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Teltschik v. Williams & Jensen, PLLC

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

April 18, 2014

CORWIN TELTSCHIK, APPELLANT
v.
WILLIAMS & JENSEN, PLLC, ET AL., APPELLEES

Argued February 18, 2014.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:08-cv-00089).

Leonard Thomas Bradt argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

John Tremain May argued the cause and filed the brief for appellees.

Before: HENDERSON, ROGERS, and KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 1286

Kavanaugh, Circuit Judge:

For more than a decade, Corwin Teltschik served as treasurer of the Americans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee. Near the end of Teltschik's tenure, the Federal Election Commission opened an investigation into alleged discrepancies in ARMPAC's financial reporting. The investigation concluded with a Conciliation Agreement between the Commission and ARMPAC. ARMPAC conceded tat it had violated federal election laws and agreed to pay a civil penalty of $115,000 and terminate operations. Teltschik was named in the Agreement in his official capacity as treasurer of ARMPAC.

Teltschik then brought this diversity suit against Williams & Jensen, a law firm that represented ARMPAC, and three Williams & Jensen lawyers. Teltschik alleged that the defendants failed to keep him informed about the Commission's investigation of ARMPAC, signed documents on his behalf without his permission, and defamed him in the Agreement. As relevant here, Teltschik asserted claims

Page 1287

for defamation and negligence and sought general reputation damages.

Over the course of several years and several stages of the litigation, the District Court dismissed or granted summary judgment to the defendants on each of Teltschik's claims. Two aspects of its decisions are relevant here. First, applying D.C. law, the District Court concluded that Teltschik's defamation claim based on the signing of the Conciliation Agreement was barred by the judicial privilege. See Teltschik v. Williams & Jensen, PLLC, 683 F.Supp.2d 33, 53-54 (D.D.C. 2010). Second, the Court concluded that Teltschik's remaining negligence claim was barred under D.C. law because a " plaintiff should not be permitted to recover damages for the loss of his reputation in a negligence action, when the alleged damage to his reputation was caused by a defendant's published communication and that communication was the basis of a failed defamation claim." Teltschik v. Williams & Jensen, PLLC, No. 08-cv-089, 2012 WL 3960607, at *1 (D.D.C. Sept. 10, 2012) (internal quotation mark omitted).

Teltschik now appeals, primarily asserting that the District Court erred in its resolution of those two issues. We review de novo the District Court's determinations of D.C. law. See Salve Regina College v. Russell, 499 U.S. 225, 231, 111 S.Ct. 1217, 113 L.Ed.2d 190 (1991). Applying that de novo standard, we disagree with each of Teltschik's arguments.

First, Teltschik argues that the judicial privilege does not bar his defamation claim against the defendants. Under the judicial privilege recognized by D.C. law, an attorney " is absolutely privileged to publish defamatory matter concerning another in communications preliminary to a proposed judicial proceeding, or in the institution of, or during the course and as a part of, a judicial proceeding in which he participates as counsel, if it has some relation to the proceeding." Finkelstein, Thompson & Loughran v. Hemispherx Biopharma, Inc., 774 A.2d 332, 338 (D.C. 2001) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 586 (1977)), overruled in part on other grounds by McNair Builders, Inc. v. ...


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