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Ames v. American Radio Relay League Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 21, 2016

JOSEPH A. AMES, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN RADIO RELAY LEAGUE INCORPORATED, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          C. DARNELL JONES, II J.

         This case involves a state-law defamation claim brought by Joseph Ames, a citizen of Pennsylvania, against American Radio Relay League Incorporated (ARRL), a Connecticut corporation, and Tom Gallagher, Rick Roderick, and Dr. James Boehner (each an out-of-state officer or director of ARRL, and together with ARRL, the “Defendants”).[1] Compl. ¶¶ 1, 8-11, ECF No. 1.

         Pending before this Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Defs.' Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 10. This Court grants the Motion because the plaintiff's pleadings, including documents referenced therein and submitted by the parties, show on their face that the allegedly defamatory statements are true and, thus, cannot form the basis of a defamation claim as a matter of law.

         Standard of Review

         In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, courts must “accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). This standard, which applies to all civil cases, “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[A]ll civil complaints must now set out sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible.” Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210 (internal quotation marks omitted). “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)).

         “As a general rule, the court may only consider the pleading which is attacked by an FRCP 12(b)(6) motion in determining its sufficiency.” Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting 62 Fed. Proc., Lawyers' Edition § 62:508). “However, the court may consider documents which are attached to or submitted with the complaint, as well as . . . documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading[.]” Id. (emphasis in original). “Documents that the defendant attaches to the motion to dismiss are considered part of the pleadings if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to the claim[.]” Id. (emphasis in original).

         Background

         Defendant ARRL is the national association for Amateur Radio in the United States. Compl. ¶ 1, n.1. It is a non-profit organization that organizes and trains volunteer amateur radio operators to provide public service and emergency communication. See About ARRL, http://www.arrl.org/about-arrl (cited in the Complaint at ¶ 1, n.1); see also Defs.' Br. 2, ECF No. 10-2. ARRL is governed by a 15-member board of directors, each elected regionally by division. See ARRL Organization Structure, http://www.arrl.org/organization-structure; see also Defs.' Br. 2. Each division is further divided into sections, each of which periodically elects a section manager. Section managers are responsible for administering ARRL's volunteer field organization programs. See The ARRL Field Organization Structure, http://www.arrl.org/field-organization; see also Defs.' Br. 2-3.

         The National Traffic System (“NTS”) is one of ARRL's public-service field organization programs. Compl. ¶ 1, n.1. The NTS is divided into three areas: Eastern, Central and Pacific. Id. Plaintiff Ames does not explicitly allege his relationship to AARL, but the Complaint presumes he is a volunteer member who served as Eastern Pennsylvania section manager and NTS Eastern Area chair. Id. ¶ 1.

         During his tenure as section manager and area chair, Ames engaged in direct communications with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Id. ¶¶ 19-20, 23-25, 31-35, and Exs. A, F, G, and H. On or around June 20, 2016, ARRL sent Ames a letter informing him that he was being removed from his leadership roles for communicating directly with FEMA and making commitments on behalf of NTS and ARRL without authorization and in violation of ARRL's policies. Compl. ¶ 15 and Ex. K. On June 22, ARRL published an article on its website announcing Ames' termination and the reasons therefor (the “Article”). Compl. ¶ 15, Ex. B. The Article states, in relevant part:

Ames unilaterally and repeatedly communicated with officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on behalf of NTS, making commitments on behalf of ARRL without authority and in violation of the rules and regulations of the Field Organization. Those actions were contrary to the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding between FEMA and ARRL, which states clearly that ARRL Headquarters staff will be the single point of contact between FEMA and ARRL. . . .
In August 2015, then-ARRL CEO David Sumner . . . wrote to Ames and instructed him that, unless otherwise authorized by ARRL, any communication with FEMA with respect to NTS is to be conducted through ARRL authorized representatives. ARRL learned that Ames repeatedly acted contrary to Sumner's directive, which led to the decision to cancel Ames's Field Organization appointment and to declare the office of the Section Manager for Eastern Pennsylvania vacant.

Id. ¶ 16, Ex. B (emphasis in original).

         The content of the Article was later reported on the ARRL audio news broadcast, and was distributed via e-mail to global subscribers of “The ARRL Letter, ” as well as through the ARRL Special Bulletin ARLX007 and ARRL social media outlets. Id. ¶ 17. Third party media outlets, such as Amateur Radio Newsline, also reported the Article's news on numerous radio stations. Id. The plaintiff alleges that, as result of these publications, ...


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