Federal Court In Boston Denies Kimberly Archie Motion to Dismiss de Lench’s Defamation Lawsuit, Allows Discovery To Begin
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONCORD, Mass. August 8, 2019 – A lawsuit by MomsTEAM.com founder and publisher, Brooke de Lench, claiming that she was defamed on social media by Kimberly D. Archie, co-founder of Faces of CTE, an advocacy group spearheading legislative efforts to ban youth football in several states, will be allowed to proceed, a federal judge in Boston ruled today.
In an 8-page opinion, Judge Leo T. Sorokin made short work of Archie’s claims that Massachusetts’ strategic litigation against public participation (“anti-SLAPP”) statute, intended to protect the constitutional right to petition from the burden of meritless lawsuits, mandated early dismissal of de Lench’s claims. The court found that, while Archie’s social media posts in general addressed issues of public concern regarding youth sports safety and CTE, all of the allegedly defamatory posts attacked de Lench personally, and most did not even refer to CTE or youth sports safety directly. As a result, it found that the challenged statements lacked the requisite “plausible nexus” to a governmental proceeding. “To read the statements as petitioning activity on th[e] issues [of youth sports safety on those issues [would] essentially [be] to interpret any reference to de Lench in any context whatsoever as petitioning activity on youth sports safety,” the court concluded.
Archie’s attacks on the legal sufficiency of de Lench’s amended complaint fared no better.
First, the court found that Archie’s claims that de Lench was using multiple Twitter accounts to hide her alleged persistent harassment of Archie were statements, not of opinion protected by the First Amendment, but of fact, capable of being proven true or false and of damaging de Lench’s reputation sufficient to support a claim of defamation. “The defamation does not depend on Archie’s characterization of the message de Lench supposedly disseminated as trolling or harassment. Rather, the means that the statements allege de Lench used to express the message is itself capable of being defamatory,” the court found.
Second, the court rejected Archie’s argument that de Lench had failed to present facts from which it could be inferred that Archie published the defamatory statements with knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard as to whether they they were false, required under the so-called “actual malice” standard to make out a claim of defamation of a limited public purpose figure such as de Lench under Supreme Court precedent. The court found that de Lench had “clearly alleged specific facts that present enough evidence, both direct and circumstantial, to create a plausible inference that Archie acted with the requisite actual malice,” pointing out that Archie’s allegedly defamatory statements took a “definite position that de Lench was using multiple Twitter accounts [to harass Archie] but offered no means by which Archie could have known with such certainty that de Lench wrote the tweets,” and that Archie continued her accusations even after de Lench told her she was not behind the accounts. Noting that the complaint was “replete with allegations of statements by Archie that cast de Lench in a negative light,” the court found that the statements gave rise to an inference that Archie was “motivated, not by the truth, but by her personal feelings about de Lench” sufficient to allege the requisite actual malice.
“I am gratified that the court found my defamation claims against Ms. Archie to have sufficient merit to allow the case to continue,” said de Lench upon learning of the court’s decision. I am confident that, given the opportunity to conduct discovery, I will now be able to establish that Ms. Archie’s scurrilous accusations about me were knowingly false and part of an orchestrated campaign to destroy my reputation as a youth sports safety advocate and educator.”
Note: The court’s Order on Motion to Dismiss is set out below (mouse over top of document to read all the pages) Order Denying Motion to Dismiss