United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
For Hayat Sindi, Plaintiff: David H. Rich, Michael T. Allen, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Todd & Weld, Boston, MA.
For Samia El-Moslimany, Ann El-Moslimany, Defendants: George R. White, Jr., Morrison Mahoney LLP, Boston, MA.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS OR TRANSFER
Judith Gail Dein, United States Magistrate Judge.
In this action, the plaintiff Hayat Sindi (" Sindi") contends that the defendant Samia El-Moslimany (" Samia") and her mother Ann El-Moslimany (" Ann") have engaged in a campaign to discredit Sindi personally and professionally because they believe that Sindi was the cause of Samia's marital difficulties. This " campaign" has included, without limitation, the creation of blogs focusing on Sindi, the sending of emails and other online communications to various audiences, and the defendants' appearance at conferences and public events which Sindi was attending in order to distribute leaflets about her. In her complaint, Sindi has brought claims for defamation, libel and slander (Count I), tortious interference with contractual relationships (Count II), tortious interference with prospective business relationships (Count III), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IV), and for a permanent injunction (Count V).
This matter is presently before the court on the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint or, alternatively, to transfer venue. (Docket No. 39). By their motion, the defendants argue that the complaint should be dismissed, with prejudice, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction; pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(3) for improper venue; pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; and pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b) because the complaint is so verbose, repetitive, argumentative and confusing that the defendants cannot fairly be expected to respond to it. Ann also moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(5) for insufficient service of process. In the alternative, Samia and Ann move to transfer venue to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, where they reside, or to Saudi Arabia pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Sindi takes issue with the defendants' legal and factual analyses. Both parties have filed extensive pleadings in connection with this motion.
For all the reasons detailed herein, this court concludes that this court can exercise personal jurisdiction over Samia and Ann, that venue is proper in Massachusetts, and that the complaint states a claim for which relief can be granted and is not unduly verbose. This court concludes further that Ann has not been appropriately served with the complaint. Therefore, this court recommends to the District Judge to whom this case is assigned that Ann be dismissed from the case, but that the defendants' motion to dismiss or transfer otherwise be DENIED.
II. STATEMENT OF FACTS
When determining whether a plaintiff has met her burden of proving that in personam jurisdiction exists, the court " accepts properly supported proffers of evidence by a plaintiff as true." Boit v. Gar-Tec Prods., Inc., 967 F.2d 671, 675 (1st Cir. 1992). Moreover, the court must " construe the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff[.]" Phillips v. Prairie Eye Ctr., 530 F.3d 22, 24 (1st Cir. 2008). Similarly, when ruling on a motion to dismiss brought under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts, and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences. See Cooperman v. Individual, Inc., 171 F.3d 43, 46 (1st Cir. 1999). Applying these standards to the instant case, the relevant facts are as follows.
Sindi is a scientist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist who was born in Saudi Arabia. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 7, 8). She is a dual citizen of Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, and she maintains residences in both countries. (Sindi Aff. ¶ 3). Sindi has attested that she has been a resident of Massachusetts since 2006, when she was invited to participate as a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University at the laboratory and research group of Professor George Whitesides. (Id. ¶ 2). As confirmed by her landlord, Sindi has an apartment in Boston, Massachusetts and, as confirmed by the bank, she has maintained a bank account at the Cambridge Trust Company since 2007. (Id. Ex. 1; Phillips Aff. ¶ ¶ 2-4). While the defendants challenge the amount of time Sindi actually spends in the United States, they do not assert that she lives elsewhere in this country. (See Defs. Reply).
Sindi has won awards and honors from the British House of Commons, Cambridge University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UNESCO, Harvard Business School, and the U.S.A. Science and Engineering Festival, and she has been named as the inventor or co-inventor of nine patents. (Compl. ¶ 7). She is the founder or co-founder of several companies, including Sonoptix Co. in the United Kingdom and Diagnostics for All, an American company. (Id. ¶ ¶ 14, 15). Of particular relevance in the instant case, Sindi is the founder and CEO of a Saudi Arabian corporation known as the Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity, Inc., and of an American company by the same name (the American company being referred to herein as " i2 Institute"). (Sindi Supp. Aff. ¶ ¶ 2-3). This dispute centers, in large part, on the alleged efforts undertaken by the defendants to convey negative information about Sindi to persons either involved with the i2 Institute or who Sindi hoped to involve in the i2 Institute.
The evidence in the record establishes that the i2 Institute is a Delaware corporation headquartered in Massachusetts. (Sindi Aff. ¶ 4). As Sindi attested:
the i2 Institute invites applications for fellows -- all of whom are already accomplished inventors, scientists, or entrepreneurs -- from whom it selects a small group. These i2 Institute Fellows then come to Boston in order to learn the best practices of American entrepreneurship in conjunction with the Harvard Innovation Laboratory, the MIT Media Lab, and other local non-profit organizations. The goal is to expose the i2 Fellows to the creativity and dynamism that characterizes the culture of start-up companies, technological and scientific innovation, and venture capital investment so characteristic of Boston.
(Id. ¶ 6). Its Articles of Incorporation list the i2 Institute as a Delaware corporation, and Sindi as the sole incorporator, with an address in Boston. (Id. ¶ 4 & Ex. 2). In July 2013, when the first group of fellows arrived in Boston to begin training, the i2 Institute was registered as a corporation in Massachusetts (it allegedly not being necessary to register in Massachusetts before then). (Id. ¶ 8).
Sindi has submitted the affidavit of Herman de Bode, who was the Chairman of the Board of the i2 Institute until approximately July 2013. (de Bode Aff. ¶ ¶ 1, 2). As he attested:
Dr Sindi's activities on behalf of the i2 Institute in the United States are centered in Massachusetts. The i2 Institute solicits applications for fellowships from promising inventors, scientist, and entrepreneurs throughout the Middle East in order to bring them to Boston to participate in intensive training in the best practices of American entrepreneurship. The i2 Institute teaches aspiring businessmen and women to develop American-style business plans, basic skills of finance, as well as the ingredients of successful tech-company startups. The i2 Institute's ultimate mission is to foster economic development and entrepreneurship in the Middle East through this exchange. The fellows return to their home countries to start businesses.
(Id. ¶ 3). Sindi has also submitted the affidavit of Joichi Ito, the Director of the MIT Media Lab. As he attests, he was approached by Sindi to participate in the i2 Institute, which " wished to foster promising technological professionals from the Arab world by bringing them to Massachusetts for training with, among other institutions, MIT." (Ito Aff. ¶ 2). Thus, while the defendants deny that Sindi resides in Massachusetts, this court finds that Sindi has provided " properly supported proffers of evidence" of her residence and work in Massachusetts, which will be accepted as true for present purposes.
See Boit, 967 F.2d at 675.
The Parties' Dispute
According to her complaint, Sindi met Foaud Dehlawi, an information-technology specialist, in November 2010. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 17-18). At the time, Dehlawi was married to Samia. (Id. ¶ 17). Samia is a dual citizen of the United States and Saudi Arabia. (Samia Aff. ¶ 4). She resides in the State of Washington when in the United States. (Id. ¶ 6). Ann also apparently lives in Washington although, as discussed below, her precise address is in dispute. (See id. ¶ 3; Allen Aff. Ex. A).
Sindi contends that in the middle of January 2011, Dehlawi informed her that he was having marital problems and was planning on a divorce. (Compl. ¶ 19). Sindi and Dehlawi continued to have a professional relationship, which was never physical. (Id.). In the course of 2011, however, Samia " became enraged and jealous at the thought that her husband had a romantic engagement with Ms. Sindi." (Id. ¶ 20). Although her conjecture about the relationship allegedly was erroneous, beginning in September 2011, Samia and her mother launched " a relentless campaign of defamation" against the plaintiff. (Id.). Sindi claims that through private emails, online posts commenting on articles written about her, posts on the blog the defendants created called " TrueHayatSindi.BlogSpot.com, " leafleting at events at which Sindi was speaking, and other communications, Samia and Ann have published and spread defamatory statements about Sindi's career and achievements. (E.g., id. at ¶ ¶ 23, 24, 31, 32, 34, 37, 45). While the defendants deny that their statements are actionable, with limited exceptions, they do not dispute that they engaged in the challenged conduct.
The statements to which Sindi objects include, without limitation, allegedly false accusations that she bought or plagiarized her PhD, that she has committed " unethical actions" in connection with her entrepreneurial and business enterprises, that she has lied about her business experience, that she has lied about her age to qualify for awards for " young" professionals and that she is an " academic fraud." (Id. ¶ ¶ 27, 47, 57). According to Sindi, there have been frequent violent and/or abusive responses to Samia's various publications. (Id. ¶ 50). For example, in response to Samia's facebook postings about Sindi, one commenter stated that Sindi " could find herself in the street being stoned or jailed . . . ." (Id.).
According to Sindi, the defendants launched their campaign at a time when she was forming the i2 Institute, and they greatly interfered with her ability to raise funds and attract supporters for her business in Massachusetts. While some of the defendants' actions took place outside of Massachusetts, as detailed herein, they largely were designed to harm Sindi in the Commonwealth, and had adverse impacts on Sindi's professional life and relationships in Massachusetts. (See Pl. Opp. at 5-9).
In particular, but without limitation, the El-Moslimanys personally appeared at the Conference of the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals (" CAMP") in Princeton, New Jersey, on or around April 4, 2012, where Sindi was speaking and soliciting investors. (Compl. ¶ 44). There they spread banners accusing Sindi of being a fraud, and directed onlookers to their website-blog, TrueHayatSindi.BlogSpot.com. (Id. ¶ 45). They also distributed leaflets making accusations about Sindi, and wrote to the CAMP organizers challenging Sindi's professional qualifications and reputation. (Id. ¶ ¶ 44, 47). Samia continued her campaign at the Nifty Fifty conference held in Washington, D.C. during the period April 27-29, 2012. (Id. ¶ 52). Sindi was a speaker at the conference, which was intended to promote interest in science and engineering among middle and high school students. (Id.; Sindi Aff. ¶ 16). During the conference, Samia handed out disparaging leaflets about Sindi and directed people to her website-blog, which continued to post negative statements about Sindi. (Id. ¶ ¶ 53-55). Sindi promoted the i2 Institute at these appearances, and it is her contention that the defendants' conduct interfered with her ability to launch and promote the Institute. (See, e.g., Sindi Aff. ¶ 16).
Sindi returned to Massachusetts in April 2012, in between the conferences. While in Massachusetts, she received harassing phone calls from Samia, which resulted in Sindi filing a report with the Boston Police. (Id. ¶ 14, Ex. 3). In addition, during this time Samia apparently visited Sindi's town of Needham, Massachusetts. Sindi has alleged that Samia " was literally following her around and speaking directly to neighbors near her residence." (Compl. ¶ 49). Such communications allegedly included " the same falsehoods she had published in the past" i.e., " falsely contending that Ms. Sindi was a fraud, among other slanderous statements." (Id.).
Sindi also claims that Samia and Ann have emailed several of her colleagues, including board members of the i2 Institute, to spread their defamatory statements. (Id. at ¶ 57). For example, in or around December 22, 2012, Ann sent an email to the board members of the i2 Institute, which included the same type of accusations as described above. (Id.). She also sent an email to Dr. Ito, Director of MIT's media lab. (Ito Aff. ¶ 3). As Ann apparently wrote in part:
I have done extensive research on Hayat Sindi, finding her personal, professional and academic resume is fraught with complete untruths and exaggeration, calling into question her credentials as a scholar and a professional. I am also the mother of Samia El-Moslimany, a Saudi-American woman whose family has been torn apart by the premeditated and destructive actions of Hayat Sindi.
(Allen Aff. at Ex. A). The email ...