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Bertram Emekekwue v. Chinwe Offor

May 15, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo


Before the court is Defendant's amended motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and punitive damages, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 12.) The parties have briefed the issues, and the matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

A. Facts*fn1

Invoking the court's diversity jurisdiction,*fn2 Plaintiff, Bertram Emekekwue, brought this action as a result of comments made by Defendant, Chinwe Offor, in an e-mail dated July 19, 2011. (Doc. 8, Compl. ¶ 6.) The e-mail regarded the Obosi Community Association of New York Inc.'s ("OCA")*fn3 consideration of Plaintiff's application for financial benefits following the death of Plaintiff's ex-wife, Vanessa Emekekwue. (Id. ¶ 7; Def.'s Amended Mot. to Dismiss, Doc. 12 at ¶ 5.) Plaintiff alleges that the e-mail recipients included OCA members and various other members of the public located in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. (Compl. ¶ 10.)

In the first four paragraphs of the e-mail, Defendant argues against the payment of death benefits to Bertram and Vanessa Emekekwue's children. (See Doc. 8-1.) The arguments were based on Defendant's interpretation of the OCA constitution. In the final paragraph of the e-mail, Defendant goes on to state:

In conclusion, let's call a spade a spade. Mr. Bertram Emekekwue took away Vanessa's medical insurance which would have enabled her to continue her medical treatment at Johns Hopkins University where they were familiar with her cancer. She had no choice but to go to the State hospital in Pennsylvania. He was very proud of this and had no problems informing all and sundry how she would soon die. It's pathetic that he wants to gain financially from her death. Please stop begging OCA and ODA to pay you for your ex-wife's death. ENOUGH ALREADY.

(Doc. 8-1.)

Although not specifically identified in the amended complaint, it appears that this is the primary paragraph to which Plaintiff objects. Plaintiff argues that the e-mail contains malicious, false statements that harmed his reputation, mental and physical health, and economic status. (Compl. ¶¶ 13, 31.) Plaintiff specifically contends that Defendant's false statements led readers to believe that he was the cause of his ex-wife's death and that Plaintiff attempted to extort money from OCA. (Id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff also argues that Defendant's statements would falsely lead a reader to believe that Plaintiff bragged about his ex-wife's death. (Doc. 14 at 3.) Plaintiff further claims that the e-mail has caused him and his immediate family to seek counseling. (Compl. ¶ 32.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed an initial complaint with this court on September 20, 2011. (Doc. 1.) On December 7, 2011, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. 5) along with a brief in support, (Doc. 6). Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on December 16, 2011. (Doc. 8.) On December 31, 2011, Defendant re-filed an amended motion to dismiss the amended complaint.*fn4 (Doc. 12.) Defendant filed a brief in support of the amended motion to dismiss on January 3, 2012. (Doc. 13.) On January 25, 2012, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition. (Doc. 14.) Defendant has not filed a reply brief, and the time to do so has now expired. Accordingly, the motion is now ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

When presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court "must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions," Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009), and ultimately must determine "whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Id. at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). The complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief; it must "show such an entitlement with its facts." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211 (citations omitted). As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, "[w]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not 'show[n]'-'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) (alterations in original).) In other words, a claim has "facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Id.

"To decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted); see also Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] document[s]." Pension Benefit, 998 F.2d at 1196. Additionally, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002) (citation omitted); see also U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) ("Although a district court may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings, a document integral to or explicitly reliedupon in the complaint may be considered without converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment.") (internal quotation omitted). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in making its decision. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

III. Discussion

Defendant has moved to dismiss each of Plaintiff's substantive claims, which include state law claims for libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), and punitive damages. Defendant also moves to dismiss Plaintiff's requests for specific damages and attorneys' fees. The court will address each claim in turn.*fn5

A. Libel

Plaintiff argues that the false statements contained in Defendant's e-mail harmed his reputation and caused him personal, financial, physical, economic, mental, and emotional harm. (Compl. ΒΆΒΆ 7, 8, 13, 31.) Specifically, Plaintiff argues that Defendant knowingly and maliciously made false statements which would lead a reader to believe that Plaintiff was the cause of his ex-wife's death, that Plaintiff bragged that he helped ...

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