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Mahendra Kumar Trivedi, et al v. Tania M. Slawecki

November 28, 2012

MAHENDRA KUMAR TRIVEDI, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS
v.
TANIA M. SLAWECKI, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane

MEMORANDUM

Presently pending before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 6.) The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny the motion in part.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiff Mahendra Kumar Trivedi is the founder of Trivedi Master Wellness and the Trivedi Foundation, a non-profit organization that "works with the scientific community at major universities and research centers to document the transformational properties of Trivedi's Energy Transmissions, which impact living organisms and inanimate objects for better performance." (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 8-9.) Defendant Tania M. Slawecki is a research associate at the Materials Research Institute and a former assistant professor in the science, technology, and society program at the Pennsylvania State University. (Id. ¶ 11.)

From approximately June 2009 through September 2009, Dr. Rostrum Roy, a professor at Penn State, and Defendant, who was then working as a research assistant to Dr. Roy,performed tests on Plaintiff Trivedi's "unique abilities" to "affect physical materials" at Penn State's materials research laboratory. (Id. ¶ 12; Doc. No. 1-2 at 4, 11.) In May 2011, following Dr. Roy's death, Defendant posted two publications regarding Plaintiff Trivedi on a website, stating in part that Plaintiff Trivedi's "blessings" had no effect on the tested physical materials. (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 14, 16; Doc. No. 1-2 at 4, 8-9, 11.) Defendant made additional statements concerning Plaintiff Trivedi in a July 30, 2011 email purportedly sent to Heather March and Julie McKinney.*fn2 (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 19-20; Doc. No. 1-2 at 22-25.) Specifically, Defendant wrote:

We now know Trivedi is taking human growth hormone injections which is what causes his pituitary to be enlarged, causes him to need to drink all that water, increases his virility and makes him irritable and nasty. Thus the data that shows his cartilage is like that of a [twenty year old] is true because this is an effect of the [human growth hormone injections]. He pretends to be celibate but is driven to sex because of taking the [injections]. One [nineteen-year-old] girl he sexually abused, he beat her up so badly she wound up in the hospital. Her father pulled her out of the group and they are now pressing charges against Trivedi. (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 19-20; Doc. No. 1-2 at 24.) On December 28, 2011, Plaintiffs instituted the above-captioned action by filing a complaint, alleging that Defendant defamed Plaintiffs and tortiously interfered with their business relations by publishing the latter statement. (Doc. No. 1.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court may "consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim." Lum, 361 F.3d at 221 n.3. The motion will only be properly granted when, taking all factual allegations and inferences drawn therefrom as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Markowitz v. Ne. Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to show that no claim has been stated. Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 33 (3d Cir. 1980). Thus, the moving party must show that Plaintiff has failed to "set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that those elements exist." Kost, 1 F.3d at 183 (citations omitted). A court, however, "need not credit a complaint's 'bald assertions' or 'legal conclusions' when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has held that while the 12(b)(6) standard does not require "detailed factual allegations," there must be a "'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief . . . . [F]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231-32 (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Put otherwise, a civil complaint must "set out 'sufficient factual matter' to show that the claim is facially plausible." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs' complaint raises three counts against Defendant. Count I asserts a claim of defamation under Pennsylvania law, and Count II raises a claim of tortious interference with contractual relations under Pennsylvania law. In Count III, Plaintiffs request an injunction to enjoin Defendant from publishing further defamatory statements regarding Plaintiffs. In her motion to dismiss, Defendant contends that Plaintiffs have failed to state any claim upon which relief can be granted. The Court will address each count in turn.

A. Defamation

In Count I, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant published "false and malicious" statements about Plaintiffs with the intent to injure their reputations and cause them harm. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 23-24, 28-29.) Under Pennsylvania law, the plaintiff in a defamation action "has the burden of proving, when the issue is properly raised," the following seven elements:

(1) The defamatory character of the communication.

(2) Its publication by the defendant.

(3) Its application to the ...


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