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Doe v. Garabedian

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 2, 2019

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
MITCHELL GARABEDIAN, ESQUIRE, MITCHELL GARABEDIAN, ESQUIRE, doing business as “LAW OFFICES OF MITCHELL GARABEDIAN, ” and KURTIS N. POULOS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          DuBois, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is an action for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, arising out of allegations that plaintiff, John Doe, sexually abused defendant Kurtis Poulos, when he was plaintiff's student twenty-five years ago. Defendants Mitchell Garabedian, Esq., and Law Offices of Mitchell Garabedian (“Garabedian defendants”), who represented Poulos at the time, sent two settlement demands to Poulos's former boarding school, describing Poulos's allegations of sexual abuse by plaintiff and demanding $1 million to settle the claim. Plaintiff denies the allegations. Presently before the Court is the Garabedian defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. The motion to dismiss is granted on the ground that the Second Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 28, filed on June 20, 2019) fails to state a claim for defamation or intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         II.BACKGROUND

         The facts below are drawn from plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. The Court construes that complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, as it must in ruling on a motion to dismiss. The facts set forth in the Second Amended Complaint may be summarized as follows:

         “Plaintiff has been an educator, coach, dorm parent, and administrator” at a boarding school in Montgomery Country, Pennsylvania for over 25 years. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 12. On April 11, 2018, the Garabedian defendants sent a settlement demand letter to the headmaster at plaintiff's employer, Poulos's former boarding school, stating that “Kurtis Nicholas Poulos . . . was repeatedly sexually molested by [plaintiff] from approximately 1993 . . . until approximately 1995.” Second Am. Compl. Ex. A. The letter further stated, that during the relevant times, plaintiff was “assigned to or affiliated” with the boarding school. Id. Finally, the letter described the harm suffered by Poulos and demanded $1 million to settle the claims. Id. In response to the April 2018 letter, the school hired a law firm to investigate the claims. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 21. The school's law firm responded to the Garabedian defendants, seeking additional information about the claims; the Garabedian defendants did not reply until December 2018. Id. ¶ 22.

         On December 26, 2018, the Garabedian defendants sent a second letter to the school's attorney, providing the attorney with more details of Poulos's claim. Second Am. Compl. Ex. B. The second letter stated, among other things, that “[d]uring the course of Mr. Poulos's sophomore year, [plaintiff] sexually abused Mr. Poulos in [plaintiff]'s geometry classroom between approximately 10 and 15 times.” Id. Poulos did not read either letter before the Garabedian defendants sent them. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 26. After the Garabedian defendants sent the second letter, they sought to obtain Poulos's school records. Id. ¶ 25. In response, both the school and the law firm it retained attempted to contact the Garabedian defendants, to no avail. Id. ¶ 27-28. Finally, the school sent the Garabedian defendants a final notice, warning them that if they did not contact the school or the law firm it retained by March 1, 2019, the school would assume that the Garabedian defendants did not intend to pursue Poulos's claim. Id. ¶ 29. The Garabedian defendants never responded. Id. ¶ 30.

         Over one month later on April 10, 2019, plaintiff filed the initial Complaint. On June 20, 2019, plaintiff filed the Second Amended Complaint asserting that the Garabedian defendants and Poulos defamed him in the demand letter (Counts I & III) and that the Garabedian defendants and Poulos's intentional acts caused him emotional distress (Counts II & IV). The Second Amended Complaint also states that plaintiff is a “citizen of, and domiciled in, Ohio, ” Poulos is a citizen of, and domiciled in, Wisconsin, Mitchell Garabedian is a citizen of, and domiciled in, Massachusetts, and the Law Offices of Mitchell Garabedian is a sole proprietorship domiciled in Massachusetts with its principal place of business in Massachusetts. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1-7. The Second Amended Complaint further states that “[t]he amount in controversy substantially exceeds the requirement for Federal Diversity Jurisdiction.” Id. ¶ 9.

         Pro se defendant Poulos filed an Answer to the Second Amended Complaint on July 3, 2019. Poulos's Answer contained counterclaims based on statements made in the Second Amended Complaint. Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss Poulos's counterclaims on July 24, 2019. The Court dismissed Poulos's counterclaims with prejudice on the grounds that statements made in the Second Amended Complaint were subject to the judicial immunity privilege (Doc. No. 35, filed August 16, 2019).

         The Garabedian defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Second Amended Complaint on July 5, 2019. The Garabedian defendants allege that: (1) this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction; (2) plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint fails to state a claim for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (3) punitive damages cannot be awarded.

         Plaintiff filed a response on August 2, 2019 (Doc. No. 34). The Garabedian defendants, filed a motion for leave to reply with the reply attached, which was granted (Doc. No. 36) on August 19, 2019. The Motion is thus ripe for decision.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Garabedian defendants argue that plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint lacks subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and that plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint fails to state a claim for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

         A. Rule 12(b)(1): Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

          In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the Court must first determine whether the motion “presents a ‘facial' attack or a ‘factual' attack.” Long v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 903 F.3d 312, 320 (3d Cir. 2018). A facial attack “considers a claim on its face and asserts that it is insufficient to invoke the subject matter jurisdiction of the court.” Id. When ruling on a facial attack, the Court “considers only the complaint, viewing it in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Id. By contrast, a factual attack is an argument that challenges the “factual allegations underlying the complaint's assertion of jurisdiction, either through the filing of an answer or ‘otherwise presenting competing facts.'” Davis v. Wells Fargo, 824 F.3d 333, 346 (3d Cir. 2016). When ruling on a factual attack, the Court weighs the evidence and must satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case. Plaintiff has the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction. Dolison v. SavaSeniorCare Admin. Servs., LLC, No. CV 15-3135, 2019 WL 588699, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 13, 2019) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6): Failure to State a Claim

          The purpose of a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Liou v. Le Reve Rittenhouse Spa, LLC, No. CV 18-5279, 2019 WL 1405846, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 28, 2019). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. In assessing the plausibility of a plaintiff's claims, a district court first identifies those allegations that constitute nothing more than mere “legal conclusions” or “naked assertion[s].” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557, 564 (2007). Such allegations are “not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The Court then assesses “the ‘nub' of the plaintiff['s] complaint-the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation[s]”-to determine whether it states a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 680. “In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010).

         IV. ...


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