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Hearts with Haiti, Inc. v. Kendrick

United States District Court, District of Maine

August 28, 2014

HEARTS WITH HAITI, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,


Plaintiff MICHAEL GEILENFELD Individually and in his capacity as Executive Director of St Joseph Family of Haiti on behalf of St Joseph Family of Haiti and its residents (per Order #84 acting in Individual Capacity Only) represented by PETER J. DETROY, III, ROBERT F. OBERKOETTER, RUSSELL PIERCE, DEVIN W. DEANE, KELLY M. HOFFMAN, ATTORNEY TO BE NOTICED.




In this defamation action, Paul Kendrick has moved for partial summary judgment, arguing that no punitive damages may be awarded against him as a matter of law. At this stage, the Court is required to view the much-disputed record in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs and, having done so, concludes that there are genuine issues of material fact that call for jury resolution and preclude summary judgment on the issue of punitive damages.


A. Procedural History

On February 6, 2013, Hearts with Haiti, Inc. and Michael Geilenfeld filed a complaint against Paul Kendrick, asserting claims for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and tortious interference with advantageous economic relationships. Verified Compl. and Demand for Jury Trial ¶¶ 89-105 (ECF No. 1) (Compl.). The Plaintiffs seek various forms of relief, including punitive damages. Id. ¶¶ 106-08. On March 8, 2013, Mr. Kendrick answered the Complaint, denying its essential allegations and asserting several defenses. Defenses and Answer at 1 (ECF No. 8) (Answer).

On May 9, 2014, Mr. Kendrick filed a sealed motion for partial summary judgment with a supporting statement of material facts. Def.’s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. (ECF No. 192) (Def.’s Mot.); Def.’s Local Rule 56(b) Supporting Statement of Material Facts (ECF No. 193) (DSMF). On June 4, 2014, the Plaintiffs responded to Mr. Kendrick’s motion and supporting statement of material facts, and filed their statement of additional facts. Pls.’ Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. (ECF No. 207) (Pls.’ Opp’n); Pls.’ Mot. to Seal Attach. 1 Pls.’ Opposing Statement of Material Facts (ECF No. 208) (PRDSMF; PSAMF). On June 18, 2014, Mr. Kendrick replied to the Plaintiffs’ response and statement of additional facts. Def.’s Reply Mem. to Pls.’ Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. (ECF No. 211) (Def.’s Reply); Def.’s Mot. to File Under Seal Attach. 1 Local Rule 56(d) Reply Statement of Material Facts Including Local Rule 56(e) Resps. to Reqs. to Strike (ECF No. 212) (DRPSAMF).

B. Factual Background Relevant to Issues on Summary Judgment

1. Summary Judgment Praxis

In accordance with “conventional summary judgment praxis, ” the Court recounts the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs’ theory of the case, “consistent with record support.” Gillen v. Fallon Ambulance Serv., Inc., 283 F.3d 11, 17 (1st Cir. 2002).

In the context of this bitterly contested case, the Court is obligated under the law to view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving parties, namely the Plaintiffs. Mr. Kendrick may view the Court’s acceptance of the Plaintiffs’ versions of contested facts as the Court taking sides in their dispute in favor of the Plaintiffs and against him. It is not doing so. The Court is not in a position to know who is right based on the numerous facts the parties are contesting. Instead, at this point, the Court is only resolving whether a jury gets to decide if the facts would justify the imposition of punitive damages, provided the jury resolves the contested facts in favor of the Plaintiffs. The Court assures the parties, particularly Mr. Kendrick, that in following the standard “summary judgment praxis, ” it is not prejudging the case.

Most prominent among the allegations the parties strenuously contest is the manifestly grave question of whether Mr. Geilenfeld has ever sexually abused anyone, particularly children in Haiti. Mr. Geilenfeld emphatically denies ever having sexually abused anyone and he says that he directly informed Mr. Kendrick of this fact. PSAMF ¶ 18. In his reply, Mr. Kendrick denied that this statement was true. DRPSAMF ¶ 18. For Mr. Geilenfeld, the allegations strike at the core of his work in Haiti, and presumably, the implications of these allegations motivated this lawsuit. For Mr. Kendrick, his allegations strike at the core of his defense.

2. General Background[1]

Michael Geilenfeld is the founder and Executive Director of St. Joseph Family of Haiti, “which operates a network of nonprofit institutions that provide residence, room and board, formal education, and religious education to disabled and disadvantaged Haitian children.” Compl. ¶ 7. St. Joseph Family “operates St. Joseph’s Home for Boys, Wings of Hope, Trinity House, Lekòl Sen Trinite, and the Resurrection Dance Theater of Haiti.” Id. ¶ 8.

Hearts with Haiti is a North Carolina nonprofit corporation located in Raleigh, North Carolina. Id. ¶ 1. Hearts with Haiti was and is a substantial financial contributor to the St. Joseph Homes. DSMF ¶ 5; PRDSMF ¶ 5. Hearts with Haiti solicits and accepts donations throughout the United States.[2] DSMF ¶ 8; PRDSMF ¶ 8.

Paul Kendrick has lived in Freeport, Maine since December 2007; before that, he lived in Cumberland, Maine and Portland, Maine. Pls.’ Third Mot. for Contempt and Sanctions Against Def. for Repeated Violation of the Ct.’s Orders Attach. 2 Videotaped Dep. of Paul Kendrick 21:14-23 (ECF No. 141) (Feb. 25, 2014) (Kendrick Dep. Tr.). He works as a financial advisor for RBC Wealth Management. Id. 20:23-21:13.

Cyrus Sibert is a journalist, id. 38:10-13, who works at least some of the time in Haiti. See Id . 34:22-23. Mr. Sibert and Mr. Kendrick have known each other since approximately 2008. See Id . 37:11-15, 38:23-39:6, 41:14-18.

3. Mr. Kendrick Receives Communications Alleging Abuse by Mr. Geilenfeld

Mr. Kendrick has never visited St. Joseph’s Home for Boys, Wings of Hope, Trinity House, or Lekòl Sen Trinite. PSAMF ¶ 1; DRPSAMF ¶ 1. Before January 31, 2011, Mr. Kendrick had never met or communicated with Michael Geilenfeld or any employee, volunteer, or staff member of St. Joseph’s Family of Haiti. PSAMF ¶ 2; DRPSAMF ¶ 2.[3] Nor had Mr. Kendrick ever met or communicated with any Hearts of Haiti board member or benefactor of Mr. Geilenfeld, St. Joseph’s Family of Haiti, or Hearts with Haiti. PSAMF ¶¶ 4-5; DRPSAMF ¶¶ 4-5.[4], [5]

On January 6, 2011, Mr. Kendrick received an email from Mr. Sibert, explaining that Mr. Sibert had received a call from Bonnie Elam, a woman in North Carolina, who “told [Mr. Sibert] about a pedophil[e] situation in the capital, ” that the “abuser is powerful with one million dollars a year, ” and that she would send him “an email [] with all information.” PRDSMF ¶ 1(a). Mr. Kendrick spoke with Ms. Elam, and she informed him that she was providing documents to Mr. Sibert but not to Mr. Kendrick. Id. ¶ 1(b).

On January 31, 2011, Mr. Kendrick received an email from Mr. Sibert, referencing a 20-year old statement of “Mary Kohl Hass and Michelle Finch” that Mr. Sibert had received from Ms. Elam and published on his blog. Id. ¶ 1(c). This statement alleged that Mr. Geilenfeld had abused the two women in 1990 and 1991. See Pls.’ Resp. in Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. to Retain Classified Designation of Certain Docs. Attach. 1 Def.’s Resp. to Pl.’s First Set of Interrogs. ¶ 3 (ECF No. 60) (Interrog.).

4. Mr. Kendrick Begins to Campaign Against Mr. Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti on January 31, 2011

Starting on January 31, 2011, and for a long time thereafter, Mr. Kendrick regularly sent materials to people and organizations associated with Mr. Geilenfeld, including those who supported Mr. Geilenfeld, telling them that Mr. Geilenfeld is a dangerous man who sexually abused children while serving as Executive Director of the St. Joseph’s Homes for children in Port-au-Prince. DSMF ¶ 3; PRDSMF ¶ 3.[6]These accusations were factually false; Mr. Geilenfeld has never sexually abused any person. PRDSMF ¶ 3; PSAMF ¶ 18; DRPSAMF ¶ 18.[7]

On January 31, 2011, Mr. Kendrick identified St. Theresa’s Parish of Milwaukee, Wisconsin as a supporter of Mr. Geilenfeld. PSAMF ¶ 6; DRPSAMF ¶ 6. That day, Mr. Kendrick emailed officials of St. Theresa’s Parish, claiming that “[t]here are substantiated reports that [Mr. Geilenfeld] is sexually abusing children” and inquiring as to why the Parish would be “sponsoring Michael Geilenfeld[.]” PSAMF ¶ 7; DRPSAMF ¶ 7.

During his deposition on February 25, 2014, Mr. Kendrick claimed that these “substantiated reports” referred to “two victims” in Haiti who told him over the phone that they had been sexually abused by Mr. Geilenfeld. PSAMF ¶ 8; DRPSAMF ¶ 8.[8] During his deposition, however, Mr. Kendrick could not recall who the two alleged victims were, the substance of their allegations, when they were allegedly abused, other than that “they were minor children, ” or whether he ever spoke to them again. PSAMF ¶ 9; DRPSAMF ¶ 9.[9]

Mr. Kendrick also identified Hearts with Haiti board member, Rolvix Patterson, M.D., as a supporter of Michael Geilenfeld and St. Joseph’s Family. PSAMF ¶ 10; DRPSAMF ¶ 10. Mr. Kendrick emailed Dr. Patterson with the following “Message for Michael Geilenfeld”:

We know you are raping innocent Haitian children.
For years, others have enabled your abuse of children.
We know what you are doing.
We are going to stop you no matter how long it takes.
Whenever you bring your dance company to the U.S., we will blitz the local media with the testimony of the boys you have raped.
It’s over. You are pathetic.
Paul Kendrick

PSAMF ¶ 11; DRPSAMF ¶ 11.

5. Mr. Kendrick Understands His Information is Incomplete but Continues to Campaign Against Mr. Geilenfeld

a. Emails in Early February 2011

On February 1, 2011, Mr. Kendrick emailed Bonnie Elam with the subject line “Not enough info”:

I and other advocates can do little to nothing to get the word out about Geilenfeld until we have a complete understanding of what he has done to children.
The women’s testimony that Cyrus has published is 20 years old. Have the two women spoken directly to Cyrus?
Cyrus mentioned that four individuals have told him they were abused at St. Joseph’s.
Abused by whom? Geilenfeld or others?
Were they sexually abused?
What sexual acts were inflicted upon them?
How old were they? Were they under 18?
Until we can speak with authority that Geilenfeld is a child molester, there is not much we can do.
It’s tough enough these days to get a U.S. reporter’s attention focused on these matters, so it is important that I and others here in the U.S. are able to provide lots of facts and witnesses for the reporters we know to speak with.
As it stands, there’s not enough to work with.

PSAMF ¶ 12; DRPSAMF ¶ 12.

That same day, Mr. Kendrick also identified St. Cecilia’s Parish in Boston, Massachusetts as a sponsor of Mr. Geilenfeld and St. Joseph’s Family of Haiti. PSAMF ¶ 13; DRPSAMF ¶ 13. He then emailed parish officials, claiming that “[t]here are substantiated reports that [Mr.] Geilenfeld is sexually abusing children in Haiti” and inquiring as to why the Parish would be “sponsoring Michael Geilenfeld[.]” PSAMF ¶ 14; DRPSAMF ¶ 14.

On February 3, 2011, Mr. Kendrick emailed Mr. Geilenfeld, St. Theresa’s Parish, St. Cecilia’s Parish, and Dr. Patterson. PSAMF ¶ 15; DRPSAMF ¶ 15. He introduced himself as “a long time advocate for the protection of children” and explained that:

Due to the publicity surrounding [a former sex abuse matter that Mr. Kendrick worked on], I have received a significant amount of information and testimony in which is alleged that you, Mr. Geilenfeld, are sexually abusing children in your case. I would like to speak with you and your NGO’s board of directors about what I have learned.

PSAMF ¶ 15; DRPSAMF ¶ 15. Later that day, Mr. Geilenfeld responded: “I will be happy to speak with you, ” providing Mr. Kendrick with his phone number and the contact information for two people associated with Mr. Geilenfeld’s organization, and concluded by stating “Peace and all that is good! ----- Michael.” PSAMF ¶ 16; DRPSAMF ¶ 16. That same day, Mr. Kendrick responded to Mr. Geilenfeld’s email:

Let’s start here:

Have you ever engaged in a sexual act of any kind with a minor (under the age of 18)?

PSAMF ¶ 17; DRPSAMF ¶ 17. Mr. Geilenfeld wrote back to Mr. Kendrick, denying that he had ever sexually abused any person. PSAMF ¶ 18; DRPSAMF ¶ 18.[10] Mr. Kendrick declined Mr. Geilenfeld’s invitation to speak with him by phone, and in fact, has never spoken to Mr. Geilenfeld. PSAMF ¶ 19; DRPSAMF ¶ 19.

On February 10, 2011, Mr. Kendrick reported to Mr. Sibert that he had “just spoke on the phone with [D.J.B.]” and thanked Mr. Sibert for introducing D.J.B. to him. PSAMF ¶ 20; DRPSAMF ¶ 20. Before this date, Mr. Kendrick had never communicated with D.J.B. or any individual whom he claimed was sexually abused by Mr. Geilenfeld. PSAMF ¶ 21; DRPSAMF ¶ 21.[11]

b. Emails on May 13 and 14, 2011

On May 5, 2011, Mr. Sibert emailed Mr. Kendrick, explaining that a man named S.L. called Mr. Sibert because S.L. had “heard Geilenfeld under pressure.” PSAMF ¶ 24; DRPSAMF ¶ 24. Before May 5, 2011, Mr. Kendrick had never heard of or communicated with an individual named S.L. PSAMF ¶ 25; DRPSAMF ¶ 25.[12]On May 13, 2011, Mr. Kendrick received an email from Valerie Dirksen, claiming that Mr. Geilenfeld ran a “massage program” at St. Joseph’s Family for “men to give massages to boys” and favors certain children as “princes.” PSAMF ¶ 26; DRPSAMF ¶ 26. On May 14, 2011, Mr. Kendrick questioned Ms. Dirksen about whom she had received the information from: “What is the source(s) of the info in these emails?” PSAMF ¶ 27; DRPSAMF ¶ 27. Neither Mr. Kendrick nor Ms. Dirksen knows the source of this information. PSAMF ¶¶ 28-29; DRPSAMF ¶¶ 28-29. Mr. Kendrick has acknowledged that he “wanted to know more, ” Kendrick Dep. Tr. 102:13, about the credibility, validity, or veracity of the allegations communicated to him by Ms. Dirksen. PSAMF ¶ 31; DRPSAMF ¶ 31.[13], [14] However, he does not recall taking any steps to determine for himself whether the allegations recited by Ms. Dirksen, whom he has never met, were credible. PSAMF ¶¶ 33-34; DRPSAMF ¶¶ 33-34. Ms. Dirksen also told Mr. Kendrick that Mr. Geilenfeld has “attacked [children] with voodoo magic” and that “voodoo is one of the many ways MG and his posse has controlled these guys through the years. They believe he has very strong powers.” PSAMF ¶ 32; DRPSAMF ¶ 32.

The next day, May 14, 2011, after questioning the source(s) of the information communicated to him by Ms. Dirksen, Mr. Kendrick emailed at least one benefactor and financial supporter of Mr. Geilenfeld and St. Joseph’s Family, claiming that: (1) children at St. Joseph’s Family watch and act out “Playboy” videos with Mr. Geilenfeld; (2) Mr. Geilenfeld forces children to lick vodka off of his body; (3) that Mr. Geilenfeld takes children to the Dominican Republic to engage in PSAMF ¶ 31. Mr. Kendrick denied paragraph 31, arguing that the relevant section of his deposition “does not contain an admission concerning credibility, validity or veracity.” DRPSAMF ¶ 31 (citing Kendrick Dep. Tr. 102:10-13). Thus, the parties vary in their characterization of the same lines in Mr. Kendrick’s deposition: “[Question:] Do you recall being concerned about the credibility or validity or veracity of those kinds of allegations? [Answer:] I wanted to know more, yes.” Even viewing the record in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, the Court agrees with Mr. Kendrick that his statement does not reflect an admission about his subjective assessment of the “credibility, validity, or veracity” of the allegations at the time; rather, it is an acknowledgment that—whatever his opinion—he wanted to have more information about the statements to help him better evaluate their “credibility, validity, or veracity.” The Court modifies paragraph 31 accordingly and deems the paragraph, as altered, admitted under Local Rule 56(f), (g). inappropriate sexual behavior with him; and (4) Mr. Geilenfeld bribes and threatens neighbors not to “talk.” PSAMF ¶ 35; DRPSAMF ¶ 35.[15]

Mr. Kendrick later claimed on at least more than one occasion that Valerie Dirksen was the source of the information in this email. PSAMF ¶ 36; DRPSAMF ¶ 36. However, Ms. Dirksen denied that she was the source of this information or provided this information to Mr. Kendrick. PSAMF ¶¶ 37-38; DRPSAMF ¶¶ 37-38.[16], [17] Ms. Dirksen, like Mr. Kendrick, has never visited any of the homes within St. Joseph’s Family. PSAMF ¶ 39; DRPSAMF ¶ 39. She has never traveled to the country of Haiti and has never met E.M., S.L., or D.J.B. PSAMF ¶¶ 40-41; DRPSAMF ¶¶ 40-41.

No individual has testified that he or she is the source of the information conveyed in the email of May 14, 2011. PSAMF ¶ 44; DRPSAMF ¶ 44.[18]

c. Email on May 28, 2011

On May 28, 2011, Mr. Kendrick emailed multiple benefactors of Mr. Geilenfeld, St. Joseph’s Family, and Hearts with Haiti, claiming that “Michael Geilenfeld’s Haitian supporters say they will kill anybody behind this advocate who is causing ‘trouble’ for Geilenfeld.” PSAMF ¶ 46; DRPSAMF ¶ 46. Mr. Kendrick cannot recall who or what this information refers to. PSAMF ¶ 47; DRPSAMF ¶ 47.[19]

d. Mr. Kendrick Speaks With E.M. in June 2011

On June 4, 2011, Mr. Kendrick emailed Mr. Sibert, explaining that he received a call from an individual living in Massachusetts named E.M., who claimed to be “a sex abuse victim of Geilenfeld and has lots to tell.” PSAMF ¶ 49; DRPSAMF ¶ 49. Mr. Kendrick inquired of Mr. Sibert: “Do you know this individual? Should I know him?” PSAMF ¶ 49; DRPSAMF ¶ 49.

As of June 20, 2011, Mr. Kendrick claimed to have communicated with three alleged victims: S.L., D.J.B., and E.M. PSAMF ¶ 50; DRPSAMF ¶ 50. On that date, Mr. Kendrick emailed Mr. Sibert, explaining that he was “hearing over and over again from people who know of the St. Joseph’s Homes that ‘these are old allegations.’” PSAMF ¶ 51; DRPSAMF ¶ 51. He confided in Mr. Sibert: “Please, don’t take this the wrong way[] [b]ut, I am curious, are there more recent victims for the investigator to interview?” PSAMF ¶ 51; DRPSAMF ¶ 51.

6. Mr. Kendrick’s Campaign Continues in 2011

a. Emails in July 2011 to Rick Barger and Bill Nathan

On July 10, 2011, Mr. Kendrick emailed Mr. Geilenfeld: “You can tell your jerk of a houseguest, Pastor Rick [Barger], that no matter how hard he tries to protect and defend you, you will be indicted, arrested, convicted and imprisoned for child sex abuse.” PSAMF ¶ 52; DRPSAMF ¶ 52; PSAMF ¶ 100; DRPSAMF ¶ 100.

Bill Nathan was in the care of St. Joseph’s Family beginning at eight years of age. Additional Attachs. Attach. 6 (ECF No. 204) (Nathan Decl.). By 2011, he had risen to become the director of St. Joseph’s Home for Boys. Id. On July 18, 2011, Mr. Kendrick emailed Mr. Nathan:

Dear Mr. Nathan,
Word has it that you are engaging in sexual relations with Michael Geilenfeld.
Perhaps this is why you defend Geilenfeld against any and all allegations of child abuse.
You should know that Geilenfeld has a big mouth. He uses people for his own purposes.
Paul Kendrick

PSAMF ¶ 53; DRPSAMF ¶ 53. Mr. Kendrick has forgotten the source of this information he conveyed to Mr. Nathan. PSAMF ¶ 54; DRPSAMF ¶ 54.[20] Mr. Kendrick intended his communication to Mr. Nathan to “be shocking and upsetting.” PSAMF ¶ 56; DRPSAMF ¶ 56.

The next day, July 19, 2011, Mr. Kendrick emailed Mr. Nathan: “For many, many years, you have looked the other way and said nothing while little boys are raped and sodomized by Geilenfeld . . . [a]re you so in love with Geilenfeld that you do nothing while he sexually abuses children?” PSAMF ¶ 57; DRPSAMF ¶ 57. Mr. Kendrick’s basis for this statement was his perception that Mr. Nathan had worked at St. Joseph’s Family for many years, had a good job, and was paid well. PSAMF ¶ 58; DRPSAMF ¶ 58.[21]

On July 23, 2011, Mr. Kendrick emailed Mr. Nathan:

Dear Mr. Nathan,
You should consult with a reputable lawyer to determine if you will be arrested, along with Michael Geilenfeld, for child sex abuse charges.
People in the United States are saying that you, too, have sexually abused minor children.
When Geilenfeld is arrested and removed from the St. Joseph’s Homes, child protection advocates will urge that you also be arrested and removed from any employment with St. Joseph’s Homes.
You will be known in Haiti as a person who abused children for your own pleasure.
Geilenfeld is not your friend. He cares only about himself.
You can help yourself now by contacting the police.
Paul Kendrick

PSAMF ¶ 59; DRPSAMF ¶ 59.

Mr. Kendrick cannot recall what information he had or who told him that Mr. Nathan sexually abused children. PSAMF ¶ 60; DRPSAMF ¶ 60. Mr. Kendrick could not reference any information from any source stating that Mr. Nathan sexually abused children. PSAMF ¶ 61; DRPSAMF ¶ 61.[22]

b. Email to Federal Investigators on July 28, 2011

Special Agent Rod Khattabi of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was involved in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigation that led to the prosecution and conviction of Douglas Perlitz for crimes of child abuse. PSAMF ¶ 23; DRPSAMF ¶ 23. On July 28, 2011, [23] Mr. Kendrick emailed Agent Khattabi and an official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), claiming there had been “[n]o help from U.S. authorities in arresting a child abuser [referring to Mr. Geilenfeld].” PSAMF ¶ 63; DRPSAMF ¶ 63. He claimed that “not one victim in Haiti (including two victims who just turned 18 years old) has been interviewed by any branch of U.S. law enforcement.” PSAMF ¶ 64; DRPSAMF ¶ 64. Mr. ...

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