The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID LARIMER, Chief Judge, District
Plaintiff, Michele Locastro Rivoli, commenced this action
against her former employer, Gannett Co., Inc. ("Gannett"),
alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Gannett has moved to
dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons that follow, the motion
is granted, and the complaint is dismissed.
Although the fifty-page complaint contains lengthy factual
allegations, they may be summarized as follows. Plaintiff was
formerly a reporter for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
("D&C") newspaper, which is owned by Gannett, and distributed in
Rochester, New York. In the Fall of 1999, plaintiff discovered that the Monroe
County District Attorney's Office ("D.A.'s Office") had
mishandled certain felonies in a number of respects.*fn1
With her editors' approval, plaintiff undertook to investigate
the matter further. When she did so, she discovered even more
problems concerning unresolved felony cases.
Plaintiff's first story on the subject was published on page 1
of the February 18, 2001 D&C. Complaint ¶ 51. Several more
stories followed, as well as editorials critical of the D.A.'s
Office. (The editorials were not written by plaintiff.)
Howard Relin, the then-District Attorney, publicly denied the
stories' accusations, or attempted to explain them away or to
shift blame to others. At an interview on February 27, 2001,
Relin allegedly told plaintiff that she had an ax to grind, that
she was unprofessional, and that she should not call the D.A.'s
Office because no one would speak to her. Complaint ¶ 65.
At around the same time, Relin began calling plaintiff's
editors and members of Gannett's management to complain about the
stories. After one such phone call, plaintiff's editors summoned
plaintiff to a meeting, where they told her that Relin was
powerful, had been a good source of news stories over the years,
and should be treated "nicely." Complaint ¶ 67. They also told
her that they had agreed that any further questions for Relin
about the subject of the stories would be submitted to him in
written form. Plaintiff was allowed to continue her
investigation, however, and additional stories by her on the
subject were published in the D&C.
On March 13, 2001, at Relin's request, he met with plaintiff
and several members of the D&C's top management, including
Publisher Dave Hunke, and Executive Editor Karen Magnuson. The meeting was relatively cordial, and Relin indicated that he
was open to an independent audit of his office concerning the
questioned felony prosecutions. Complaint ¶¶ 78-80.
Later that day, however, Relin called the D&C and said that he
had changed his mind, and would not agree to an outside audit.
Complaint ¶ 83. More stories and negative editorials followed
over the next several days.
As plaintiff pursued her investigation, she continued to
discover more problems at the D.A.'s Office. On March 28, 2001,
she asked her editors for permission to investigate and report on
one such problem concerning unclaimed bail money. The complaint
does not state whether they granted that request; it does allege,
however, that later that day, a "confidential source" told
plaintiff that her job was in jeopardy. Complaint ¶ 118.
Some time in late March 2001, Relin suggested that plaintiff's
editors contact certain individuals to ask them for their
opinions of plaintiff. They did so.
The next day, two of plaintiff's editors, Robert Finnerty and
Rick Armon, called plaintiff and told her that they were not
going to run any more stories about the pending unresolved
felonies. They told her that this was a "business decision" that
they had made based on conversations with Relin and the
individuals whose names had been given to them by Relin.
Complaint ¶ 126. The editors refused to name those individuals,
but they told plaintiff that those persons had questioned
Finnerty and Armon also told plaintiff that the decision to
"cool" her investigation had been approved by Magnuson, the
Executive Editor. A short time after this conversation, plaintiff
spoke to Finnerty, Armon, and Magnuson, and Magnuson reiterated that
stopping the stories was a "business decision." Complaint ¶ 129.
About an hour later, Magnuson called plaintiff and asked her if
she knew what slander was. Magnuson told plaintiff that if
plaintiff were to "tell anyone what we did, we'll consider it
slander against the company." Complaint ¶ 130. Magnuson added
that plaintiff's life would become unpleasant if she did not
"play ball." Id.
Magnuson also told plaintiff, though, that plaintiff was going
to be given an award for her stories about the D.A.'s Office. A
ceremony was held at the D&C offices that afternoon, and
plaintiff was given an award and a $125 check. After the
ceremony, though, she was again admonished not to discuss the
situation with anyone. Complaint ¶¶ 133-34.
Plaintiff and her editors continued to clash over the matter,
however. On March 30, plaintiff learned that Relin was going to
hold a press conference to discuss felony cases. When she told
Finnerty about this, he said, "That couldn't be true; that's not
part of the. . . ." "Deal, Bob?," plaintiff responded. "It isn't
part of the deal?" Finnerty made no reply. Complaint ¶ 142.
Later that day, Finnerty told plaintiff that Magnuson was angry
at Relin and that Magnuson wanted plaintiff to cover Relin's
April 2 press conference. On April 3, the D&C published a story
by plaintiff about the conference, at which Relin announced the
formation of a "Permanent Committee to Track and Resolve Felony
Cases." The story also reported that Governor Pataki had asked
the New York State Commission of Investigation ("COI") to look
into the allegations about the mishandling of felonies by the
D.A.'s Office. This turned out to be plaintiff's last published
story about the D.A.'s Office. Complaint ¶¶ 143-46. Again, plaintiff and her editors continued to butt heads over
matters in the D.A.'s Office. Finnerty told her that no more
stories on the topic would be published until after the COI
investigation was complete. Plaintiff again brought up the
alleged "deal" with Relin. Finnerty told her that if she did not
stop talking about the "deal," she would never again write a
front-page story. Complaint ¶ 151.
Finnerty also told plaintiff that if she did tell anyone about
the "deal," he would deny its existence. Plaintiff responded that
it did not matter because she had tape recorded prior telephone
conversations with Finnerty when plaintiff was initially pulled
from the stories. Finnerty told plaintiff that she was off the
stories for good, and that she would never write another page-one
story. Complaint ¶¶ 152-54.
On April 4, 2001, a meeting was held with plaintiff, her union
president, Finnerty and Magnuson. At one point, plaintiff
mentioned that Magnuson had called her at home and threatened
plaintiff with a slander lawsuit. Magnuson initially denied this,
but when Finnerty told her that plaintiff had been taping her