United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
Rule 12(b)(1): Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
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
Rule 12(b)(6): Failure to State a Claim
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).