Case Brief: Giduck v. Niblett, 2014 COA 86

 

Case Cititation

Giduck v. Niblett, 2014 COA 86, 2014 Colo. App. LEXIS 1088, 2014 WL 2986670 (Colo. App. 2014).

Facts

Plaintiffs are Colorado residents. Based on Internet postings by Defendants, Plaintiffs sued Defendants for defamation, trespass, assault, invasion of privacy, intentional interference with contract, tortious interference with prospective business advantage, extreme and outrageous conduct, civil conspiracy, aiding and abetting tortious conduct, preliminary and permanent injunction, and violation of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants attempted to discredit Plaintiffs stating that Plaintiffs falsely represented their expertise in certain areas.

Plaintiffs’ original complaint did not identify which defendants made the alleged defamatory statements. The district court granted Defendants’ subsequent motion for a more definite statement under C.R.C.P. 12(e), reasoning that the complaint lacked sufficient definiteness and particularity to enable Defendants to respond to and defend against each alleged wrongdoing. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that matched specific defendants with 174 allegedly defamatory statements, and incorporated this amended claim by reference into the remaining claims.

Defendants filed motions to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiffs had failed to establish personal jurisdiction and that the alleged defamatory statements were either not defamatory or protected opinion. Defendants also renewed their motion for a more definite statement, alleging that Plaintiffs’ remaining claims (other than defamation) still failed to identify particular defendants.

The district court granted the Defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction without findings of fact or conclusions of law, and granted the motion to dismiss the defamation claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, finding that the alleged defamatory statements were protected opinion. The district court also found that, with regard to the remaining claims, Plaintiffs’ amended complaint failed to follow a court order to amend the complaint with sufficient definiteness and therefore were required to be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Plaintiffs appealed.

Procedural History

Plaintiffs appeal the district court’s judgment in favor of defendants.

Issues

1) Whether the district court erred in granting the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

2) Whether Defendants waived their personal jurisdiction challenge by filing permissive counterclaims.

3) Whether the district court erred in concluding that Defendants’ statements were constitutionally protected opinion

4) Whether the district court erred in dismissing the remaining claims as a sanction for improperly amending their complaint.

Holdings

1) No. The court held that Plaintiffs failed to establish the district court’s personal jurisdiction over the foreign defendants and therefore the district court properly granted the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction over these defendants.

2) No. Defendants did not waive their personal jurisdiction challenge by filing permissive counterclaims.

3) No. Defendants’ statements were indeed constitutionally protected opinion.

4) No. Plaintiffs’ remaining claims were properly dismissed as a sanction for improperly amending their complaint by failing to comply with the court’s order for a more definite statement.

Rationale

1) The court reasoned that the forum connection did not provide jurisdiction because Plaintiffs failed to allege that any of the foreign defendants conducted continuous and systematic activities of a general business nature in Colorado. The court also reasoned that Plaintiffs failed to make a prima facie showing of specific personal jurisdiction over the foreign defendants because: 1) the allegations that Plaintiffs resided in Colorado and felt harm from the alleged torts in Colorado were insufficient to establish minimum contacts by Defendants; 2) no defamatory statements were alleged to be specifically directed at the forum, instead alleging that the statements were distributed as widely as possible over the Internet; and 3) no acts by a Colorado co-conspirator to further the conspiracy were alleged to have taken place in Colorado. The court also opined that Defendants’ counterclaims did not waive personal jurisdiction because Defendants did not actively participate before asserting the defense, and compulsory counterclaims did not waive jurisdiction.

2) The court reasoned that Defendants’ contemporaneous filing of counterclaims and the affirmative defense of lack of personal jurisdiction in the same document is insufficient to constitute waiver of the defense, according to C.R.C.P. 12(b) and relevant case law.

3) The court reasoned that the Defendants’ statements as alleged could not reasonably be interpreted as stating actual facts about the Plaintiff because the content, tone, and context of the allegedly defamatory statements showed that the statements were not actionable. In support of this reasoning, the court pointed to the statements having been written in imaginative and hyperbolic terms and having been posted to an online forum where anonymous individuals could express highly biased opinions.

4) The court reasoned that nothing has been added to the amended complaint that tied the remaining claims to a particular defendant, and therefore there was no identification of the defendant or defendants who engaged in the tortious activities alleged.

Disposition

The district court’s judgment was affirmed and the case was remanded for a determination of reasonable attorney fees. The court ruled that Defendants were entitled to appellate attorney fees under C.R.S. § 13-17-201 (2013) because the complaint against all defendants was properly dismissed. The court also awarded Defendants their costs.

Concurring and Dissenting Opinions

The partially dissenting opinion laid out additional background facts including Plaintiffs suffering of vandalism, threats, stalking, harassment, lost profits, and employment troubles alleged to have resulted from the Defendants’ allegedly defamatory online publications. The dissent argued that some of the remaining claims should have survived the dismissal for failure to comply with the court’s order for a more definite complaint because they were based in part on actions other than defamation and were sufficiently plead to state a claim for relief. The dissent also argued that the dismissal could not be upheld as a sanction for improper amendment of the complaint because Plaintiffs complied in large part, and because analogous federal rule states that dismissal should be used as a last resort.

By Katelynn Merkin, HopkinsWay PLLC. | © HopkinsWay PLLC 2014. All rights reserved.

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