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Trivedi v. Slawecki

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 3, 2014

MAHENDRA KUMAR TRIVEDI, TRIVEDI FOUNDATION, TRIVEDI MASTER WELLNESS, LLC, Plaintiffs,
v.
TANIA M. SLAWECKI, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.

I. BACKGROUND:

This is a curious and unfortunate action sounding in defamation. A self-proclaimed energy healer asserts that he can employ his powers to alter the molecular composition of water. A university research assistant not only derides this claim but publicly states that the healer lacks sexual mores.

On December 28, 2011, Plaintiffs, Mahendra Kumar Trivedi, Trivedi Foundation, and Trivedi Master Wellness, LLC (collectively "Trivedi"), commenced the instant action by filing a complaint. Jurisdiction is predicated on diversity. Trivedi filed an amended complaint on December 13, 2012. ECF No. 31. Trivedi alleges that Defendant, Tania M. Slawecki (hereinafter "Slawecki"), defamed him (Count I), committed tortious interference with contractual relations of affiliates (Count II), and committed tortious interference with contractual relations with employees (Count III).

In response, Slawecki filed an amended answer on May 7, 2013, that asserts an abuse of process counterclaim against Plaintiffs. ECF NO. 40.

Slawecki filed a motion for summary judgment on August 25, 2014. ECF No. 64. The motion has been fully briefed by the parties. Additionally, the undersigned heard oral argument on the motion on October 29, 2014. The matter is now ripe for disposition.

For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

II. DISCUSSION:

A. Undisputed Facts

Middle District Local Rule 56.1 requires the moving party to set forth a statement of facts to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue to be tried. The statement of facts is required to include references to the record to support the statement of facts. Both parties failed to comply with the local rule. Defendants provided only sixteen paragraphs of undisputed facts, ' which are not actually the facts of the case, but a procedural history of the case, with no references to the record. Plaintiffs' response also contains no references to the record.

Defendant's document, with a lack of undisputed facts is insufficient, considering that it is defendant's burden to demonstrate the absence of disputed material facts. Instead, defendant has merely provided the Court with a sparse recitation of the procedural history of the case. Defendant did cite to the record in the briefs supporting the motion, but this is not as useful to the Court as the statement of material facts required by the rule, because there is not a meaningful way for plaintiff to then respond to the asserted statements of fact by admission or denials. The manner in which the local rule has been written was done so in a considered deliberate manner specifically for the Court to determine the disputed, material facts with direction from the parties. "Judges are not like pigs, hunting for truffles buried in briefs." United States v. Dunkel, 927 F.2d 955, 956 (7th Cir. 1991) (Posner, J.).

However, despite the lack of a statement of the undisputed facts as required by the local rule from which the Court may recite the facts to write a lucid opinion, it is clear from oral argument that the same essential storyline unfolds regardless of whether it is plaintiffs' recitation or defendant's. The dispute between the parties appears to center around the application of these facts to the law.

Accordingly, the following are the truffles[1] the Court has hunted for in the exhibits attached to the briefs and have discerned as the facts of the case.

Plaintiffs are Mahendra Kumar Trivedi, Trivedi Foundation, and Trivedi Master Wellness, LLC (collectively "Trivedi"). Mr. Trivedi founded the non-profit Trivedi Foundation and he controls the for-profit company, Trivedi Master Wellness. ECF No. 70-1 at 2 and 6. Mr. Trivedi asserts that he received guidance from a "universal intelligence" that lead him to understand that he had been given the ability to transmit energy, such that his blessings can change the structure of the atoms that make up water. ECF No. 70-1 at 3, and ECF No. 70-3 at 38-39 Pl.'s Responses to Defendant's Request for Admission.

In 2009, Mr. Trivedi "began research with Dr. Rustum Roy, director of The Pennsylvania State University's material research laboratory and arguable [sic] one of the world's experts on the molecular structure of water" ECF No. 76-1 at 3, Affidavit of Mahendra Kumar Trivedi. Mr. Trivedi appeared to have the support of Dr. Roy. See Letter purportedly directed to the department of Immigration and Naturalization Services from Dr. Roy, ECF No. 76-1 at 17.

Mr. Trivedi met Defendant, Tania M. Slawecki, Ph.D. (hereinafter "Slawecki"), through Dr. Roy. Dr. Slawecki is a Research Associate with the Materials Research Institute at The Pennsylvania State University (hereinafter "Penn State") in State College, Centre County, Pennsylvania. ECF. No. 7601 at 14.

There are two documents that appear to form the basis of Trivedi's claims against Dr. Slawecki. The first is an article on the internet written by Dr. Slawecki that the parties have titled the "overview." The second is an email written by Dr. Slawecki on July 28, 2011.

1. The Overview

Dr. Slawecki has a link to a personal webpage that can be accessed through the official Penn State website. Dr. Slawecki posted on her personal website an article that the parties describe as an "overview." The overview was written after Dr. Roy's death. ECF No. 76-1 at 57. The overview is an approximately 5 page article that Dr. Slawecki posted on her personal website titled "Overview and Summary of Research on Mahendra Trivedi Conducted at Penn State University in 2009" and is dated May 2011. ECF No. 76-1 at 68-73. The following are the excerpts from the overview written by Dr. Slawecki that are relevant to the instant motion:

Mahendra Trivedi was welcomed eagerly at our laboratory when he first arrived, for he came backed already by thousands of webpage documentation of "experiments" that "proved" he was able to affect [sic] physical materials with his unique abilities. Our investigative team was eager to substantiate his claims. We proceeded with open minds and spirits, very much wanting to be impressed or "wowed." We were left underwhelmed.
* * * * *
[W]e did not observe any changes in materials or their properties as a result of his "blessings."
* * * * *
It is important to note here that we WERE biased in our study: we WANTED to see a difference, even hopefully EXPECTED to see a difference, but, to our dismay, found nothing.
* * * * *
Lots of data. We found nothing meaningful.
* * * * *
As materials scientists, we were not trained to think critically about agricultural applications, but I happen to be a long-time organic biointensive mini-farmer and a member of the PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture. While detail is presented in the full research report I hope to eventually post, in short, one can conclude NOTHING from a single blessed vs. unblessed plant.
* * * * *
So what is left to consider as scientifically valid about Trivedi? When he arrived at our office, he was drinking 17 liters of water a day and rarely using the bathroom. According to his followers, this was an improvement over the 30 liters/day he used to consume! He often perspired on his forehead and wiped his forehead often. He constantly cleared his throat, as if chronically congested, and his voice was often gruff as if choked with phlegm. His followers said he never slept - I observed his eyes were often bloodshot, yet he did not seem tired. Supposedly his physiological parameters were astounding: he should be in a diabetic coma or dead and yet he was not! His pituitary was the size of an egg! We had no way to confirm the medical data about Trivedi, but based upon his unusual water consumption alone, there was clearly something physiologically different about him.
Is his astounding physiology reason to become a follower of him? What is the significance of his unusual physiology?
I found the following passages potentially insightful on this front (having nothing to do with our laboratory testing.) Consider the following Discourse 24 from Paramahansa Yogananda's book The Second Coming of Christ, which is a yogi's perspective and commentary on the Christian bible and the teachings of Jesus. Discourse 24 is "Casting out Devils." While I don't care for some of the terminology Yogananda chooses to use, I share a few excerpts form pp. 400-402:
"As people walk in sleep or cry out during a bad dream, so, during the sleep after death, unclean spirits move about in the ether crying out for relief. Often they try to get hold of some passive bodily vehicle through which to express their agony and pent-up wickedness."
"The evil-spirit-possessed person usually displays unusual physical strength, bloodshot eyes, uncanny expression, and general lack of normal behavior."
"A possessed individual may or may not be unconscious within his spirit-controlled body, just as a person under hypnosis may manifest the unconsciousness of sleep or the superficially normal state of the obsessed conscious mind."
"Jesus did not want the unclean devil, in its irritated state, to do harm to the brain of the obsessed man. If possession by unclean devils or disembodied souls continues for long, great mischief is done to the brain, mind, and sense organs of the possessed individual, posing a threat of the advent of permanent insanity. By his life-controlling will power, Jesus spoke: Hold thy peace and come out of him . That is, stop the devilish work of wrecking possessed brains; hold on to the inner peace of the soul, hidden behind the dark barrier of self-created past evil propensities, and restore again your right behavior by coming out of the body you have forcibly and unethically occupied.
Additional perspective on Trivedi's case may be gained by reading about "trance surgeons, " as documented extensively by Prof. Norman Don at the University of Chicago. I heard him speak at the First International Conference on the Science of Whole Person Healing in 2003, and it opened my eyes to this unconventional matter of "entities" that could partially or totally control another's body. The healer Joao de Deus (John of God) is a well-documented case of a trance healer. Trivedi's case is a very different form [than] that of Joao's, but one begins to get some perspective by learning about such things.
Severe dissociative disorder (SDD)[2], also called "Multiple Personality Disorder, " is also relevant for perspective on this matter. Some cases of SDD involve the spontaneous changing of one personality into another with a corresponding completely different physiology: eye color, blood type and physiology (including physical ailments) can change spontaneously, depending on the personality ("entity"?) animating the physical body. According to a psychologist colleague, psychology textbooks cite such cases but have no explanation for how or why they occur.
We had a reputable clairvoyant watch and paint the energy field/aura of Trivedi in his normal state, while blessing samples, and while blessing people. Trivedi, who initially poked fun at people who claim to be able to see auras, became visibly nervous when our clairvoyant prepared to paint his. He repeated suggested she needed to take a walk to relax prior to doing this painting, until, at last, she replied that maybe HE needed to go take a walk. He did. He returned and she was able to proceed.
She saw a lower level entity (which she politely referred to as an ancestor spirit) with Trivedi in his normal state. As Trivedi entered his trance state to bless samples, the entity seemed to enter through his throat chakra and began to pump power into and out of the solar plexus. When Trivedi blessed people, his energy field resembled that of a shaman - the clairvoyant had only seen the same kind of field when shamans were working. She said she detected "cunning" and commented "cunning can be good or cunning can be bad." Her sense was that she did not trust him or his energy and she slipped away when he sought to bless her.
* * * * *
If, in fact, one were to take this possibility as a valid one - that is, there is a disembodied spirit of some kind that seems to be working through Trivedi, entering through his throat chakra - his condition could be viewed as a kind of spirit possession case...
It is said that low level spirits who suffer from addictions will often attach themselves to incarnated persons to energetically satisfy their addictive cravings. Trivedi speaks not of love (as do the Great Masters), but only of his Powers. Thus one might be lead to believe that the entity working through him is addicted to power, fueling itself on the vital energy of others who openly and willingly submit to it...
* * * * *
I worked with the late Prof. Rustum Roy...He (Rustum) subjected himself to many, many "blessings"...
We tested Trivedi, gratis, on several occasions, June-September 2009, after which Trivedi was spending time in Arizona and California. We had a potential funder (philanthropist) visit our lab in mid-December and this man also had training under a master in India who was both Sufi and Yogi. In short, while telling him about our testing of Trivedi, this man detected the strong presence of a negative entity in our lab and went through some trouble to remove it. This was a Friday. On Saturday he left town and on Sunday Trivedi showed up again to see Rustum in person at the lab, directed to do so by his "guiding voice, " as if the entity had to reassert its presence and dominance here. I refused to partake in that meeting.
Thereafter, Rustum began to ail with one thing after another, but most notably a terrible pain at the base of his spine. All kinds of testing failed to reveal the source of his agonizing pain. He continued to get "blessings" through February or so, after which he seemed to really cool it on his support for Trivedi, for various reasons. He passed his 86th birthday in early July 2010 in a wheelchair, on pain-killers. In the end, they said it was bone cancer that metastasized: cancer was throughout his body and he passed away on August 26, 2010 - easy for me to remember as it was coincidentally my father's birthday.
My colleague, Dr. Phil Shinnick, who visited Rustum several times in June and July to offer pain relief through acupuncture, a TENS unit and other methods, said he had had several patients with bone cancer, and he knew very well how that would show up on the medical scans. He said, "Tania, I looked at Rusty's scans and there was NO TRACE of bone cancer. Cancer may have shown up at the very end, but it was NOT the cause of his death. It was really as if something just sucked the life energy out of him."
The pain Rustum suffered was at the base of the spine. This is the seat of the Kundalini life-force energy. In one year, this vital man shriveled away and is believed to have died of ...

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