BLEAU v. GREATER LYNN MENTAL HEALTH & RETARDATION ASSOCIATION

371 F.Supp.2d 1 (2005) | Cited 1 time | D. Massachusetts | June 3, 2005

Opinion

This civil action was filed in this court on March 8, 2004. Ina Memorandum and Order issued on December 8, 2004, I held thatthe plaintiff had cleared the low hurdle necessary to state aclaim under the notice pleading requirements of Federal Rule ofCivil Procedure 8. In a later motion, defendant Greater LynnMental Health & Retardation Association ("GLMHRA") sought summaryjudgment based on a heightened pleading requirement fordefamation claims in Massachusetts and relied upon a decision ofmine in Chiara v. Dizoglio, 81 F. Supp. 2d 242 (D. Mass.2000). That decision, in turn, relied upon another decision ofthis district court in Dorn v. Astra USA, 975 F. Supp. 388(D. Mass. 1997). Dorn was later undermined by the holding in anunrelated case, Andresen v. Diorio, 349 F.3d 8, 17 (1st Cir.2003). I believe that Dorn and my decision in Chiara havebeen overturned in effect by Andresen, and subsequent FirstCircuit case law supports this belief. Therefore, I am designating forpublication the following portion of the Memorandum and Orderissued in this case on this date:

During the May 11, 2005, hearing I granted GLMHRA's motion forsummary judgment. The primary thrust of my ruling was based on myinterpretation of the terms of a Separation Agreement betweenBleau and one of the defendants. GLMHRA's motion also soughtjudgment on any defamation claim that Bleau alleged against it.GLMHRA claimed that Bleau's defamation claim is not specificenough in that it does not specify the statements at issue or thetime or times they were made. GLMHRA cited to one of my previousdecisions in Chiara v. Dizoglio, 81 F. Supp. 2d 242 (D. Mass.2000), in support of its motion. That case held that defamationclaims are subject to a heightened pleading standard. Id. at248 (citing Phantom Touring, Inc. v. Affiliated Publications,953 F.2d 724, 728 n. 6 (1st Cir. 1992); Dorn v. Astra USA,975 F. Supp. 388, 396 (D. Mass. 1997)).

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit addressed Dorn inAndresen v. Diorio, 349 F.3d 8, 17 (1st Cir. 2003). The courtconstrued Dorn to be applying Massachusetts pleadingrequirements as opposed to federal pleading requirements. Id.The court then rejected the applicability of state pleadingrequirements in federal court. Id.

This ruling did not explicitly state whether some provision offederal law created a heightened pleading standard for defamationclaims brought in federal court. The court noted, however, theprimacy of the pleading requirements contained in Rules 8 and 9of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Id. This reference tothe primacy of Rules 8 and 9 implies that no such heightenedpleading requirement for defamation claims brought in federalcourt exists. This reference, in effect, overrules the holdingsof Dorn and Chiara that state such a heightened pleading standard exits. This finding is consistent with theFirst Circuit's general embrace of the proposition that nospecial pleading is required unless a specific provision offederal law or a Rule provides for it. See EducadoresPuertorriquenos en Accion v. Hernandez, 367 F.3d 61, 66 (1stCir. 2004) (discussing civil rights cases and noting that, exceptwhen a statute or specific Rule notes otherwise, courts shouldapply the notice pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2)). Althoughsome language in a footnote of Phantom Touring can be construedto reflect a heightened pleading standard, given the FirstCircuit decisions in Educadores and Andresen, I find that, atmost, Phantom Touring stands for the proposition that, undernotice pleading requirements, if a complaint specificallyidentifies the scope of comments at issue in a case involvingdefamation claims, the proper route for adding additionalcomments is a motion to amend. Phantom Touring, 953 F.2d at 728n. 6 ("In our view, a defendant is entitled to knowledge of theprecise language challenged as defamatory, and the plaintifftherefore is limited to its complaint in defining the scope ofthe alleged defamation. If plaintiff wished to enlarge its casebeyond the six articles originally challenged, it should havesought to amend the complaint.).

GLMHRA's failure to inform the court of Andresen is excusablein this instance. Westlaw does not list Chiara or Dorn ashaving been in effect overruled by Andresen. This confusion maybe because Dorn's discussion of Massachusetts' pleadingrequirements in defamation cases is still correct; Andresenoverruled Dorn explicitly on the ground that it applied statepleading requirements in federal court and that federal courtsgenerally look to the Federal Rules for the proper pleadingrequirements. In order to clear up any confusion in the future, Iexplicitly declare that Andresen, particularly when viewed inthe context of other First Circuit pleading cases, in effect overrules the holding of Dorn,adopted by Chiara, that a heightened pleading standard appliesto defamation claims brought in federal court.

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