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John D. Haywood v. St. Michael's College

December 14, 2012

JOHN D. HAYWOOD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ST. MICHAEL'S COLLEGE, LOGAN R. SPILLANE, CHRISTOPHER HARDY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Conroy United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION AND ORDER (Docs. 7, 12, 15, 16, 23, 26, 27)

Plaintiff John D. Haywood, a candidate for President of the United States in the 2012 New Hampshire Democratic primary, commenced this libel action against Defendant St. Michael's College and two of its students, Defendants Logan R. Spillane and Christopher Hardy (the "student Defendants"). On October 10, 2012, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, alleging that, approximately one week before the January 2012 primary, Defendants published on the internet a "Profile" of Plaintiff's candidacy that contained false statements about Plaintiff's policy positions, resulting in Plaintiff's loss in the election and injury to his reputation in his home community of North Carolina. (Doc. 19 at 5.)

Presently before the Court are Defendants' renewed motions to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (Docs. 23, 26), and Defendants' renewed special motions to strike the Amended Complaint pursuant to Vermont's anti-SLAPP statute, 12 V.S.A. § 1041 (Docs. 26, 27).*fn1 Plaintiff filed a response (Doc. 29), to which Defendant St. Michael's College filed a reply (Doc. 30), and a hearing on the motions was held on November 28, 2012.

For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motions, and awards costs and reasonable attorney's fees to Defendants.

Factual and Procedural Background

In deciding Defendants' motions, the Court accepts as true the factual assertions stated in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, as summarized below. See Desiano v. Warner-Lambert Co., 326 F.3d 339, 350 (2d Cir. 2003).

Plaintiff John D. Haywood, a resident of North Carolina, ran for President of the United States in the 2012 Democratic primary in the state of New Hampshire. As part of his campaign, he created and maintained a website and ran advertising in New Hampshire newspapers. (Doc. 19 at 5.) The student Defendants referred to Plaintiff's website in completing a journalism assignment for an undergraduate course at St. Michael's College, which required them to write a "Profile" on Plaintiff's run for the presidency (hereafter referred to as "the Profile"). (Doc. 8 at 1; Doc. 12 at 2; Doc. 19-3 at 1.) The student Defendants also interviewed Plaintiff by telephone and spoke with several of his associates from North Carolina in completing the assignment. (Id.) On January 4, 2012, the student Defendants' professor posted the Profile on the College's website. (Doc. 8 at 1; Doc. 19 at 5; Doc. 19-3).*fn2

Plaintiff alleges that the Profile grossly mischaracterized his policy positions. In his Amended Complaint, he identifies fifteen allegedly false statements contained in the Profile. In summary form, they are:

(1) The Profile stated that Plaintiff planned to raise the estate tax, when in fact he advocated raising the income tax. According to the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff's actual proposed reforms to the estate tax-which seem to call for a reduction of the tax rate paid by relatively small estates-would have actually reduced revenues raised from the estate tax.*fn3 (Doc. 19 at 6; Doc. 19-1 at 11-12; Doc. 19-3 at 1.)

(2) The Profile stated that "Haywood is in favor of using these taxes to fund social programs that he believes will revitalize the country." (Doc. 19-3 at 1.) The Amended Complaint asserts that Plaintiff was not in favor of any increase in the estate tax, and proposed spending from the revenue increase of his income tax proposal for infrastructure renewal and government contracts. (Doc. 19 at 6-7; Doc. 19-1 at 9.)

(3) The Profile stated that Plaintiff "feels pro-life supporters 'punish the pregnant woman' due to the fact that they oppose abortion." (Doc. 19-3 at 1.) But on his website, Plaintiff indicated that pro-life individuals aim to "punish the pregnant woman for having sex in the first place, with additional condemnation for those who had sex with the intention or expectation of not getting pregnant." (Doc. 19-1 at 14.) Plaintiff asserts that the Profile made it appear as though he considered pro-life individuals to be motivated by "pettiness or spite," resulting in Plaintiff being "held . . . up for ridicule and scorn not only by the millions of people who saw the Profile, but by members of his own church where Plaintiff has served as vestryman." (Doc. 19 at 7.)

(4) The Profile stated that a cartoon on Plaintiff's website "comments on Europe's systems of state run healthcare." (Doc. 19-3 at 1.) According to Plaintiff, the cartoon instead commented on the United Kingdom's health care system, and not Europe's systems. (Doc. 19 at 7.) Further, Plaintiff claims that the Profile's description of the cartoon "conveys to its readers that the Plaintiff hasn't decided what path he wants the United States to follow on health care." (Id.)

(5) The Profile stated that Plaintiff proposed "switching to a single-payer system that is similar to the one in Britain." (Doc. 19-3 at 1.) Plaintiff instead proposed switching to a system "identical to Britain's National Health Service." (Doc. 19-1 at 1.)

(6) The Profile stated that Plaintiff "believes that the best and most efficient health care systems are domestic." (Doc. 19-3 at 1.) By Plaintiff's description, this statement reads as praising the efficiency of the American health care system, contrary to his policy position that advocated a switch from the American for-profit health care industry to a nationalized system. (Doc. 19 at 8.)

(7) The Profile stated: "Haywood also claims that if his health care proposal were put into place, the country would save over a trillion dollars per year as compared to the ten year projection of the current health care bill. This claim was unable to be substantiated due to the fact that Haywood leaves out key elements of specifics in his health care pitch." (Doc. 19-3 at 1.) In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff engages in various calculations-namely, finding the difference between American and British per person health care costs and multiplying that number by America's population-to show the savings he described in his campaign materials. (Doc. 19 at 9.) He alleges that the uncertainty described in the Profile portrays him as "a bumbler and holds him up to ridicule and disgrace." (Id.)

(8) The Profile described Plaintiff's proposed tax plan as "steep, yet progressive," stating that Plaintiff advocated a return to the tax code of 1965. (Doc. 19-3 at 1.) Plaintiff does not deny the truth of these statements, but instead argues that it was defamatory for the Profile to neglect to mention the savings attributed to his health care proposal in the same section. (Doc. 19 at 9-10.) By Plaintiff's description, health premiums constitute a "private tax" that he would lower by introduction of a National Health Service, but a portion of that savings would be given to the government in the form of higher income taxes. According to Plaintiff's campaign literature, "[l]ike love and marriage, the tax increase and the tax cut go together." (Doc. 19-2 at 7.) By mentioning the higher income taxes without the tax decrease from lower premiums, the students "h[e]ld Plaintiff up for ridicule." (Doc. 19 at 10.)

(9) The Profile stated that Plaintiff is "vehemently opposed to Israel." (Doc. 19-3 at 1.) Instead, according to his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff has expressed "vehement opposition" to Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people. (Doc. 19 at 10.) Plaintiff concedes that this assertion alone is not defamatory, "but when read with the other charges leveled against him in the same Foreign Policy section, it is clear that he is being accused of being prejudiced and bigoted and is being made an object of scorn, ridicule, and disgrace." (Id.)

(10) The Profile stated that Plaintiff is "vehemently opposed to . . . what he calls the 'Jewish Lobby.'" (Doc. 19-3 at 1.) Plaintiff asserts that such a statement is libelous "per se" because it is "inherently injurious to reputation." (Doc. 19 at 10.) According to Plaintiff, this misstatement is "an attempt to smear Plaintiff as a prejudiced, racist, and bigoted person."*fn4 (Id. at 11.)

(11) The Profile stated: "During an interview[,] Haywood explained that he believed . . . Israel is forcing our involvement in the Middle East." (Doc. 19-3 at 1.) Plaintiff denies ever having made such a statement, and again maintains that this section of the Profile was "designed to portray Plaintiff as a bigoted, prejudiced individual." (Doc. 19 at 11.)

(12) The Profile stated that Plaintiff believed that "Israel was a primary factor in the American economic downturn and blamed the 'Jewish Lobby' for distracting us from our domestic problems." (Doc. 19-3 at 1.) Plaintiff asserts that this statement is libelous because he instead blamed the structure of the American income tax system for the country's economic problems. (Doc. 19-1 at 8-10.)

(13) The Profile stated: "[Plaintiff] also accused key Republican members of Congress of taking bribes from this 'Jewish Lobby' in return for favorable treatment." (Doc. 19-3 at 1.) Plaintiff denies ever having made such a statement, and again argues that the statement reflects an effort to portray him as an antiSemite.*fn5 (Doc. 19 at 12.)

(14) The Profile stated that, to curb global warming, Plaintiff "proposes more lab and in-field research as a way to gain more knowledge about the issue. He also offers a solution to global warming which is to spray particles into the atmosphere as a way to reflect the sun's heat back into space, which, in his opinion, would cool the earth." (Doc. 19-3 at 2.) Plaintiff denies that he ever proposed lab and in-field research into the issue of whether greenhouse gases are causing global warming. (Doc. 19 at 12.) Instead, he proposed such research to find "ways to geoengineer the cooling of the earth." (Doc. 19 at 12.) Further, Plaintiff asserts that he has never claimed to have the solution to global warming, but instead identified particle insertion as "one of the most promising areas for research" into how to cool the planet. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that the Profile's misrepresentations "portray [him] as a reckless, arrogant, unreasonable, and dangerous individual deserving of ridicule and condemnation." (Id. at 13.)

(15) The Profile stated that Plaintiff "believes that children need to learn to read and write at [a] young age, but are not afforded the opportunity to do so." (Doc. 19-3 at 2.) In fact, the problem Plaintiff aims to address arises "years before a child is old enough to read." (Doc. 19 at 13.) Further, Plaintiff knows "that a child will learn to read when he or she is good and ready to do so-and not before." (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that the Profile's statements to the contrary "hold[] him up to ridicule and disgrace."*fn6

On January 10, 2012, President Barack Obama won the Democratic primary in New Hampshire.*fn7 After a failed effort to resuscitate his campaign by publishing an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times newspaper (Doc. 19-2 at 11), Plaintiff terminated his campaign in late March 2012 (Doc. 19 at 5).

Plaintiff filed his original Complaint in this action on July 24, 2012 (Doc. 1), and his Amended Complaint, largely unchanged from the original, on October 10, 2012 (Doc. 19). Therein, he claims that the various discrepancies between his stated policy positions and those outlined in the Profile constitute libel. Further, he contends that the student Defendants' efforts to contact his associates in North Carolina are evidence of malice because Plaintiff was trying to keep his candidacy a secret from people in his home state. (Doc. 19 at 3.) Plaintiff claims that he was harmed both because the Profile reduced his chances of victory in the primary and because, in preparing the Profile, the student Defendants informed Plaintiff's friends in North Carolina, many of whom are Republicans, that Plaintiff was running in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. (Id. at 3-4.) Plaintiff seeks full reimbursement of all his advertising costs ($120,202.15), damages as a result of the reputational injury he allegedly suffered in his local community ($1,000,000), and punitive damages ($50,000,000).*fn8

Discussion

I. Motions to Dismiss for Failure to ...


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