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Ramsaran v. Abraham

United States District Court, S.D. New York

December 21, 2017

ASHOOK RAMSARAN, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS ABRAHAM, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          J. PAUL OETKEN, DISTRICT JUDGE

         Ashook Ramsaran and Sunny Kulathakal do not like each other. Both were leaders of a non-profit organization, but their relationship soured after a contested election and a protracted power struggle. Ramsaran, the plaintiff here, sues Kulathakal for defamation. Kulathakal moves to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part, and the motion for summary judgment is denied.

         I. Background

         Since Kulathakal moves for dismissal under Federal Rule 12(b)(6) and for summary judgment under Rule 56, the Court must separate the facts alleged in the Complaint from the facts included in the motion papers. For the purpose of the 12(b)(6) motion, the Court considers only the facts alleged in the Complaint, and assumes that they are true. See Ramsaran v. Abraham, No. 15 Civ. 10182, 2017 WL 1194482, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 30, 2017). For the purpose of the summary judgment motion, the Court looks at the facts in the record and views all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Morris v. City of New York, No. 15 Civ. 3121, 2017 WL 3588941, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 18, 2017).

         A. Facts in the Complaint

         This suit arises from a leadership struggle in the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (“GOPIO”). Headquartered in New York, GOPIO advocates for the rights of the Indian diaspora. In 2014, Plaintiff Ashook Ramsaran was elected president of GOPIO. His opponent was Defendant Sunny Kulathakal. (Compl. ¶ 14.)

         After Ramsaran won, a schism emerged within GOPIO, pitting the Ramsaran and anti-Ramsaran factions against each other. In 2015, the anti-Ramsaran faction of GOPIO convened an assembly in India. (Compl. ¶ 16.) The assembly impeached Ramsaran and expelled him from GOPIO, two actions that Ramsaran insists violated GOPIO's rules. (Not to be outdone, Ramsaran convened his own assembly and expelled Kulathakal from GOPIO-but that is not at issue in this case.)

         The Complaint asserts two counts against Kulathakal: libel and libel per se. They are based on the following allegations:

• Kulathakal disseminated a press release on GOPIO letterhead saying that Ramsaran was expelled from the organization for “various acts of non-compliance with GOPIO Charter and lack of transparency and non-accountability in financial management.” (Dkt. No. 1-6 at 2; Compl. ¶ 35.)
• Kulathakal disseminated the above language to several news outlets: Tehelka News, DNA India, APN News, and The West Indian. (Compl. ¶¶ 31-34.)
• Kulathakal sued Ramsaran in an Indian court, in which he claimed that the election was illegal, that Ramsaran was not the president of GOPIO, that Ramsaran had used GOPIO funds illegally, and that Ramsaran resides in India. He also referred to Ramsaran as a “native of the Caribbean” in a way that was meant to be racially demeaning. (Compl. ¶ 41.)

         B. Summary Judgment Facts

         The Rule 56.1 statements and summary judgment papers are not very helpful. Both parties seem to be more interested in lobbing grenades at each other than fleshing out the factual dispute regarding the alleged statements. Kulathakal paints Ramsaran as vindictive; Ramsaran paints Kulathakal as a sore loser. Each insists that he is the rightful heir to the GOPIO leadership and that the other is a usurper. The parties dispute every single relevant assertion made in the Rule 56.1 statements.

         C. ...


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