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Spears v. Cable News Network, CNN

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

August 8, 2019

JOHN K. SPEARS, Plaintiff,



         Pending before the Court is a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) by the Honorable Michael J. Aloi, United States Magistrate Judge. In the R&R, Judge Aloi recommends that the Court grant the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, deny as moot the Plaintiff's Motion to Expedite Ruling, and dismiss the Plaintiff's Complaint. For the reasons discussed below, the Court adopts the R&R.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiff, John K. Spears (“Plaintiff”), brought this action on August 20, 2018, against the Defendant, Cable News Network, CNN (“Defendant”), alleging eleven (11) causes of action: (1) Slander; (2) False Light; (3) Intrusion; (4) Misappropriation/Right of Publicity; (5) Appropriation of Name and Likeness; (6) Publication of Private Facts; (7) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; (8) Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress; (9) Conspiracy; (10) Injurious Falsehoods; and (11) Interference with Contract/Prospective Economic Advantage. ECF No. 1.

         Plaintiff accuses Defendant of “creat[ing] a news segment idolizing the plaintiff” over a span of “numerous years.” Id. at 1. He claims that his privacy rights have been violated via “phone tapping, internet activity monitoring, and watching (monitoring) his activities in public.” Id. at 2. He believes that the government and “other individuals, ” including Defendant, have participated in the monitoring. Id. Plaintiff cites his “lack of ability to live in a certain level of solitude which creates many issues.” Id. at 3. He writes that his “claim is centered on the fact that [Defendant] collected and disbursed private, sensitive information.” Id. at 5. Plaintiff seeks general, special, and statutory damages, arguing that he has suffered “loss of income, physical manifestations of emotional distress and extreme emotional distress.” Id. at 6. He alleges that he “may never fully regain his image and reputation” and seeks damages in excess of $1, 400, 000.00. Id.


         On August 21, 2018, the Honorable Irene M. Keeley, United States District Judge, referred this action to Judge Aloi. Defendant moved to dismiss the action on September 28, 2018. ECF No. 15. The motion has been fully briefed. On December 1, 2018, the case was transferred to the Honorable Thomas S. Kleeh, United States District Judge. Judge Aloi issued an R&R on January 30, 2019. ECF No. 25. Plaintiff then filed objections to the R&R, and Defendant filed a response to the objections.


         When reviewing a magistrate judge's R&R, the Court must review de novo only the portions to which an objection has been timely made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Otherwise, “the Court may adopt, without explanation, any of the magistrate judge's recommendations to which the [parties do] not object.” Dellarcirprete v. Gutierrez, 479 F.Supp.2d 600, 603-04 (N.D. W.Va. 2007) (citing Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983)). Courts will uphold portions of a recommendation to which no objection has been made unless they are clearly erroneous. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         Here, the R&R stated that parties had 14 days to object after being served with the R&R. ECF No. 25 at 22. Plaintiff filed his objections on February 13, 2019. ECF No. 26. In his objections, Plaintiff generally argues that his Complaint is, in fact, sufficiently pled, especially under the liberal construction afforded to pro se plaintiffs. Accordingly, the Court will conduct a de novo review of the entire R&R. Plaintiff's Complaint will be liberally construed because he is proceeding pro se. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976).

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a defendant to move for dismissal upon the ground that a complaint does not “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Anderson v. Sara Lee Corp., 508 F.3d 181, 188 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). A court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).

         A court should dismiss a complaint if it does not contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Plausibility exists “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A motion to dismiss “does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). “[T]he Court may consider documents attached to the complaint, as well as those attached to the motion to dismiss, ‘so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic.'” Richardson v. Williams, No. 3:14-CV-129, 2015 WL 3937004, at *3 (N.D. W.Va. June 26, 2015) (quoting Sec'y of State for Defence v. Trimble Navigation Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007)), aff'd, 627 Fed.Appx. 279 (4th Cir. 2016).


         Defendant's motion challenges the substance of each claim Plaintiff has asserted. The Court will examine in turn the sufficiency of each claim presented in Plaintiff's Complaint. Because the Court is proceeding pursuant to its diversity jurisdiction, it will apply West Virginia law to the substantive claims. See Volvo Constr. Equip. N. Am., Inc. v. CLM Equip. Co., Inc., 386 F.3d 581, 599 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 79 (1938)).

         (1) Slander

         In West Virginia, slander is “defamation through oral means” and requires a showing of the following elements: “(1) defamatory statements; (2) a nonprivileged communication to a third party; (3) falsity; (4) reference to the plaintiff; (5) at least negligence on the part of the publisher; and (6) resulting injury.” Butts v. Royal Vendors, Inc., 504 S.E.2d 911, 916 ( W.Va. 1998); Syl. Pt. 1, Crump v. Beckley Newspapers, Inc., 320 S.E.2d 70 ( ...

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