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Memory v. Kelley

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

May 17, 2018

JOSEPH MEMORY, Plaintiff,
v.
CLAUDIA KELLEY, CHANIA WHITAKER, CALEB SMITH, EARLHAM COLLEGE, Defendants.

          ENTRY

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         In January 2018, Plaintiff Joseph Memory filed this lawsuit in Indiana state court alleging that at least one fellow student put his name on a “Black List” of individuals at Earlham College (“Earlham College” or “the College”) who have committed sexual misconduct. Mr. Memory has sued three students, Claudia Kelley, Chania Whitaker, and Caleb Smith (“the Individual Defendants”), in addition to Earlham College, alleging a variety of state-law claims as a result of his “black listing” and other allegedly false accusations. Mr. Memory also alleges a Title IX claim against the College, which permitted the College to remove the matter based upon the Court's federal question jurisdiction. Ms. Kelley's Motion to Dismiss, [Filing No. 17], presently pending before the Court, challenges the legal sufficiency of Mr. Memory's state-law claims. The Court agrees that Mr. Memory's Complaint fails to comply with federal pleading standards, and therefore GRANTS Ms. Kelley's Motion, [Filing No. 17], and DISMISSES Mr. Memory's current Complaint with leave to re-plead his defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims.

         I.

         Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a claim that does not state a right to relief.[1] The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint provide the defendant with “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must accept all well-pled facts as true and draw all permissible inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Active Disposal Inc. v. City of Darien, 635 F.3d 883, 886 (7th Cir. 2011). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss asks whether the complaint “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The Court may not accept legal conclusions or conclusory allegations as sufficient to state a claim for relief. See McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 617 (7th Cir. 2011). Factual allegations must plausibly state an entitlement to relief “to a degree that rises above the speculative level.” Munson v. Gaetz, 673 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2012). This plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.

         Mr. Memory's fraud claim is governed by the heightened pleading standard imposed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9, which provides: “In alleging fraud or mistake, a party must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake. Malice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of a person's mind may be alleged generally.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b). The particularity requirement requires the plaintiff to allege “the who, what, when, where, and how: the first paragraph of any newspaper story.” United States v. Lockheed-Martin Corp., 328 F.3d 374, 376 (7th Cir .2003) (citation omitted)

         II.

         Background

         Consistent with the standard set forth above, the Court recites the facts as detailed in Mr. Memory's Complaint, which are treated as true for the purpose of resolving Ms. Kelley's Motion. The Court makes no assessment of the actual truth of Mr. Memory's allegations at this stage.

         Mr. Memory and the Individual Defendants were all students at Earlham College. [Filing No. 1-1 at 2.] On April 10, 2017, Ms. Kelley published the “Earlham Black List” (“Black List”) on a social media site. [Filing No. 1-1 at 2.] This Black List, which included Mr. Memory's name, “purported to be a 100% anonymous document of the names of individuals at Earlham College who are sexual predators and abusers.” [Filing No. 1-1 at 2.]

         According to Mr. Memory, the Individual Defendants conspired and campaigned to tarnish Mr. Memory's reputation by “stat[ing] and publish[ing] false and untrue accusations” of sexual misbehavior. [Filing No. 1-1 at 2-3.] The College likewise “[held] meetings, [sent] out mass emails[, ] and [held] class discussions relat[ing] to the [Black List] without ever taking any steps to denounce the [Black List] or otherwise defend those students whose names were included thereon.” [Filing No. 1-1 at 3.] Defendants made statements falsely implying that Mr. Memory had engaged in a variety of inappropriate sexual behaviors. [Filing 1-1 at 3-9.] Mr. Memory provides no further elaboration on the content or nature of these accusations, discussions, meetings, and campaigns.

         On January 29, 2018, Mr. Memory brought suit in Indiana state court, alleging that Defendants' actions constitute defamation per se and defamation per quod; that the Individual Defendants' actions constitute fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress; and that the College's actions violated Title IX and breached its contract with Mr. Memory.[2] [Filing No. 1-1 at 3-13.] On March 14, 2018, the College removed this matter to this Court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. [Filing No. 1.] On April 19, 2018, Ms. Kelley filed her Motion to Dismiss, [Filing No. 17], which is fully briefed and ripe for decision.

         III.

         Discussion

         Ms. Kelley argues that the Complaint fails to state a claim for defamation, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Court addresses each claim in turn.

         A. ...


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