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Hearts With Haiti, Inc. v. Kendrick

Supreme Court of Maine

February 21, 2019

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

          Argued: December 11, 2018

          F. David Walker, IV, Esq., Brent A. Singer, Esq. (orally), and Jonathan P. Hunter, Esq., Rudman Winchell, Bangor, for appellant Paul Kendrick

          Russell B. Pierce, Jr., Esq. (orally), and David A. Goldman, Esq., Norman, Hanson & DeTroy, LLC, Portland, for cross-appellants Hearts with Haiti, Inc., and Michael Geilenfeld

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HJELM, JJ.

          JABAR, J.

         [¶1] Hearts with Haiti, Inc., and Michael Geilenfeld (collectively "HWH") filed a multicount complaint alleging defamation, false light, tortious interference with advantageous business relationships, and intentional infliction of emotional distress by Paul Kendrick. Kendrick subsequently filed a special motion to dismiss pursuant to Maine's anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation statute (anti-SLAPP statute), 14 M.R.S. § 556 (2018). Kendrick also moved for partial judgment on the pleadings based on the statute of limitations, 14 M.R.S. § 753 (2018), and for dismissal of HWH's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim on the ground that the claim was subsumed by HWH's defamation claim. See M.R. Civ. P. 12(c). The Superior Court (Cumberland County, Mills, /.) denied Kendrick's special motion to dismiss and his motion for partial judgment based on the statute of limitations, but it granted in part his motion for partial judgment by dismissing HWH's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.

         [¶2] Kendrick appeals from the court's order denying his special motion to dismiss pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute and the portion of the court's order denying his motion for partial judgment on the pleadings based on the statute of limitations. HWH cross-appeals from the portion of the court's order dismissing HWH's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Because we hold that Kendrick's appeal and HWH's cross-appeal of the court's order on the motion for partial judgment on the pleadings are interlocutory, we address only the court's denial of Kendrick's special motion to dismiss. Discerning no error, we affirm that part of the court's judgment and remand the matter to the trial court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶3] The following facts are derived from HWH's complaint and Kendrick's affidavit filed in conjunction with his special motion to dismiss pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute. See Nader v. Me. Democratic Party (Nader II), 2013 ME 51, ¶ 2, 66 A.3d 571; Nader v. Me. Democratic Party (Nader I), 2012 ME 57, ¶ 33, 41 A.3d 551.

         [¶4] Michael Geilenfeld, a United States citizen, founded the St. Joseph's Home for Boys in Haiti, which provides residence and schooling to disadvantaged children. Hearts with Haiti, Inc., is a nonprofit organization registered in North Carolina and supports St. Joseph's Home for Boys through fundraising and mission trips. Paul Kendrick is a resident of Freeport, Maine, who describes himself as a volunteer and advocate who acts for the protection of children by bringing those whom he alleges are perpetrators of sexual abuse to justice.

         [¶5] Kendrick alleges that he received information that Geilenfeld was sexually abusing children being cared for at St. Joseph's in Haiti. Kendrick claims that he reached out to HWH with this information but that HWH provided no assistance in addressing these allegations. As a result, Kendrick began to publicly speak out about the alleged sexual abuse for the purpose of raising public awareness to pressure law enforcement agencies into an investigation. Over the next several years, Kendrick continuously contacted the donors of both HWH and St. Joseph's with allegations that Geilenfeld was sexually abusing children and that HWH was complicit in covering up the abuse.

         [¶6] In February 2013, HWH filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Maine alleging that Kendrick's actions have resulted in severe financial loss as a result of decreased support and irreparable harm to its reputation. After two years of litigation, a federal jury found in favor of HWH, awarding a total of $14.5 million in damages. Kendrick appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, but while the appeal was pending it was discovered that the federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction from the outset, and the case was ultimately dismissed. See Hearts with Haiti, Inc. v. Kendrick, 192 F.Supp.3d 181, 184, 208 (D. Me. 2016).

         [¶7] In August 2016, HWH filed an almost identical complaint in the Maine Superior Court (Cumberland County). In response, Kendrick filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleading, arguing that H WH's complaint was barred by the applicable statute of limitations and that HWH's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress was subsumed by its defamation claim. A stay was granted pending the outcome of HWH's appeal of the dismissal in the federal case, which was ultimately affirmed. See Hearts with Haiti, Inc. v. Kendrick,856 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 2017). Following the First Circuit's affirmance, Kendrick filed a special motion to dismiss HWH's complaint in the Superior Court pursuant to Maine's anti-SLAPP statute, alleging that his activity was protected by the First Amendment. The court denied Kendrick's special motion to dismiss and his motion for partial judgment based on the statute of limitations, but it partially granted his motion for ...


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