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Jang v. Trustees of St. Johnsbury Academy

United States District Court, D. Vermont

July 6, 2018

Soojung Jang, Ph.D., Plaintiff,
v.
Trustees of St. Johnsbury Academy, Kingdom Development Company, Inc., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER (DOCS. 8, 11, 25)

          JOHN M. CONROY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On August 31, 2017, Plaintiff Soojung Jang, Ph.D., a citizen and resident of Seoul, Republic of Korea, commenced this libel and defamation action against the Trustees of St. Johnsbury Academy (the Academy) and Kingdom Development Company, Inc. (KDC). (Doc. 1.) The Academy and KDC were part of a successful effort to establish the St. Johnsbury Academy-Jeju on Jeju Island in the Republic of Korea, which opened in late October 2017. (Doc. 8 at 7.) On July 16, 2016, prior to the opening of the school, an attorney for the Academy and KDC sent a letter to the Governor of the Jeju Provincial Office of Education detailing Dr. Jang's purported efforts in the Republic of Korea and the United States to undermine the establishment of the school. In Dr. Jang's Complaint, she claims that the letter's contents are libelous and defamatory and that she suffered actual, special, and punitive damages as a result of the letter's publication. (Doc. 1 at 4-5, ¶¶ 30, 34.)

         Presently before the Court is the Academy and KDC's Joint Motion to Strike the Complaint pursuant to Vermont's anti-SLAPP statute, Vt. Stat. Ann. Tit. 12, § 1041 (2006), (Doc. 8), and their Joint Motion to Dismiss the Complaint for Failure to State a Claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. 11.) Dr. Jang responded in opposition to both motions, (Docs. 12, 15), and the Academy and KDC filed two replies. (Docs. 20, 21.) A hearing on the motions was held on February 20, 2018, and the parties subsequently filed supplemental memoranda. (Docs. 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32.)

         Concluding that the evidence submitted by the Academy and KDC does not demonstrate that the letter involved a public issue under the Vermont Supreme Court's narrow interpretation of Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 1041, the Court DENIES the Academy and KDC's joint Motion to Strike the Complaint. (Doc. 8.) Further, because Dr. Jang's Complaint does not plausibly allege claims for defamation or interference with a professional relationship, the Court GRANTS the Academy and KDC's Joint Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. (Doc. 11.)

         Factual and Procedural Background

         This Court has previously treated a motion to strike as analogous to a summary judgment motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65. See Bible & Gospel Trust v. Twinam, No. 1:07-cv-17, 2008 WL 5245644, at *1 (D. Vt. Dec. 12, 2008), modifying report and recommendation, 2008 WL 5216845 (D. Vt. July 18, 2008). As a result, in analyzing the Motion to Strike, the Court relies on the documents provided by the Academy and KDC in support of their Motion to Strike. (See generally Docs. 8, 8-1-8-24). In deciding the Academy and KDC's Motion to Dismiss, the Court accepts as true the factual assertions stated in Dr. Jang's Complaint and the letter attached to the Complaint.[1] See Desiano v. Warner-Lambert Co., 326 F.3d 339, 350 (2d Cir. 2003); Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2002). (See generally Docs. 1, 1-1.)

         I. Background and Parties

         This case involves the establishment of a school on Jeju Island, a province in the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Government-sponsored development on Jeju Island is controlled by the Jeju Free International City Development Center (the City Development Center), a corporation owned by the South Korean Ministry of Land, Transport, and Maritime Affairs. (Doc. 8-2 at 5, § a; see also Doc. 1 at 2, ¶ 8.) One of the City Development Center's projects is the Jeju Global Education City, a plan to create a “vibrant global education city” by establishing several international schools in a specific area on Jeju Island. (Doc. 8-2 at 1, § b.) To own and operate the international schools in the Global Education City, the City Development Center established Haewul, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the City Development Center. (Id. at 1-2, § d; see also Doc. 1 at 2, ¶ 8.)

         Dr. Jang is a resident of Seoul, South Korea, where she is a professor of general education. She is a member of the Establishment and Operation of International Schools Subcommittee (the Establishment Subcommittee), a subcommittee of the Jeju Provincial Office of Education. (Doc. 1 at 3, ¶ 23.) Dr. Jang is also a member of Jeju Solidarity for Participatory Self Government and Environmental Preservation (Jeju Solidarity), a community organization focused on ensuring that the educational goals of the Global Education City are met. (Doc. 1 at 2, ¶¶ 9, 11, 12-13.)

         The Academy operates a non-profit private school located in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, and owns a majority of stock in KDC, a Vermont for-profit corporation. (Doc. 1 at 1, ¶¶ 2, 3, 7; Doc. 8 at 2-3.)

         II. The Project and Dr. Jang's Initial Investigations

         A. Proposal and Cooperative Venture Agreement

         In the spring of 2012, the City Development Center requested proposals for the establishment of a new international school in the Global Education City. (Doc. 8 at 2.) The Academy and KDC responded to this request, and the City Development Center ultimately proposed a joint venture with the Academy and KDC to establish and operate a new school known as St. Johnsbury Academy-Jeju (SJA-Jeju). (Id.) As a result, on November 29, 2012, the City Development Center, Haewul, the Academy, and KDC entered into a confidential cooperative venture agreement setting forth the terms of their joint project. (Id. at 4; see generally Doc. 8-2.)

         By the agreement's terms, the City Development Center would appoint a developer to construct the school in the Global Education City and, upon construction of the school, sell or lease the building to Haewul. (Doc. 8-2 at 6, §§ e, g.) The Academy would grant Haewul a license to use the Academy's intellectual property rights in connection with the promotion and operation of SJA-Jeju and, in consideration, Haewul would pay royalties to the Academy. (Id. at 6, § h, id. at 14, § 9.3.) Further, KDC would perform certain administrative and management functions for SJA-Jeju, such as ensuring that SJA-Jeju met the standards of the St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont. (Id. at 6, § i, id. at 12, § 5.) In turn, Haewul would pay a management fee to KDC. (Id. at 14, § 9.4.)

         B. Further Review and Approval of SJA-Jeju

         Although the City Development Center, Haewul, the Academy, and KDC had entered into the cooperative venture agreement, the project could not move forward without being approved by the Jeju Provincial Office of Education, the body charged with reviewing and approving schools in the Global Education City. (Doc. 8 at 4.) To this end, the Provincial Office of Education formed the Establishment Subcommittee, which was charged with reviewing and approving the SJA-Jeju project. (Id.) As noted above, at the relevant times, Dr. Jang was a member of this subcommittee. (Id.; Doc. 1 at 3, ¶ 23.)

         C. China Daily and Korea Times Articles

         On May 6, 2013, China Daily published an article describing the development on Jeju Island. (See generally Doc. 8-11.) The article generally described the City Development Center's mission to create a free international city like Hong Kong or Singapore. (Id.) Among the numerous projects described in the article, the article briefly noted that the City Development Center had formed partnerships with three international schools: North London Collegiate School; Branksome Hall; and St. Johnsbury Academy. (Id.) The article stated in passing that SJA-Jeju was expected to open in September 2015. (Id.) Similarly, an article in the Korea Times published on July 24, 2013, described the City Development Center's plan to establish seven international schools on Jeju Island by 2021. (Doc. 8-12 at 2.) The article succinctly stated that three schools had already opened on a trial basis and that SJA-Jeju was expected to open in September 2015. (Id. at 2-3.) Neither article mentioned a public controversy surrounding the establishment of the schools, nor did the articles mention Dr. Jang.

         D. Dr. Jang's Presentation to the Establishment Subcommittee

         SJA-Jeju was not yet open on January 15, 2016, when Dr. Jang submitted a “Summary of Preliminary Investigation” to the Provincial Office of Education and presented the information to the Establishment Subcommittee. (See generally Doc. 8-3; see also Doc. 8-1 at 3, ¶ 7.) Dr. Jang generally alleged in the summary that the relationship between KDC and the Academy was established to protect the Academy's non-profit tax status, that the Academy and KDC did not bear any risk if SJA-Jeju failed, and that the Academy and KDC lacked experience establishing and operating international schools. (Doc. 8-3 at 3-5.) She recommended further investigation by the Jeju Provincial Office of Education; in particular, she stated that the Office of Education should seek additional records relating to the business characteristics and tax status of KDC and the Academy. (Id. at 5-6.)

         E. Dr. Jang's Investigation in the United States

         On February 1, 2016, Dr. Jang sought information regarding the governance of private schools from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) in the United States. (Doc. 8-4 at 9-10.) In particular, Dr. Jang sought information regarding an independent school's procedures for approving “a franchised school in foreign country.” (Id. at 9.) Attorney Debra Wilson, the Chief Counsel of NAIS, responded to Dr. Jang's request and explained that the procedures depended on the school board and the school's structure and bylaws. (Id. at 8.) After further email correspondence with Dr. Jang regarding the specific business structure of the Academy and KDC and their relationship with SJA-Jeju, Attorney Wilson offered to reach out to the Academy and KDC on behalf of Dr. Jang. (Id. at 6.) As a result, Attorney Wilson investigated Dr. Jang's claims; according to the Academy and KDC, Attorney Wilson concluded in a February 10, 2016 letter that Dr. Jang's claims had no merit.[2] (Doc. 1-1 at 2, § a; Doc. 8-1 at 4, ¶ 10.)

         F. Other Activities in Vermont Involving the Academy and KDC

         At approximately the same time, in late January and early February 2016, the Academy and KDC claim that an unknown South Korean party contacted both the Vermont Department of Education and a private Vermont attorney. (Doc. 1-1 at 2, § b; Doc. 8-1 at 3, ¶ 8; Doc. 8-17 at 1, ¶ 2.) Allegedly, the unknown party requested help seeking documents relating to the cooperative venture agreement and the tax exempt status of the Academy. (Doc. 1-1 at 2, § b; Doc. 8-1 at 3, ¶ 8; Doc. 8-17 at 1, ¶ 2.)

         G. Establishment Subcommittee Hearing[3]

         At a February 18, 2016 hearing, the Establishment Subcommittee considered Attorney Wilson's letter, which allegedly stated that Attorney Wilson “had performed an independent review of the documentary material” and that “the process of entry into the [cooperative venture agreement was] legal and customary for member independent schools of NAIS.” (Doc. 1-1 at 2, § c.) At the meeting, according to the Academy and KDC, Dr. Jang attempted to refute Attorney Wilson's letter, (id. § d); however, the subcommittee voted to reconfirm the cooperative venture agreement, which was to be signed by the Academy at a private trustee meeting on May 7, 2016. (Id. § e.)

         H. Boston Korea Actions and Article

         On May 7, 2016, during the Academy's private trustee meeting, two Boston Korea newspaper reporters disrupted the proceedings to pass out questions for the Academy trustees. (Id. at 3, § f.) Subsequently, on May 12, 2016, Boston Korea published an online editorial entitled “Open Letter to St. Johnsbury Academy” and an online article called “Public Questions Thrown at St. Johnsbury Academy.” (Doc. 8-6 at 3-4, 6-7.) As interpreted by Google Translate, (Doc. 8-1 at 4, ¶ 11), the articles questioned the business relationship between the Academy and KDC, the business structure of KDC, and the academic qualifications of both St. Johnsbury Academy and SJA-Jeju. (Doc. 8-6 at 6-7.) Neither article named Dr. Jang.

         I. Caledonian-Record Article and Ethan Allen Institute Post

         On May 6, 2016, an article appeared in the Caledonian-Record, a newspaper located in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, describing the establishment of SJA-Jeju. (Doc. 8-13 at 1.) According to the article, contractors had begun work on the project on April 29, 2016, with an anticipated enrollment date in Fall 2017. (Id.) Further, the article generally described the anticipated academic programs, extracurricular activities, and the student-body makeup. (Id. at 1-2.) Finally, the article concluded with a general description of Jeju Island. (Id. at 2-3.) Subsequently, in a post on the Ethan Allen Institute website on May 18, 2016, the writer described the contents of the Caledonian-Record article and commended South Koreans and the leadership of the Academy for establishing SJA-Jeju. (Doc. 8-14.) The articles neither mentioned Dr. Jang nor described an ongoing controversy involving the establishment of SJA-Jeju.

         J. Legal Proceedings Against Dr. Jang in South Korea

         At some time in May 2016, according to the Academy and KDC, Haewul initiated criminal and civil legal proceedings against Dr. Jang in South Korea, purportedly as a result of the events described above.[4] (Doc. 8 at 6.) Specifically, Haewul sought an injunction against Dr. Jang's unauthorized investigations and challenged her “misrepresentations and libelous statements concerning SJA Jeju, Haewul, Inc., and the project.” (Id.) As discussed below, this investigation concluded over a year later, on June 23, 2017, when Dr. Jang signed a “Written Agreement, ” promising to cease interfering with the establishment of SJA-Jeju. (Doc. 8-7 at 2.)

         III. The Allegedly Defamatory Letter

         On July 12, 2016, Attorney Bruce Palmer, representing the Academy and KDC, sent a letter (the Letter) to Lee Seok-moon, the Governor of Education for Jeju Island, and copied the Establishment Subcommittee on which Dr. Jang sat. (See generally Doc. 1-1.) In the Letter, on behalf of the Academy and KDC, Attorney Palmer expressed a “deep concern[] about unauthorized and disruptive actions and false statements by Dr. Soonjung Jang, a member of the subcommittee of the Jeju Provincial Office of Education . . . charged with reviewing and approving [S]A-Jeju].” (Doc. 1-1 at 1.) As a result, the Governor was asked to remove Dr. Jang from the subcommittee or, at the least, censure and disqualify Dr. Jang from “any further participation in or consideration of the approval of [S]A-Jeju].”[5] (Id.)

         As a basis for this recusal request, Attorney Palmer alleged that Dr. Jang, at every turn, “challenged the legality and legitimacy of [the Academy's] and KDC's efforts to participate in this project”; that Dr. Jang “attacked the validity of the Cooperative Venture Agreement”; that Dr. Jang “knowingly defamed [the Academy] and KDC in the process, alleging without any factual basis that each seeks through the [cooperative venture agreement] and other contracts to avoid paying taxes”; that Dr. Jang accused the Academy's headmaster and KDC's CEO of “illegally entering into the agreements without actual authority”; and that Dr. Jang repeatedly questioned the quality of the Academy. (Id.) According to the Letter, these actions and statements by Dr. Jang amounted to “an unjustified, concerted campaign of mistruth about [the Academy] and KDC . . . in a transparent effort to scuttle [S]A-Jeju].” (Id. at 2.)

         Finally, counsel pointed out many of the events described above, including Dr. Jang's contact with Attorney Wilson and Attorney Wilson's subsequent independent review and approval of the cooperating venture agreement, [6] (id. at 2, §§ a, c); Dr. Jang's attempts to refute Attorney Wilson's analysis, (id. § d); and, the Establishment Subcommittee's subsequent vote reapproving the cooperative venture agreement. (Id. § e.) Attorney Palmer also intimated that Dr. Jang was responsible for the unknown South Korean's efforts to access the Academy's and KDC's records and that Dr. Jang was accountable for the investigation undertaken by Boston Korea and the subsequent articles. (Id. at 2, 3, §§ b, g.) In sum, counsel concluded that “[t]he campaign by Dr. Jang to impugn SJA and the integrity of its officials demonstrates her deep bias and disregard for traditional customs and laws” and “merit disqualification to serve on the [Establishment Subcommittee] responsible to review and approve the project.” (Id. at 3.)

         IV. Subsequent Activities

         A. Email Communication by Dr. Jang

         After the July 12, 2016 Letter was sent to the Governor, Dr. Jang continued to pursue her investigation of the SJA-Jeju project. On July 23, 2016, Dr. Jang emailed Attorney Wilson again, stating that the Academy and KDC were using Attorney Wilson's statements to rationalize their business activities. (Doc. 8-4 at 24.) Attorney Wilson referred her to Attorney Palmer, as counsel for the Academy and KDC. (Id. at 26.) Palmer responded to Dr. Jang's emails by referring her to Haewul's counsel and by prohibiting Dr. Jang from directly contacting the Academy and KDC. (See generally Doc. 8-18.)

         B. Legal Action by Jeju Solidarity

         On September 22, 2016, an attorney representing Jeju Solidarity contacted the Academy and KDC seeking information relating to the Academy's relationship with KDC and the potential liability assumed by the Academy and KDC. (Doc. 8-19 at 2- 3.) As noted above, Dr. Jang is a member of Jeju Solidarity, but she was not named in this correspondence. (See generally Doc. 8-19; Doc. 1 at 2, ¶ 9.) Counsel for the Academy and KDC referred the Jeju Solidarity attorney to Haewul. (Doc. 8-19 at 2.)

         On October 5, 2016, Attorney Jacob O. Durell, acting on behalf of Jeju Solidarity, sought information regarding the business relationship between the Academy and KDC as well as the liability purportedly assumed by the Academy and KDC.[7] (See generally Doc. 8-20 at 4.) Specifically, Durell asked to review a number of the Academy's and KDC's documents relating to the establishment of SJA-Jeju. (Id.) As authority for this request, the attorney cited Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 11A, § 16.02, which authorizes a shareholder of a corporation to inspect the records of the corporation, and argued that the Academy and KDC's actions could lead to tort and consumer fraud claims. (Id. at 5-6.)

         On October 25, 2016, Jeju Solidarity filed suit in this Court, seeking declaratory relief and production of certain documents as well as alleging that the Academy and KDC committed consumer fraud. (Doc. 8-8 at 2, ¶ 7.) This lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed by Jeju Solidarity. See Jeju Solidarity for Participatory Self-gov't & Envtl. Preservation v. St. Johnsbury Acad., No. 5:16-cv-00274-gwc, Doc. 6 (D. Vt. Nov. 5, 2016). Following this dismissal, on November 15, 2016, Jeju Solidarity again requested documents from the Academy and KDC. (Doc. 8-22.) On December 5, 2016, Jeju Solidarity sought injunctive relief against the Academy and KDC in Vermont state court, claiming that the Vermont's Public Records Act, as set forth in Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 1, § 317, required the Academy and KDC to produce the requested records. (Doc. 8-9 at 6.) On March 3, 2017, the Vermont superior court granted the Academy and KDC's motion to dismiss, concluding that they were not public agencies subject to Vermont's Public Records Act. (Doc. 8-10 at 3.) Dr. Jang was not named as a party to either of these lawsuits.

         C. Dr. Jang's Written Agreement

         On June 23, 2017, as noted above, following the investigation instigated by Haewul, Dr. Jang signed a “Written Agreement” directed to the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office in which Dr. Jang stated, “[I]t is not appropriate to express my opinion on the internet instead of committee meeting and such behavior may cause economic and/or administrative damage to [the Academy].” (Doc. 8-7 at 2.) She further agreed that she would “not do any negative activity against [Haewul] or SJA[-]Jeju through the internet including sending emails to parents individually or posting articles” and “not do any activity I have done so far such as submitting civil complaints.” (Id.)

         V. Opening of SJA-Jeju

         SJA-Jeju opened in mid-October 2017.[8] (Doc. 8 at 7; Doc. 8-16.) A news article in the Caledonian-Record described SJA-Jeju as “an independent, international boarding school established by the government of the Republic of South Korea using the SJA curriculum.” (Doc. 8-16 at 2.) In addition, the article generally described the structure of the school, the campus, and the academic requirements. (Id.) The article did not mention Dr. Jang or any controversy regarding the establishment of SJA-Jeju.

         VI. Procedural History

         A. Dr. Jang's Complaint

         On August 31, 2017, prior to SJA-Jeju's opening, Dr. Jang filed the Complaint in this case, [9] attaching the Letter to her Complaint and alleging that the Letter is “libelous and defamatory in that it maliciously claimed that the statements of [Dr. Jang] were unauthorized, disruptive, and false.” (Doc. 1 at 4, ¶ 30.) She further claims that “[the Academy and KDC's] request that [Dr. Jang] be removed from the subcommittee was done willfully, wantonly, and recklessly to interfere with [Dr. Jang's] professional relationship with the subcommittee.” (Id. ¶ 31.)

         As support for this claim, Dr. Jang asserts in her Complaint that Haewul made public representations that the Academy “would effectively be running [S]A- Jeju], ” (id. at 2, ¶ 16), contrary to the Academy's purported representation that it would only be licensing its intellectual property without exercising control over SJA-Jeju. (Id. at 3, ¶¶ 18-19.) Based on this alleged contradiction, Dr. Jang states that she asked the Academy and KDC to provide documents clarifying their relationship, their control of SJA-Jeju, and their prospective liabilities for any potential failure of SJA-Jeju. (Id. at 3, ¶¶ 24-25.) She further alleges that the Academy and KDC refused her reasonable requests for records and instead, as a result of her “investigations and inquiries, ” caused their attorney to send the Letter to the Governor. (Id. at 4, ¶ 29.) Finally, she claims that the Letter's contents caused her significant injury, including “strong stigma” on her professional standing resulting in $500, 000 of future losses, (id. ¶ 33), special damages of $115, 000 in lost research funds, (id. at 5, ¶ 34, §§ c, d), professional condemnation from the other members of the Establishment Subcommittee, (id. ¶ 34, § b), and extreme emotional distress. (Id. ¶ 34, § e.)

         B. The Academy and KDC's Motions

         The Academy and KDC have filed two motions opposing Dr. Jang's claims. (Docs. 8, 11.) In their Joint Special Motion to Strike the Complaint pursuant to Vermont's anti-SLAPP statute, Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 1041, (Doc. 8), the Academy and KDC argue that the Letter to the Governor involved a public issue and that, in sending the Letter, they were exercising their constitutional right to free speech and to petition the government. (Doc. 8 at 16.) They further argue that Dr. Jang cannot show that the Letter was devoid of reasonable factual support and arguable basis in law or that the Letter caused her actual injury. (Id.) As a result, they contend that this Court should grant their Joint Motion to Strike. (Id.)

         In their Joint Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim under Federal Rule 12(b)(6), the Academy and KDC argue that the Complaint fails to set forth facts plausibly alleging the elements of defamation. (Doc. 11 at 7-8.) Specifically, they argue that the Letter's contents are pure opinion and, thus, not actionable, (id. at 8), that Dr. Jang does not allege that any of the statements in the Letter are false and defamatory, (id. at 10-11), that the Complaint fails to plead lack of privilege in the communication, (id. at 12), and that, because Dr. Jang is a public official or public figure, the Complaint fails to allege actual malice, as required by the First Amendment. (Id. at 13.) The Academy and KDC further allege that Dr. Jang's failure to allege actual malice precludes any recovery for infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages. (Id. at 18-19.)

         Dr. Jang opposes both motions. (See generally Docs. 12, 15.) In her opposition to the Motion to Strike, Dr. Jang argues that the Academy and KDC were addressing their grievances in South Korea, rather than under the United States or Vermont Constitutions, and asserts that the Academy and KDC had no factual basis for claiming in the Letter that Dr. Jang's actions were unauthorized and disruptive. (Doc. 12 at 1.) Dr. Jang also argues in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss that she did not fail to plead that the Academy and KDC acted with malice and that the Letter's contents were false, pointing to her allegations in the Complaint that the Letter “maliciously claimed that the statements of [Dr. Jang] were unauthorized, disruptive and false when they were not” and that the request for removal was done “willfully, wantonly and recklessly to interfere with [Dr. Jang's] professional relationship with the subcommittee.” (Doc. 15 at 1 (internal quotation marks omitted).) Finally, Dr. Jang again claims that “most of [her] inquiries and investigations were what her committee had authorized her to do as a committee member.” (Id. at 2.) In reply, the Academy and KDC argue that Dr. Jang's responses in opposition merely repeat her conclusory and insufficient allegations, (Doc. 20 at 1), and that their constitutional rights to free speech and to petition the government extend beyond the United States' borders. (Doc. 21 at 1-2.)

         On February 20, 2018, this Court held a hearing on the motions. (Doc. 26.) Immediately prior to the hearing, Dr. Jang filed a Motion for Leave to File Affidavits.[10] (Doc. 25.) At the hearing, the parties generally reiterated the positions set forth in their motions. See generally Hearing Argument, Jang v. Trustees of St. Johnsbury Acad. et al., No. 2:17-cv-162 (Feb. 20, 2018) (Conroy, Mag. J.). For the first time, however, Dr. Jang's attorney suggested that South Korean law could apply to the dispute, although Dr. Jang's attorney did not provide any evidentiary proof of this law. Id. at 2:03-2:06. In addition, upon questioning by this Court, Dr. Jang's counsel stated that the Complaint contained a claim for “interfere[nce] with . . . professional relationship.”[11] Id. at 3:02-3:03; (see also Doc. 1 at 4, ¶ 31.) In light of these assertions by Dr. Jang's attorney, as well as new case law offered by counsel for the Academy and KDC, this Court provided the parties with the opportunity to provide supplemental memoranda. (Doc. 26.)

         In their supplemental memorandum, the Academy and KDC again assert that the anti-SLAPP statue, Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 1041, requires this Court to strike Dr. Jang's lawsuit and, as additional support, argue that the Letter's publication in South Korea is protected by the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act, Pub. L. No. 111-223, § 1, 124 Stat. 2380, codified as 28 U.S.C. §§ 4101-4105. (Doc. 30 at 1, 4.) Further, the Academy and KDC assert that Dr. Jang failed to make out a claim for interference with profession. (Id. at 6.) By contrast, Dr. Jang claims that the Academy and KDC have failed to offer sufficient evidence to support the Motion to Strike, (Doc. 28 at 1), and that her Complaint plausibly makes out a claim for defamation. (See generally Doc. 27.) Dr. Jang does not offer additional argument regarding her claim for interference with professional relationship. (See generally id.)

         Analysis

         I. ...


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