United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
For CHRISTOPHER WILLIAM GHRIST, an adult individual, Defendant: Joseph M. Gaydos , Jr. , LEAD ATTORNEY, Gaydos, Gaydos & Associates, P.C., White Oak, PA.
For CBS BROADCASTING, INC., doing business as KDKA-TV PITTSBURGH, Defendant: Daniel B. McLane, LEAD ATTORNEY, Carolyn Batz McGee, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, Pittsburgh, PA.
Mark R. Hornak, United
States District Judge.
Christopher William Ghrist is the Plaintiff. Christopher Wayne Ghrist is not. Christopher Wayne Ghrist has had big troubles with law enforcement agencies here in Pennsylvania and also in Georgia. He was arrested on drug and other charges in October, 2011. Christopher William Ghrist was not. The Defendant has allegedly highly publicized those legal problems in its television news broadcasts, and on its internet website, but in doing so, according to the Plaintiff, has persistently used his photograph and not that of Christopher Wayne Ghrist when publishing those news accounts.
According to the Plaintiff, this has held him up to scorn and ridicule, has placed him in a false light, has defamed him, and has intentionally inflicted emotional distress
upon him. He seeks a wide range of monetary and other relief from the Defendant based on damages he claims have flowed, and continue to flow, from those publications. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges claims for " False Light/Invasion of Privacy" in Count I, " Defamation" in Count II, " Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress" in Count III, and " Abuse of Official Process" in Count IV. The first three counts are based on harm allegedly flowing from the publication of the Plaintiff's likeness in conjunction with a story about the criminal activity of the " other" Christopher W. Ghrist. The fourth count seems to allege that because the Defendant is seeking to dismiss this action under Rule 12, the Defendant is " perverting" the legal process because it is beyond dispute that the Defendant, for over two years, wrongly published the Plaintiffs photograph with a news story on an escaped convict. Pending before the Court is the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, ECF No. 13. The Court has considered the Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, ECF No. 12, the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, the Defendant's Brief in Support, ECF No. 14, the Plaintiff's Response in Opposition, ECF No. 15, and the Defendant's Reply Brief, ECF No. 17. The matter is ripe for disposition, and for the reasons that follow, the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted.
When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept the factual allegations in the Complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the Plaintiffs favor. See Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). Therefore, for the purpose of the disposition of the Defendant's Motion, the essential facts are as follows.
The Plaintiff, Christopher William Ghrist, alleges that from October 15, 2011 until at least October 31, 2013, the Defendant published false and defamatory statements about him, resulting from the Defendant's confusion of the Plaintiff's identity with that of another individual, Christopher Wayne Ghrist. Pl.'s Am. Compl. (" Am. Compl." ), ECF No. 12, ¶ ¶ 6, 7, 10, 12-15. Christopher Wayne Ghrist had been arrested on October 15, 2011 by the Pennsylvania State Police in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania for multiple drug charges and other criminal offenses. Id. at ¶ 7. He subsequently escaped police custody, triggered a multi-state manhunt, and was captured by police in Georgia on October 17, 2011 with a loaded firearm and two loaded magazines on his person. Id. at ¶ ¶ 8, 9. On October 15, 2011, KDKA-TV acquired the Plaintiff's photo from the Westmoreland County Prison database. Id. at ¶ 10. Multiple individuals in the database had the name " Christopher W. Ghrist." Id. at ¶ 11.
The Plaintiff alleges that he received over 110 messages and communications via text message, telephone, and social media as a result of KDKA-TV's publication of his photograph with its story on Christopher Wayne Ghrist, including communications from family members, his landlord, his children, his girlfriend, his friends, employers of his family and friends, and his former girlfriend who removed her child from his physical custody on the night of October 15, 2011 because of that news story. Id. at ¶ 17. The Plaintiff says that he promptly brought this mistake to the attention of the Defendant, but to no avail, and it was not until shortly after this lawsuit was filed in state court on October 4, 2013 that the Defendant ceased using the Plaintiff's photograph on its news website. Id. at ¶ 18.
On October 4, 2013, the Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas alleging a claim for False Light/Invasion of Privacy. Id. at ¶ 20; ECF No. 1, Ex. A. The Defendant removed the case to this Court on October 24, 2013, on diversity of citizenship grounds. ECF No. 1. That same day, the Defendant moved to dismiss the case on statute of limitations grounds. ECF No. 3. The Plaintiff moved to amend his Complaint on November 8, 2013, ECF No. 8, and that motion was granted by the Court on November 12, 2013. That same day, this Court denied the Defendant's first Motion to Dismiss, without prejudice, as moot. On November 26, 2013, the Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint, which asserted new claims for ...