Case 1:16-cv-01720-ODE Document 28 Filed 02/15/17 Page 1 of 18

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT QOURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIAp^g | g 20||
ATLANTA D I V I S I O N

DAVIDE M. CARBONE,
Plaintiff
C I V I L ACTION NO.
1:16-CV-1720-ODE
CABLE NEWS NETWORK, INC.,
Defendant

ORDER

T h i s d e f a m a t i o n case i s b e f o r e t h e C o u r t o n D e f e n d a n t Cable News

N e t w o r k , I n c . ' s ("CNN") M o t i o n t o S t r i k e P u r s u a n t t o OCGA § 9-11-11.1

or, i ntheAlternative, t o Dismiss P l a i n t i f f ' s Complaint Pursuant t o

F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) [Doc. 5 ] . Plaintiff Davide M. Carbone

("Plaintiff") has responded i n opposition [Doc. 14] a n d CNN h a s

replied [Doc. 19] . Also b e f o r e t h e Court i s the Brief of Amici

C u r i a e G e o r g i a P r e s s A s s o c i a t i o n , G e o r g i a F i r s t Amendment F o u n d a t i o n ,

The A t l a n t a J o u r n a l - C o n s t i t u t i o n , WAGA Fox 5, a n d t h e M o t i o n Picture

A s s o c i a t i o n o f America, I n c . i n Support of the Constitutionality of

O.C.G.A. § 9-11-11.1, I t sApplicability i n Federal Court and

Retroactivity [Doc. 2 0 - 1 ] , t o which Plaintiff has responded i n

opposition [Doc. 21] and A m i c i have r e p l i e d [Doc. 2 3 ] . Additionally

before t h e Court i sPlaintiff's Rule 56(d) M o t i o n f o r D i s c o v e r y t o

Respond t o D e f e n d a n t ' s Anti-SLAPP M o t i o n [Doc. 9 ] , t o w h i c h CNN h a s

responded i n opposition [Doc. 11] a n d P l a i n t i f f h a s r e p l i e d [Doc.

13]. For t h e reasons s e t f o r t h below, CNN's m o t i o n t o strike or

a l t e r n a t i v e l y t o d i s m i s s i s DENIED.
Case 1:16-cv-01720-ODE Document 28 Filed 02/15/17 Page 2 of 18

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff i s t h e former Chief Executive O f f i c e r ("CEO") o f S t .

Mary's M e d i c a l Center l o c a t e d i n West Palm Beach, F l o r i d a [Compl.,

Doc. 1 a t 5-6] . On May 26, 2016, he f i l e d this defamation action

a g a i n s t CNN f o r i t s p u b l i c a t i o n o f "a s e r i e s o f f a l s e and defamatory

news r e p o r t s , articles, a n d s o c i a l media p o s t s b e g i n n i n g o n June 1 ,

2015" a n d a v a i l a b l e t o the public t o this d a y [ I d . a t 1] . He has

alleged that CNN published a total of twenty-five such reports

r e l a t i n g t o the infant mortality rate f o r open-heart surgery a t S t .

Mary's [Id.]. CNN's r e p o r t s alleged that this m o r t a l i t y r a t e was

three times the national average; Plaintiff alleges that CNN

" i n t e n t i o n a l l y manipulated s t a t i s t i c s to f a b r i c a t e i t s claim" [Id. at

24] .

CNN's reports intermittently included Plaintiff's name a n d

picture i n connection with statements from St. Mary's. CNN also

apparently sent a reporter t o h i s home, "purportedly to obtain

comment" and i n s t e a d "ambushed" P l a i n t i f f and h i s w i f e "in front of

t h e i r home e a r l y i n t h e m o r n i n g " [ I d . a t 46]. I t then reported that

"[a] f t e r St. Mary's r e p e a t e d l y d e n i e d r e q u e s t s f o r i n t e r v i e w s , CNN

a p p r o a c h e d D a v i d e Carbone, t h e CEO o f S t . Mary's a t h i s home. He

s h u t t h e g a r a g e d o o r w i t h o u t commenting" [Doc. 14-1 at5]. Plaintiff

f u r t h e r alleges that "at a l l r e l e v a n t times and p r i o r t o p u b l i c a t i o n

of t h e series, i t was w e l l known t o CNN t h a t members o f t h e public

and t h e m e d i c a l community i n F l o r i d a recognized [Plaintiff] as t h e

Chief Executive Officer o f S t . Mary's a n d as the individual

ultimately responsible f o r the oversight and a d m i n i s t r a t i o n of the

h o s p i t a l program" [Compl., Doc. 1 a t 4 9 - 5 0 ] . P l a i n t i f f asserts that

because o f t h e CNN s e r i e s he was f o r c e d t o resign as CEO o f St.

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M a r y ' s a n d has y e t t o s e c u r e o t h e r employment; he h a s a l s o a l l e g e d l y

r e c e i v e d " m u l t i p l e v i l e and h a t e f u l t e l e p h o n e c a l l s " [ I d . a t 50-52].

After Plaintiff f i l e d h i s Complaint, CNN moved t o s t r i k e i t on

the b a s i s o f Georgia's anti-SLAPP s t a t u t e , see O.C.G.A. § 9-11-11.1,

o r , i n t h e a l t e r n a t i v e , t o d i s m i s s f o r f a i l u r e t o s t a t e a c l a i m [Doc.

5] . The C o u r t p e r m i t t e d a n A m i c i C u r i a e b r i e f [Doc. 27] i n s u p p o r t

of theapplication o f Georgia's anti-SLAPP p r o v i s i o n t othis case

[Docs. 2 0 , 2 0 - 1 ] . Were t h i s C o u r t t o d e t e r m i n e t h a t t h e a n t i - S L A P P

p r o v i s i o n a p p l i e s . P l a i n t i f f has r e q u e s t e d l e a v e t o c o n d u c t d i s c o v e r y

i n t o CNN's a l l e g e d a c t u a l m a l i c e p u r s u a n t t o t h e s t a t u t e [Doc. 9].

II. MOTION TO STRIKE/APPLICABILITY OF ANTI-SLAPP

CNN f i r s t seeks t o s t r i k e Plaintiff's d e f a m a t i o n c l a i m on t h e

basis o f Georgia's anti-SLAPP statute [Doc. 5 ] . This provision

applies t o cases against "a p e r s o n or entity arising f r o m an

act . . . which could reasonably be c o n s t r u e d as a n a c t i n

furtherance o f t h e person's or entity's right of petition o r free

speech under the Constitution o f t h e United States o rt h e

C o n s t i t u t i o n o f t h e State o f Georgia i n c o n n e c t i o n w i t h an i s s u e o f

public interest o r concern." O.C.G.A. § 9-11-11.1(b)(1). I f

applicable, the statute allows the protected "person o r e n t i t y " t o

move t o strike the claim, "unless the court determines that the

n o n m o v i n g p a r t y has e s t a b l i s h e d t h a t t h e r e i s a p r o b a b i l i t y t h a t t h e

nonmoving party will prevail on t h e c l a i m . " Id. Generally,

discovery i shalted u n t i l t h e Court r u l e s on t h e motion t o s t r i k e ,

except "that i f there exists a claim that t h e nonmoving p a r t y is a

public figure p l a i n t i f f , t h e n t h e n o n m o v i n g p a r t y s h a l l be e n t i t l e d

to d i s c o v e r y on t h e sole issue o f actual malice whenever actual

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malice i s relevant t o t h e court's determination." I d . § 9-11-

1 1 . 1 ( b ) (2) .

Plaintiff opposes CNN's m o t i o n o n t h r e e grounds: (1) G e o r g i a ' s

anti-SLAPP regime i s unconstitutional pursuant t o t h e Seventh

Amendment t o t h e U n i t e d States C o n s t i t u t i o n ; (2) t h e s t a t u t e i sa

procedural device inapplicable i n federal court; and (3) CNN

i m p e r m i s s i b l y seeks r e t r o a c t i v e p r o t e c t i o n f r o m t h e s t a t u t e [Doc. 14

a t 8-20]. Finding t h e s e c o n d argument p e r s u a s i v e , t h e C o u r t need n o t

a d d r e s s t h e o t h e r t w o g r o u n d s f o r d e n y i n g CNN's m o t i o n t o s t r i k e .

A. L e g a l Standard

"It i swell established t h a t when a f e d e r a l court considers a

case t h a t a r i s e s under i t s d i v e r s i t y jurisdiction, t h ecourt is to

apply state substantive l a w and f e d e r a l procedural law." Royalty

N e t w o r k , I n c . v . H a r r i s , 756 F.3d 1351, 1357 ( l l t h C i r . 2014) ( c i t i n g

Hanna v . Plumer , 380 U.S. 460, 465 ( 1 9 6 5 ) ) . In striking down a

d i f f e r e n t p r o v i s i o n o f S e c t i o n 9-11-11.1, t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s C o u r t o f

Appeals f o r t h e Eleventh C i r c u i t e l u c i d a t e d t h e Supreme C o u r t ' s t e s t

f o r substance versus procedure.

"'Under t h e Hanna test, when the federal l a w sought t o be

applied is a congressional statute o r Federal Rule of Civil

Procedure, t h e d i s t r i c t court must f i r s t decide whether t h e s t a t u t e

i s s u f f i c i e n t l y broad t o c o n t r o l t h e issue before t h e Court.'" I d . a t

1357-58 (quoting Hanna, 380 U.S. a t 465). " ' I f the federal

procedural rule i s sufficiently broad t o control t h e i s s u e and

conflicts with the state law, t h e f e d e r a l procedural rule applies

i n s t e a d o f t h e s t a t e law.'" I d ^ a t 1358 ( q u o t i n g Hanna, 380 U.S. a t

465). Essentially, i fthefederal r u l e and t h e s t a t e rule overlap

and c o n f l i c t s u c h t h a t b o t h c a n n o t be a p p l i e d harmoniously, then the

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Court considers the v a l i d i t y of the federal rule. See Shady Grove

Orthopedic Assocs.. P.A. v. A l l s t a t e Ins. Co., 559 U.S. 393, 398

(2010) ( c i t i n g B u r l i n g t o n N. R.R. Co. v . Woods, 480 U.S. 1 (1987)).

"A f e d e r a l rule applies in the face of a conflicting state

rule . . . only i f the f e d e r a l r u l e comports w i t h the Rules E n a b l i n g

A c t , 28 U.S.C. § 2072, and the Constitution." R o y a l t y Network, 756

F.3d a t 1358 ( c i t i n g G a s p e r i n i v. C t r . f o r H u m a n i t i e s , I n c . , 518 U.S.

415, 427 n.7 (1996)). Only i f the " f e d e r a l r u l e i s not sufficiently

b r o a d t o c o v e r t h e i s s u e o r does n o t d i r e c t l y c o n f l i c t w i t h t h e state

law [should] the district court . . . then proceed to the second

p r o n g o f t h e Hanna t e s t , which requires the d i s t r i c t court to apply

E r i e and i t s progeny t o d e t e r m i n e 'whether f a i l u r e t o a p p l y the state

law would lead t o d i f f e r e n t outcomes i n s t a t e and federal court and

r e s u l t i n i n e q u i t a b l e a d m i n i s t r a t i o n o f the laws or forum shopping.'"

Id. ( q u o t i n g B u r k e v. S m i t h , 252 F.3d 1260, 1265 ( l l t h Cir. 2001)).

B. Discussion

- The f i r s t question f o r the Court i s thus whether a f e d e r a l rule

answers the question in dispute, namely the necessary pleading

standard f o r the Plaintiff to maintain h i s case a t t h i s stage; one

certainly does. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits

dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon w h i c h

relief can be granted."
[A] c o m p l a i n t must c o n t a i n s u f f i c i e n t f a c t u a l matter,
a c c e p t e d as t r u e , t o s t a t e a c l a i m t o r e l i e f t h a t i s
p l a u s i b l e on i t s face.. A c l a i m has f a c i a l p l a u s i b i l i t y
when t h e p l a i n t i f f p l e a d s f a c t u a l c o n t e n t t h a t a l l o w s t h e
c o u r t t o draw t h e r e a s o n a b l e i n f e r e n c e t h a t t h e d e f e n d a n t
i s l i a b l e f o r the misconduct a l l e g e d .

A s h c r o f t V. I q b a l , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) ( c i t a t i o n s and internal

q u o t a t i o n marks o m i t t e d ) . The standard " c a l l s f o r enough f a c t to

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r a i s e a reasonable expectation that discovery w i l l reveal evidence"

of the claim. B e l l A t l . Corp. v. Twomblv, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007) .

It i s not necessary for a complaint to set out a l l the facts in

d e t a i l , b u t a p l a i n t i f f has t o a t l e a s t a l l e g e "enough f a c t u a l matter

( t a k e n as t r u e ) t o s u g g e s t " the existence of the r e q u i r e d elements of

the claim. Id^; see a l s o Watts v. F l a . I n t ' l Univ., 495 F.Sd 1289,

1296 ( l l t h Cir. 2007).

Not only does Rule 12(b) (6) address itself to the pleading

standard, i t directly conflicts w i t h G e o r g i a ' s anti-SLAPP statute.

The s t a t u t e e s s e n t i a l l y c r e a t e s a R u l e 1 2 ( b ) ( 6 ) "plus" standard f o r

c a s e s w i t h a F i r s t Amendment n e x u s . L i k e Rule 1 2 ( b ) ( 6 ) , S e c t i o n 9-

1 1 - 1 1 . 1 (b) (1) a l l o w s a d e f e n d a n t t o move t o s t r i k e o r d i s m i s s a c l a i m

for relief at t h i s e a r l y stage i n the proceedings. Also like Rule

12(b)(6), upon the defendant's motion. Section 9-11-11.1(b)(1)

r e q u i r e s a showing by the p l a i n t i f f that a basic pleading standard

has b e e n met. The conflict arises i n that Rule 12(b)(6) requires

"plausibility" on t h e f a c e o f t h e c o m p l a i n t , see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at

678, while Section 9-11-11.1(b)(1) requires a probability of

prevailing.

CNN argues that the probability standard at issue "merely

supplements" the f e d e r a l p l a u s i b i l i t y standard [see Doc. 19 at 5 ] ,

b u t i m p o s i n g an a d d i t i o n a l r e q u i r e m e n t on t h e p l a i n t i f f a t t h i s stage

i s p r e c i s e l y where t h e i s s u e l i e s . The Supreme C o u r t has b e e n c l e a r

that "[a]sking for plausib [ i l i t y ] . . does n o t impose a p r o b a b i l i t y

requirement at the p l e a d i n g stage" " [ a ] n d , of course, a w e l l - p l e a d e d

c o m p l a i n t may p r o c e e d even i f i t s t r i k e s a savvy judge that actual

proof of those facts i s improbable, and 'that a recovery i s very

r e m o t e and u n l i k e l y . ' " Twombly, 550 U.S. a t 556 ( q u o t i n g Scheuer v.

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Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232 (1974)) . By i t s v e r y d e f i n i t i o n , t h e r e f o r e , t h e

Rule 1 2 ( b ) ( 6 ) p l a u s i b i l i t y requirement not o n l y c o n f l i c t s , but also

cannot coexist with Section 9-11-11.1(b) ( 1 ) ' s probability

requirement.

Thus, the Court t u r n s t o the second q u e s t i o n i t must answer,

w h e t h e r R u l e 12 (b) (6) c o m p o r t s w i t h t h e R u l e s E n a b l i n g Act and the

United States Constitution.^ The R u l e p a s s e s m u s t e r and t h u s a p p l i e s

if i t "'really regulate[s] procedure'" by "govern[ing] only 'the

manner and the means' by which the litigants' rights are

'enforced [ . ] ' " Shadv Grove, 559 U.S. at 407 (quoting Sibbach v.

W i l s o n & Co., 312 U.S. 1, 14 ( 1 9 4 1 ) ; M i s s . P u b l ' g Corp. v . M u r p h r e e ,

326 U.S. 438, 446 (1946)). The Supreme C o u r t notes that i t has

" r e j e c t e d every s t a t u t o r y challenge t o a Federal R u l e t h a t has come

before [it]," id^, and Rule 12(b)(6) should be no different.

Pleading standards r e l a t e o n l y t o how a l i t i g a n t may b r i n g h i s claims

to court and bear not a t a l l on the substance of those rights or

t h e i r enforcement. R u l e 1 2 ( b ) (6) t h u s c l e a r s t h e s e c o n d s t e p i n t h e

Hanna t e s t and a p p l i e s h e r e i n s t e a d o f G e o r g i a ' s a n t i - S L A P P s t a t u t e .

In reaching i t s d e c i s i o n , the Court i s wading into a circuit

split. See Travelers Cas. I n s . Co. v. Hirsh, 831 F.3d 1179, 1183

(9th Cir. 2016) (Kozinski, J., concurring). CNN argues that

G e o r g i a ' s r e v i s e d anti-SLAPP s t a t u t e m i r r o r s i n a l l m a t e r i a l r e s p e c t s

t h o s e o f C a l i f o r n i a , M a i n e , Oregon, and Louisiana, which the First,

Fifth, and N i n t h C i r c u i t s have f o u n d v a l i d i n f e d e r a l c o u r t [Doc. 19

' A l t h o u g h n e i t h e r p a r t y d i s p u t e s t h a t i t does [see Doc. 19 a t 5
n . l ] , n e v e r t h e l e s s the Court considers the q u e s t i o n f o r purposes of
a complete a n a l y s i s .

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at 5-6] . The Court v a r i o u s l y takes issue with each of these

precedents.

F o r e x a m p l e , t h e N i n t h C i r c u i t case a d o p t i n g C a l i f o r n i a ' s anti-

SLAPP s t a t u t e d e t e r m i n e d t h a t t h e r e was no d i r e c t c o n f l i c t w i t h t h e

federal r u l e because a l i t i g a n t b r i n g i n g an u n s u c c e s s f u l motion t o

s t r i k e could subsequently " r e m a i n [ ] f r e e t o b r i n g a R u l e 12 m o t i o n t o

dismiss[.]" See Newsham v . L o c k h e e d M i s s i l e s & Space Co., 190 F.3d

963, 972 ( 9 t h C i r . 1 9 9 9 ) . A f t e r t h i s d e c i s i o n , however, t h e Supreme

Court r e i t e r a t e d t h a t t h e proper s t a n d a r d u n d e r Hanna i s n o t w h e t h e r

a s t a t e a n d f e d e r a l l a w may p o t e n t i a l l y be a p p l i e d i n s u c c e s s i o n , b u t

whether a f e d e r a l law a l r e a d y addresses t h e q u e s t i o n o f t h e proper

pleading standard. See Shadv Grove, 559 U.S. a t 398. Furthermore,

i n recent years. Judge K o z i n k s i a n d s e v e r a l o f h i s c o l l e a g u e s have

c h a l l e n g e d t h e wisdom o f t h e N i n t h C i r c u i t ' s c o n t i n u e d t o l e r a n c e f o r

anti-SLAPP s t a t u t e s g i v e s t h a t t h e i r " p r o b a b i l i t y " s t a n d a r d "directly

conflicts w i t h Federal R u l e 12, w h i c h p r o v i d e s a one-size-fits-all

test f o r evaluating claims a t the pleading stage" pursuant t o the

"plausib[ility]" standard. Travelers Cas. I n s . , 8 3 1 F.3d a t 1183

( K o z i n s k i , J . , c o n c u r r i n g ) ; see M a k a e f f v . Trump U n i v . , LLC, 715 F.3d

254, 275 ( 9 t h C i r . 2013) ( K o z i n s k i , J . , c o n c u r r i n g ) ("Newsham was a

b i g mistake. Two o t h e r c i r c u i t s [ t h e F i r s t a n d F i f t h ] have f o o l i s h l y

followed it.").

In c o n s i d e r i n g these subsequent decisions i n other circuits,

this Court a g r e e s w i t h Judge K o z i n s k i - - t h e a r g u m e n t t h a t the anti-

SLAPP statutes somehow do not "test the sufficiency of the

c o m p l a i n t [ , ] " w h i l e Rule 12(b)(6) does, i s simply not persuasive.

G o d i n V . Schencks, 629 F.3d 79, 89 ( 1 s t C i r . 2 0 1 0 ) . I n fact, the

c o u r t i n H e n r y v . Lack C h a r l e s A m e r i c a n P r e s s , LLC, 566 F.3d 164, 1 8 1

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(sth Cir. 2009), simply assumed the applicability o f Louisiana's

anti-SLAPP s t a t u t e i n f e d e r a l c o u r t w i t h o u t analysis o f any k i n d , a

d e c i s i o n upon w h i c h t h i s C o u r t c a n n o t p o s s i b l y base i t s own.

Instead, this Court has l o o k e d t o Judge Kavanaugh's thorough

a n a l y s i s i n Abbas v . F o r e i g n P o l i c y Group, LLC, 783 F.3d 1328 (D.C.

Cir. 2015), and found i t p e r s u a s i v e . Unlike theFifth Circuit i n

H e n r y , Judge Kavanagh b e g i n s w i t h an a n a l y s i s o f D.C.'s a n t i - S L A P P

statute a n d w h e t h e r i t has a n y p l a c e i n federal court; unlike the

Ninth Circuit i n Newsham, he a p p l i e s thecorrect l e g a l s t a n d a r d as

e l u c i d a t e d b y t h e Supreme C o u r t i n Shady Grove a n d Hanna. Id. at

1333. Finally, unlike the First Circuit i n G o d i n , Judge Kavanaugh

n o t e s t h a t w h i l e b o t h t h e a n t i - S L A P P s t a t u t e a n d R u l e 12 " e s t a b l i s h [ ]

the circumstances under which a court must dismiss a plaintiff's

claim before t r i a l [,]" t h e Rule "do[es] n o t r e q u i r e a plaintiff to

show a l i k e l i h o o d o f s u c c e s s o n t h e m e r i t s " i n t h e manner demanded b y

the s t a t u t e . I d . a t 1333-34. I n t h i s way, he a g r e e s w i t h t h i s Court

t h a t t h e two a r e i n c o n f l i c t a n d c a n n o t c o - e x i s t ; as i n D.C, here,

t h e Georgia anti-SLAPP s t a t u t e i m p e r m i s s i b l y " s e t [ s ] up an a d d i t i o n a l

h u r d l e a p l a i n t i f f must jump o v e r t o g e t t o t r i a l " i n federal court.

Id. a t 1334.

Thus, b e c a u s e R u l e 1 2 ( b ) ( 6 ) b o t h "answers t h e same q u e s t i o n " as

S e c t i o n 9-11-11.1 (b) (1) a n d i s v a l i d u n d e r t h e R u l e s E n a b l i n g A c t a n d

the United States Constitution, " [ a ]federal court exercising

diversity jurisdiction . . . must apply" the federal rule on

d i s m i s s a l and n o t t h e s p e c i a l anti-SLAPP m o t i o n t o s t r i k e p r o v i s i o n .

Abbas, 783 F.3d a t 1337. CNN's m o t i o n t o s t r i k e b a s e d on G e o r g i a ' s

a n t i - S L A P P l a w [Doc. 5] i s DENIED. T h i s a l s o means t h a t Plaintiff's
Case 1:16-cv-01720-ODE Document 28 Filed 02/15/17 Page 10 of 18

motion f o r additional d i s c o v e r y as t o a c t u a l malice pursuant t o

S e c t i o n 9-11-11.1(b) (2) [Doc. 9] i s DISMISSED AS MOOT.

III. MOTION TO DISMISS

The Court thus continues with CNN's alternative motion t o

d i s m i s s f o r f a i l u r e t o s t a t e a c l a i m u p o n w h i c h r e l i e f c a n be g r a n t e d

p u r s u a n t t o R u l e 1 2 ( b ) (6) [Doc. 5] . I n r u l i n g on t h e pending m o t i o n ,

a l l of the well-pleaded factual allegations i n P l a i n t i f f ' s Complaint

must be a c c e p t e d as t r u e and c o n s t r u e d i n t h e l i g h t most f a v o r a b l e t o

him. Young A p a r t m e n t s , I n c . v . Town o f J u p i t e r , F l a . , 529 F.Sd 1027,

10S7 (llth C i r . 2008) . F u r t h e r m o r e , when d e t e r m i n i n g a m o t i o n t o

dismiss, t h e Court may consider attached documents central to

Plaintiff's claims and r e f e r r e d t o by P l a i n t i f f without converting

t h e m o t i o n t o one f o r summary j u d g m e n t . Brooks v . Blue Cross & Blue

S h i e l d o f F l a . , I n c . , 116 F.Sd 1S64, 1S69 ( l l t h C i r . 1997) .

"While a c o m p l a i n t a t t a c k e d by a Rule 1 2 ( b ) ( 6 ) m o t i o n t o d i s m i s s

does n o t need d e t a i l e d f a c t u a l a l l e g a t i o n s , a p l a i n t i f f ' s obligation

to p r o v i d e t h e grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more

than labels and c o n c l u s i o n s , and a formulaic recitation ofthe

e l e m e n t s o f a cause o f a c t i o n w i l l n o t do." Twombly, 550 U.S. a t 555

( c i t a t i o n s a n d i n t e r n a l q u o t a t i o n marks o m i t t e d ) . More s p e c i f i c a l l y ,

"a c o m p l a i n t must contain sufficient factual m a t t e r , a c c e p t e d as

true, t o state a claim t o r e l i e f that i s p l a u s i b l e on i t s f a c e . A

claim has f a c i a l plausibility when the p l a i n t i f f pleads factual

c o n t e n t t h a t a l l o w s t h e c o u r t t o draw t h e r e a s o n a b l e i n f e r e n c e that

the defendant i s l i a b l e f o r the misconduct a l l e g e d . " I q b a l , 556 U.S.

a t 678 ( c i t a t i o n s a n d i n t e r n a l q u o t a t i o n marks o m i t t e d ) . To s u r v i v e

a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "the p l a i n t i f f ' s factual allegations, when

assumed t o be t r u e , 'must be enough t o r a i s e a r i g h t t o r e l i e f above

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Case 1:16-cv-01720-ODE Document 28 Filed 02/15/17 Page 11 of 18

t h e s p e c u l a t i v e l e v e l . ' " U n i t e d Techs. Corp. v . Mazer, 556 F.3d 1260,

1270 ( l l t h C i r . 2009) ( q u o t i n g Twomblv, 550 U.S. a t 5 5 5 ) .

A. Defamation Under G e o r g i a Law

To establish a claim for defamation under Georgia l a w , "a

plaintiff must submit evidence of (1) a false and defamatory

s t a t e m e n t about h i m s e l f ; (2) an u n p r i v i l e g e d c o m m u n i c a t i o n t o a t h i r d

party; (3) f a u l t b y d e f e n d a n t a m o u n t i n g t o a t l e a s t n e g l i g e n c e ; and

(4) s p e c i a l damages o r d e f a m a t o r y words ' i n j u r i o u s o n t h e i r face.'"

L e w i s V. M e r e d i t h Corp., 293 Ga. App. 747, 748 (Ga, C t . App. 2008)

(citation omitted). The s e c o n d element i s n o t a t i s s u e h e r e , and

neither truly i s the f o u r t h . G e o r g i a l a w d e f i n e s " d e f a m a t o r y words

' i n j u r i o u s on t h e i r f a c e ' " as " ' c h a r g e s a g a i n s t a n o t h e r i n r e f e r e n c e

to h i s trade, office, or profession, calculated t o i n j u r e him

therein."' Infinite Energy, I n c . v . Pardue, 310 Ga. App. 355, 357

(Ga. C t . App. 2011) ( q u o t i n g O.C.G.A. § 5 1 - 5 - 4 ( a ) (3) ) . "'This type

of defamation i s actionable p e r se a n d damage i s i n f e r r e d . ' " I d .

(citing S t r a n g e v . H e n d e r s o n , 223 Ga. App. 2 1 8 , 219 (Ga. C t . App.

1996)). I n this case. Plaintiff i salleging that CNN's reporting

directly impacted him i n h i s professional capacity as CEO o f St.

Mary's. I f proven. Plaintiff's allegations certainly allege

d e f a m a t i o n p e r se.

The r e a l c r u x o f t h e d i s p u t e b e t w e e n t h e p a r t i e s l i e s w i t h t h e

first and t h i r d elements o f d e f a m a t i o n , w h i c h may be e v a l u a t e d v i a

t h r e e q u e s t i o n s : (1) does P l a i n t i f f ' s C o m p l a i n t i n d i c a t e t h a t he c a n

meet h i s b u r d e n t o establish thefalsity o f CNN's r e p o r t , (2) was

t h a t r e p o r t i n g a b o u t and p e r t a i n i n g t o P l a i n t i f f h i m s e l f , a n d (3) c a n

Plaintiff e s t a b l i s h CNN's f a u l t t o t h e r e q u i s i t e degree? The C o u r t

will address each o f t h e s e q u e s t i o n s i n t u r n . I n d o i n g so, i t w i l l

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Case 1:16-cv-01720-ODE Document 28 Filed 02/15/17 Page 12 of 18

c o n s i d e r t h e v a r i o u s CNN reports attached t o P l a i n t i f f ' s response, as

well as any documents specifically referenced i n the text of h i s

C o m p l a i n t , because t h e y a r e "(1) c e n t r a l to the p l a i n t i f f ' s claim;

and (2) u n d i s p u t e d . " H o r s l e v v. Feldt, 304 F.3d 1125, 1134 (llth

C i r . 2002) ( c i t i n g H a r r i s v . I v a x Corp., 182 F.3d 799, 802 n.2 (llth

Cir. 1999)). The Court w i l l n o t c o n s i d e r any e x t r a n e o u s affidavits

or declarations improperly before i t .

B. False Reporting

In a case such as this, which "involves a speech of public

concern, a p l a i n t i f f must show t h a t . . . the defamatory statement

was f a l s e . " Adventure Outdoors, I n c . v . B l o o m b e r g , 552 F.3d 1290,

1298 ( l l t h C i r . 2008) ( c i t i n g M a t h i s v . Cannon, 276 Ga. 16, 21 (Ga.

2002)). "'Georgia law p u t s the burden of proving f a l s i t y on the

plaintiff,'" i d . ( q u o t i n g S t r a w v. Chase R e v e l , I n c . , 813 F.2d 356,

361 n.6 ( l l t h C i r . 1 9 8 7 ) ) , and " ' [ t ] r u t h i s an a b s o l u t e d e f e n s e [ , ] ' "

Monge v . M a d i s o n C t v . R e c o r d , I n c . , 802 F. Supp. 2d 1327, 1333 (llth

C i r . 2011) ( q u o t i n g W o l f v . Ramsey, 253 F. Supp. 2d 1323, 1349 (N.D.

Ga. 2003) (Carnes, J.)). However, t o d e t e r m i n e falsity, the Court

must c o n s i d e r t h e p u b l i c a t i o n as a w h o l e , " ' r e a d and c o n s t r u e d i n t h e

sense i n w h i c h t h e r e a d e r s t o whom i t i s a d d r e s s e d would ordinarily

u n d e r s t a n d i t . ' " Lucas v . Cranshaw, 289 Ga. App. 510, 513 (Ga. Ct.

App. 2008) ( c i t a t i o n s o m i t t e d ) . Facts t h a t are "misstated, d i s t o r t e d

o r a r r a n g e d so as t o c o n v e y a f a l s e and d e f a m a t o r y meaning" g i v e r i s e

to l i a b i l i t y , and i n a c l o s e case, t h i s q u e s t i o n i s one f o r t h e j u r y .

Id. a t 512-13.

As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that Plaintiff's

pleading as a whole does include a number of non-actionable

statements. "'Georgia law u n q u e s t i o n a b l y excludes from defamation

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Case 1:16-cv-01720-ODE Document 28 Filed 02/15/17 Page 13 of 18

l i a b i l i t y any statements t h a t . . . a r e c l e a r l y r e c o g n i z a b l e as p u r e

o p i n i o n because t h e i r f a c t u a l premises a r e r e v e a l e d . ' " Monge, 802 F.

Supp. a t 1335 ( c i t a t i o n omitted). Plaintiff bases h i s defamation

claim o n a number of opinions, including statements from upset

parents, statements t h a t S t . Mary's was " e x t r e m e l y i n e x p e r i e n c e d a t

doing such complicated heart s u r g e r i e s on newborns[,]" a n d CNN's

a l l e g e d r e l i a n c e on "biased sources" [Compl., Doc. 1 a t 12, 13, 18,

19, 20] . These statements are generally a matter o f o p i n i o n and

c a n n o t be p r o v e n t r u e o r f a l s e f o r purposes o f a defamation c l a i m .

Perhaps r e c o g n i z i n g t h i s problem. Plaintiff's actual pleading

appears t o r e s t on two c h i e f a l l e g a t i o n s . First, CNN a d m i t s t h a t i t

used raw d a t a t o calculate S t . Mary's "mortality rate" as 12.5%,

" t h r e e t i m e s t h e n a t i o n a l average" [Id^ at 24]. Plaintiff does n o t

dispute t h e r a w numbers, b u t i n s t e a d a l l e g e s t h a t CNN " m i s s t a t e d ,

distorted o r arranged [this data] so as t o c o n v e y a f a l s e and

d e f a m a t o r y meaning." L u c a s , 289 Ga. App. a t 512. The p r o b l e m with

CNN's h e a d l i n e s was a l l e g e d l y that t h e 12.5% r a t e was n o t r i s k -

a d j u s t e d , w h i l e t h e " n a t i o n a l average" from the Society o f Thoracic

Surgeons ("STS") was. F u r t h e r m o r e , CNN a l l e g e d l y c a l c u l a t e d i t s r a t e

u s i n g o n l y open-heart s u r g e r i e s a t St. Mary's, w h i l e t h e " n a t i o n a l

average" was b a s e d upon both open- and c l o s e d - h e a r t surgeries

[Compl., Doc. 1 a t 2 5 - 3 0 ] . Plaintiff insists that CNN was t h e r e b y

doing an "apples-to-oranges comparison," which gave t h e average

v i e w e r an i n a c c u r a t e p e r c e p t i o n . Plaintiff f u r t h e r a l l e g e s t h a t CNN

"doubled-down" o n t h e s e a s s e r t i o n s , even a f t e r S t . Mary's drew i t s

a t t e n t i o n t o t h e i n a c c u r a c y b a s e d upon p u b l i c a t i o n s b y t h e STS i t s e l f

[Id. at 32].

13
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CNN c o u n t e r s b y p o i n t i n g t o t h e r a w d a t a , t h a t b e t w e e n 2011 a n d

2013 S t . Mary's c o n d u c t e d f o r t y - e i g h t p e d i a t r i c o p e n - h e a r t surgeries,

of which s i x were f a t a l [Doc. 5-1 a t 1 0 - 1 1 ] . The p r o b l e m i s that

P l a i n t i f f i s not disputing t h e numbers; he i s d i s p u t i n g t h e manner i n

which CNN used them as a c o m p a r i s o n . CNN further responds by

pointing t o i t s own, s u p p o s e d l y e r r o n e o u s r e p o r t i n g t o support i t s

assertion that both sets o f s t a t i s t i c s were f o r o p e n - h e a r t s u r g e r y

a n d were n o t r i s ] ^ - a d j u s t e d [ I d ^ a t 12] . The d i s p u t e i s precisely

whether this was f a c t u a l l y t h e case, however, a n d CNN's reports

therefore cannot support a motion t o dismiss. CNN f i n a l l y argues

that this i s simply an academic disagreement over statistical

methodology [ I d ^ a t 23] . Plaintiff i s n o t , however, d i s p u t i n g how

CNN d i d t h e m a t h , b u t r a t h e r whether i t compared i t s own math t o a

n o n - c o m p a r a b l e f i g u r e i n a way t h a t m i s l e d i t s v i e w e r s . Drawing a l l

inferences i n favor of Plaintiff, he h a s met h i s b u r d e n on t h e

f a l s i t y o f CNN's numbers f o r p u r p o s e s o f a m o t i o n t o d i s m i s s .

The second potential basis f o r a defamation claim i s CNN's

statements that Florida's Agency f o rHealth Care Administration

("AHCA") opened a n i n v e s t i g a t i o n i n t o S t . Mary's as a r e s u l t o f i t s

reporting. Quite t o the contrary. P l a i n t i f f alleges t h a t AHCA i s s u e d

a public statement "setting the record straight" as t o CNN's

a s s e r t i o n s i n which i t s t a t e d t h a t i t had conducted normal oversight

o p e r a t i o n s , b u t t h a t i t was " n o t i n v e s t i g a t i n g " S t . Mary's [Compl.,

Doc. 1 a t 31-32] . N e v e r t h e l e s s , CNN a l l e g e d l y continued reporting

t h a t a n i n v e s t i g a t i o n was o n - g o i n g .

CNN c o u n t e r s t h a t the Fair Report Privilege, which protects

"proceedings o f , and f a i r , i m p a r t i a l , a n d a c c u r a t e news a c c o u n t s o f ,

a d m i n i s t r a t i v e agencies o f t h e government [ ] " should protect i t . See

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Doc. 19 a t 23; L a w t o n v . Ga. T e l e v i s i o n Co., 216 Ga. App. 768, 771

(Ga. Ct. App. 1 9 9 5 ) . Given that there was a l l e g e d l y no such

investigation, i t w o u l d be d i f f i c u l t t o a p p l y a p r i v i l e g e t o a non-

existent proceeding. Furthermore, actual malice, as d i s c u s s e d

f u r t h e r b e l o w a n d as e v i d e n c e d b y CNN's c o n t i n u e d p u b l i c a t i o n about

an o f f i c i a l i n v e s t i g a t i o n when t h e AHCA h a d a f f i r m a t i v e l y s t a t e d t h a t

none e x i s t e d , g e n e r a l l y o v e r r u l e s t h e p r i v i l e g e . See Lawton, 216 Ga.

at 771 ( a p p l y i n g p r i v i l e g e i n p a r t because "no a l l e g a t i o n o f a c t u a l

malice" existed). Again drawing a l l inferences i n favor of

Plaintiff, he has met h i s b u r d e n o n t h e f a l s i t y o f CNN's r e p o r t s o n

F l o r i d a ' s i n v e s t i g a t i o n f o r purposes of a motion t odismiss.

T h i s i s n o t t o say t h a t t h e q u e s t i o n o f f a l s i t y i snot a close

one h e r e . Consistent w i t h Georgia l a w , h o w e v e r , when an a l l e g e d l y

d e f a m a t o r y s t a t e m e n t " i s c a p a b l e o f t w o m e a n i n g s , one o f w h i c h w o u l d

be l i b e l o u s a n d a c t i o n a b l e and t h e o t h e r n o t , i t i s f o r t h e j u r y [ a n d

n o t t h e j u d g e ] t o say, under a l l t h ecircumstances surrounding i t s

publication . . . w h i c h o f t h e t w o meanings w o u l d be a t t r i b u t e d t o i t

b y t h o s e t o whom i t i s a d d r e s s e d o r b y whom i t may be r e a d . " Lucas,

289 Ga. App. a t 513.

C. About P l a i n t i f f

"To s u s t a i n a n a c t i o n f o r l i b e l , '[t]he [allegedly] defamatory

w o r d s must r e f e r t o some a s c e r t a i n e d or ascertainable p e r s o n , and

t h a t p e r s o n must be t h e p l a i n t i f f . ' " F i s k e v . S t o c k t o n , 171 Ga. App.

6 0 1 , 602 (Ga. C t . App. 1984) ( q u o t i n g L e d g e r - E n q u i r e r Co. v . Brown,

214 Ga. 422, 423 (Ga. 1 9 5 8 ) ) . N e i t h e r p a r t y here d i s p u t e s t h a t t h e

v a r i o u s statements c o n t a i n e d i n t h e Complaint never mention Plaintiff

b y name. Nevertheless, P l a i n t i f f i s alleging that the nature of

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CNN'S n e g a t i v e r e p o r t i n g about S t . M a r y ' s was s u f f i c i e n t t o defame

him. For purposes o f a motion t o d i s m i s s , t h e Court agrees.

Plaintiff a l l e g e s t h a t he was w e l l - k n o w n i n h i s c o m m u n i t y , h i s

state, and h i s p r o f e s s i o n as t h e CEO o f S t . Mary's, responsible f o r

i t s administration and f o r t h e h i r i n g o f t h e p e d i a t r i c s u r g e o n a t t h e

c e n t e r o f CNN's r e p o r t i n g [Compl., Doc. 1 a t 6 - 8 ] . I n t h e course o f

its reporting about the mortality rate a t S t . Mary's, CNN used

P l a i n t i f f ' s name and p i c t u r e numerous t i m e s , and r e f e r r e d t o h i m as

its CEO. CNN also f r e e l y admits i n i t s motion t o dismiss t h a t i t

r e p o r t e d t h e s i t u a t i o n a t S t . Mary's as " n o t t h e f a i l u r e o f a n y one

i n d i v i d u a l [,] " b u t " t h e f a i l u r e o f t h e e n t i r e team a n d s y s t e m . " [Doc.

5-1 a t 1 5 ] . I n f u r t h e r r e p o r t i n g t h e supposed "financial incentive

for the hospital t o do t h e s e s u r g e r i e s [,] " CNN was directing i t s

audience t o l o o k beyond the single named p e d i a t r i c surgeon a t St.

Mary's a n d c o n s i d e r t h e c u l p a b i l i t y o f t h e a d m i n i s t r a t i o n [Compl.,

Doc. 1 a t 1 5 ] .

By t h e n naming P l a i n t i f f as CEO a n d u s i n g h i s p i c t u r e , CNN was

l i t e r a l l y making P l a i n t i f f t h e f a c e o f t h a t c u l p a b l e administration.

CNN even sent a team to Plaintiff's home early one morning,

p r e s u m a b l y t o g e t a q u o t e , and l a t e r r a n a r e p o r t : " A f t e r S t . Mary's

repeatedly denied requests f o r interviews, CNN approached Davide

C a r b o n e , t h e CEO o f S t . Mary's a t h i s home. He s h u t t h e g a r a g e door

without commenting." [Doc. 14-1 a t 5 ] . I t i s permissible t o plead

d e f a m a t i o n by innuendo. See S o u t h l a n d P u b l ' g Co. v . S e w e l l , 111 Ga.

App. 803, 809 (Ga. C t . App. 1965) ( f i n d i n g " d e f a m a t o r y p u b l i c a t i o n "

t o be a b o u t p l a i n t i f f b e c a u s e he was c o - o w n e r o f t h e named g a r a g e ,

"and was understood by t h e c i t i z e n s of Forsyth County t o be t h e

'Sewell' affiliated with t h a t b u s i n e s s , and . . . he was therefore

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identified personally"). Drawing all inferences in favor of

P l a i n t i f f , he has s u f f i c i e n t l y pled the f i r s t element of defamation.

D. With A c t u a l M a l i c e

Finally, Georgia law requires t h a t P l a i n t i f f p r o v e CNN's f a u l t

"amounting t o a t l e a s t negligence" i n o r d e r t o e s t a b l i s h defamation.

If Plaintiff i s a private figure--as he appears t o p l e a d initially

[Compl., Doc. 1 a t l ] - - h e need o n l y show t h a t CNN acted w i t h ordinary

negligence. I f P l a i n t i f f i s a p u b l i c f i g u r e , however, he "must p r o v e

by clear and convincing evidence" that CNN "acted with actual

malice." Infinite E n e r g y , 310 Ga. App. at 358 ( c i t i n g Mathis, 276

Ga. a t 20-21 ( 2 ) ) .

Plaintiff is c l e a r l y not a "general purpose public figure"

because he cannot be said to be a " c e l e b r i t y " whose name is a

" ' h o u s e h o l d w o r d ' whose i d e a s and actions the p u b l i c i n f a c t follows

with great interest.'" Id. at 359 (citing Riddle v. Golden Isles

Broad., 275 Ga. App. 701, 703 (1) (Ga. 2005)). Nevertheless,

Plaintiff does appear to plead that he should be considered a

" l i m i t e d purpose p u b l i c f i g u r e " because "[t]hat [he] was the Chief

Executive Officer of St. Mary's and responsible for its

a d m i n i s t r a t i o n was well-known t o the public i n the West Palm Beach

a r e a and i n t h e m e d i c a l c o m m u n i t y i n t h e S t a t e o f F l o r i d a and beyond"

[Compl. , Doc. 1 at 6] . The Court need n o t decide at this stage

whether Plaintiff is a private or limited purpose public figure,

h o w e v e r , b e c a u s e he has s u f f i c i e n t l y pled actual malice.

As a m a t t e r o f c o n s t i t u t i o n a l law, actual malice i s defined as

publication with "'knowledge that [the allegedly defamatory

statement] was f a l s e or with reckless disregard of whether i t was

f a l s e or not.'" Masson v. New Y o r k e r Magazine, I n c . , 501 U.S. 496,

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Case 1:16-cv-01720-ODE Document 28 Filed 02/15/17 Page 18 of 18

510 (1991) (quoting New Y o r k Times Co. v . S u l l i v a n , 376 U.S. 254,

279-80 (1964)). Plaintiff's Complaint i s replete with statements

t h a t S t . Mary's a n d o t h e r s were b r i n g i n g t o CNN's a t t e n t i o n t h e f a c t

that the very society f r o m w h i c h i t was s u p p o s e d l y g e t t i n g i t s d a t a ,

t h e STS, was a t t h e same t i m e b e s t o w i n g u p o n S t . Mary's a t w o - s t a r

ranking given only t o those programs w i t h a mortality rate "within

t h e expected range r e l a t i v e t o t h e n a t i o n a l average" [Compl., Doc. 1

a t 33-34] . T h i s f a c t s h o u l d have r a i s e d d o u b t s f o r CNN, p a r t i c u l a r l y

since i t noted i n i t s own June 9, 2015 a r t i c l e : "Bottom l i n e : t o

c a l c u l a t e a m o r t a l i t y r a t e , y o u must know how many i n d e x o p e r a t i o n s

were done, a n d we h a v e no i d e a " [ I d . a t 34] . As n o t e d above, t h e

AHCA was a l l e g e d l y also drawing CNN's a t t e n t i o n to its reporting

errors without effect [ I d . a t 31-32] . The C o u r t finds these

allegations sufficient t o establish that CNN was a c t i n g recklessly

with regard t o t h e accuracy of i t s reporting, i.e., with "actual

malice." Plaintiff has s u f f i c i e n t l y pled the third element o f

defamation.

Therefore, drawing a l l inferences i n favor o f P l a i n t i f f , he has

met t h e p l e a d i n g s t a n d a r d t o m a i n t a i n a c l a i m f o r d e f a m a t i o n under

Georgia law.

IV. CONCLUSION

For t h e reasons s t a t e d above, CNN's m o t i o n t o s t r i k e o r i n t h e

alternative dismiss [Doc. 5] i s DENIED. Plaintiff's motion f o r

discovery pursuant t o Georgia's anti-SLAPP statute [Doc. 9] i s

DISMISSED AS MOOT.

SO ORDERED, 2017 .

ORINDA D. EVANS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

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