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Giuffre v. Maxwell

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 27, 2017

VIRGINIA GIUFFRE, Giuffre,
v.
GHISLAINE MAXWELL, Maxwell.

          Counsel for Giuffre BOIES, SCHILLER & FLEXNER LLP By: Sigrid S. McCawley, Esq. Meredith L. Schultz, Esq.

          Counsel for Maxwell HADDON, MORGAN AND FOREMAN, P.C. By: Laura A. Menninger, Esq. Jeffrey S. Pagliuca, Esq.

          OPINION

          ROBERT W. SWEET, U.S.D.J.

         The defendant Ghislaine Maxwell ("Maxwell" or the "Maxwell") has moved pursuant to Rule 56, Fed. R. Civ. P., for summary judgment dismissing the complaint of plaintiff Virginia L. Giuffre ("Giuffre" or the "Giuffre") alleging defamation. Upon the facts and conclusions set forth below, the motion is denied.

         The contested facts derived from discovery subject to the Protective Order of March 17, 2016 have been redacted.

         I. Prior Proceedings

         Since the filing of the complaint on September 21, 2015, setting forth Giuffre's claim of defamation by Maxwell, this action has been vigorously litigated, as demonstrated by the 704 docket entries as of March 8, 2017. At issue is the truth or falsity of a January 2015 statement issued by Maxwell. Discovery has proceeded, a joint pretrial order has been filed, and the action is set for trial on May 15, 2017. The instant motion was heard and marked fully submitted on February 16, 2017.

         II. The Facts

         The facts have been set forth in Maxwell's Memorandum of Law in Support of Maxwell's Motion for Summary Judgment, Southern District of New York, Local Rule 56.1; Giuffre's Statement of Contested Facts and Giuffre's Undisputed Facts; and Maxwell's Reply to Giuffre's Statement of Contested Facts and Giuffre's Undisputed Facts pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1. They are not in dispute except as noted below.

         III. The Applicable Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "[T]he substantive law will identify which facts are material." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         A dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. The relevant inquiry on application for summary judgment is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52. A court is not charged with weighing the evidence and determining its truth, but with determining whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Westinghouse Elec. Corp. v. N.Y. City Transit Auth., 735 F.Supp. 1205, 1212 (S.D.N.Y. 1990) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson, 477U.S. at 247-48 (emphasis in original).

         While the moving party bears the initial burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists, Atl. Mut. Ins. Co. v. CSX Lines, L.L.C., 432 F.3d 428, 433 (2d Cir. 2005), in cases where the non-moving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, "the burden on the moving party may be discharged by * showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). "It is ordinarily sufficient for the movant to point to a lack of evidence . . . on an essential element of the non-movant's claim .... [T]he nonmoving party must [then] come forward with admissible evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of fact for trial . . . ." Jaramillo v. Weyerhaeuser Co., 536 F.3d 140, 145 (2d Cir. 2008} (internal citations omitted); see also Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995} ("Once the moving party has made a properly supported showing sufficient to suggest the absence of any genuine issue as to a material fact, the nonmoving party ... must come forward with evidence that would be sufficient to support a jury verdict in his favor"}.

         IV. The Motion for Summary Judgment on Republication Grounds is Denied

         Maxwell has moved for summary judgment dismissing Giuffre's complaint on the grounds that Maxwell is not liable for the republication of her Press Release by the media. Because as a matter of law the issuer of a press release is responsible for its publication, the motion is denied.

         In New York, liability for a republication "must be based on real authority to influence the final product." Davis v. Costa-Gavras, 580 F.Supp. 1082, 1096 (S.D.N.Y. 1984); see also Hoffman v. Landers, 146 A.D.2d 744, 747 (N.Y. A.D.2d Dep't 1989) ("One who makes a defamatory statement is not responsible for its recommunication without his authority or request by another over whom he has no control."). Where a defendant "had no actual part in composing or publishing, " he cannot be held liable "without disregarding the settled rule of law that no man is bound for the tortious act of another over whom he has not a master's power of control." Davis, 580 F.Supp. at 1096 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         The New York Court of Appeals summarized New York's republication liability standard in Geraci v. Probst, 938 N.E.2d 917 (N.Y. 2010), stating that

one who . . . prints and publishes a libel[] is not responsible for its voluntary and unjustifiable repetition, without his authority or request, by others over whom he has no control and who thereby make themselves liable to the person injured, and that such repetition cannot be considered in law a necessary, natural and probable consequence of the original slander or libel.

938 N.E.2d at 921 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Thus, "conclusive evidence of lack of actual authority [is] sufficiently dispositive that the [court] 'ha[s] no option but to dismiss the case . . . .'" Davis, 580 F.Supp. At 1096 (quoting Rinaldi v. Viking Penguin, Inc., 420 N.E.2d 377, 382 (N.Y. 1981)) .

         However, New York law assigns liability to individuals for the media's publication of press releases. New York appellate courts have held that an individual is liable for the media publishing that individual's defamatory press release. See Levy v. Smith,132 A.D.3d 961, 962-63 (N.Y. A.D.2d Dep't 2015) ("Generally, [o]ne who makes a defamatory statement is not responsible for its recommunication without his authority or request by another over whom he has no control .... Here, however, . . . the appellant intended and authorized the republication of the allegedly defamatory content of the press releases in the news articles."); see also Restatement (Second) Of Torts ยง 576 (1977) ("The publication of a libel or slander is a legal cause of any ...


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