qualify for
either general or specific jurisdiction under the relevant
District of Columbia statutes.”). “Under the
District of Columbia long-arm statute, a plaintiff has the
burden of establishing a factual basis for the exercise of
personal jurisdiction over the defendant.”
Cellutech, Inc. v. Centennial Cellular Corp., 871
F.Supp. 46, 48 (D.D.C. 1994). For the reasons explained
below, the Court concludes that the District of
Columbia's long-arm statute does not provide a basis for
this Court to exercise specific or general jurisdiction over
Mr. Browder, and that Mr. Akhmetshin is not entitled to
The Court Lacks Specific Jurisdiction Over Mr.
Court first considers whether it may exercise specific
jurisdiction over Mr. Browder. Mr. Akhmetshin argues that
this Court has specific jurisdiction over Mr. Browder under
the relevant provision of the District of Columbia's
long-arm statute because: (1) Mr. Browder has “numerous
contacts” with the District; (2) he has appeared in the
District on “numerous occasions to tell his version of
events relating to the Hermitage Tax Refund Scheme”;
and (3) he has appeared in the District “on many other
occasions” to promote his book. Pl.'s Opp'n,
ECF No. 22 at 22. Mr. Browder contends that the basis for his
contacts in the District-“engaging in lobbying
activities in the District, including his appearances in the
District to testify before Congress and other United States
government agencies[, ]” Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss,
ECF No. 20 at 29-are precluded by the “government
contacts” doctrine, id. at 30. Mr. Browder
argues that Mr. Akhmetshin fails to allege that his
appearances in the District were “more than sporadic or
occasional[.]” Id. at 33. In response to Mr.
Akhmetshin's argument that the Red Notice
demonstrates that Mr. Browder was regularly soliciting
business or deriving substantial revenue from the District,
Mr. Browder points out that the “Red Notice is
inseparable from Mr. Browder's advocacy relating to the
Magnitsky Act, as ...