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Hearts With Haiti, Inc. v. Kendrick

United States District Court, D. Maine

June 9, 2015

HEARTS WITH HAITI, INC., et al., Plaintiffs.
v.
PAUL KENDRICK, Defendant.

ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

JOHN A. WOODCOCK, Jr., District Judge.

With trial scheduled to begin in less than one month in this highly contentious diversity case, the Defendant moves to dismiss the corporate Plaintiff's claims for false light invasion of privacy on the grounds that Maine law would not recognize a corporation's right to bring such an action. Although the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has not expressly ruled as to whether a corporation may bring an action for false light invasion of privacy, this Court makes an informed prophecy and concludes that Maine law would not allow a corporation to bring an action for false light invasion of privacy. The Court grants the Defendant's motion and dismisses the corporate Plaintiff's claims based on that tort.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural Background

On February 6, 2013, Hearts With Haiti, Inc. (HWH) 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). On May 8, 2015, the Plaintiffs filed a supplemental complaint, and Mr. Kendrick answered the Supplemental Complaint on May 15, 2015. Pls.' Supplemental Compl. and Demand for Jury Trial (ECF No. 324) ( Supplemental Compl. ); Defenses and Answer to Pls.' Supplemental Compl. (ECF No. 333).

On May 19, 2015, Mr. Kendrick moved to dismiss Count II of the Plaintiffs' Complaint and Count V of the Plaintiffs' Supplemental Complaint on the grounds that the law does not recognize a right of privacy for a corporation and arguing that HWH has failed to state claims upon which relief may be granted. Def.'s Mot. Under Rule 12(b)(6) to Dismiss Pl. Hearts With Haiti, Inc.'s False Light Invasion of Privacy Claim for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can be Granted (ECF No. 334) ( Def.'s Mot. ). The Plaintiffs responded on May 29, 2015. Pls.' Objection to Def.'s Rule 12(b)(6) Mot. to Dismiss Pl. Hearts With Haiti, Inc.'s False Light Invasion of Privacy Claim (ECF No. 341) ( Pls.' Opp'n ). On June 1, 2015, Mr. Kendrick replied. Def.'s Mem. in Reply to Pl. Hearts With Haiti, Inc.'s Objection to Def.'s Rule 12(b)(6) Mot. to Dismiss Its False Light Invasion of Privacy Claim (ECF No. 343) ( Def.'s Reply ).

This case is set for jury trial with jury selection on July 6, 2015 and trial to proceed immediately thereafter. Final Pretrial Order at 2 (ECF No. 342).

B. Counts II and V

In Count II of the Plaintiffs' Complaint, HWH alleges that (1) Mr. Kendrick's alleged communications to numerous third parties placed it before the public in a false light; (2) Mr. Kendrick knew or acted with reckless disregard as to the falsity of these communications; and (3) these communications caused damage to HWH's reputation, as well as financial loss and consequential damages. Compl. ¶¶ 97-100.

In Count V of the Plaintiffs' Supplemental Complaint, HWH alleges a claim for defamation and false light based on additional allegedly defamatory statements made by Mr. Kendrick during the course of this lawsuit, which HWH claims "contributed to and led to the arrest, imprisonment, and detention of Plaintiff Geilenfeld, as an innocent man in Haitian jail." Supplemental Compl. ¶¶ 132-38.

II. THE PARTIES' POSITIONS

A. Defendant's Motion

Mr. Kendrick argues that Counts II and V should be dismissed as regards HWH because "[t]he common law is well established... that corporations do not enjoy a right to privacy that would support such a claim." Def.'s Mot. at 1. In support of his contention, Mr. Kendrick cites several cases from outside Maine, the Restatement (Second) of Torts, and one case from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Id. at 1-2.

B. Plaintiffs' Opposition

In response, HWH counters that when a corporation seeks "economic or pecuniary damage, or some form of damage to its business operations or property rights, there is no reason to make a distinction between corporate plaintiffs and individual plaintiffs for this tort." Pls.' Opp'n at 1. In HWH's view, because a corporation can maintain other tort claims such as a defamation action, there is no reason why a corporation may not also maintain a claim for false light invasion of privacy. Id. at 1-2.

Although HWH acknowledges that the Maine Law Court has not addressed the exact question raised by Mr. Kendrick's motion, it nonetheless argues that analogous decisions from the Maine Law Court, analogous decisions from other jurisdictions, and public policy considerations, should lead this Court to rule in its favor. Id. at 2-3. In particular, HWH directs the Court's attention to Baker's Table, Inc. v. City of Portland, 2000 ME 7, 743 A.2d 237, Maietta Construction, Inc. v. Wainwright, 2004 ME 53, 847 A.2d 1169, 13-C M.R.S. § 302, and 13-B M.R.S. § 202. Pls.' Opp'n at 3-4. HWH also contends that because "[t]here is no clear indication from the decisional law that adopted the torts of invasion of privacy in Maine that the torts would be restricted only to natural persons, " the Court should not make such a distinction here. Id. at 5.

HWH acknowledges that courts outside Maine typically do not allow corporations to pursue a false light claim in the absence of a statute, but nevertheless argues that courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have also held "there should be few or fewer, if any, distinctions drawn between corporations and individuals in constitutional or right-of-action settings, where the corporate form does not itself generate a meaningful difference." Id. If the Court were to rule against HWH, HWH opines that such a ruling would "threaten[] to make anomalies of all corporate trespass or ...


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