United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
For Abdulrahman Alharbi, Plaintiff: Peter J. Haley, LEAD ATTORNEY, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, Boston, MA.
For The Blaze, Inc., Glenn Beck, Mercury Radio Arts, Inc., Premiere Radio Networks, Inc., Defendants: Michael J. Grygiel, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Mark A Berthiaume, Zachary C. Kleinsasser, Greenberg Traurig, LLP, Boston, MA.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATTI B. SARIS, United States District Judge.
Abdulrahman Alharbi, a 20 year old student from Saudi Arabia, was a spectator at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, was injured in the bombing, and was questioned by federal authorities investigating the event. He is suing radio and television commentator Glenn Beck, and the owners and distributors of his show, for defamation because they identified him as an active participant in funding the bombing after the authorities exonerated him. The defendants moved to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, arguing that Alharbi is a limited purpose or involuntary public figure and did not sufficiently plead actual malice in his complaint as required by the First Amendment. After a hearing held on August 11, 2014, the defendants' motion to dismiss is DENIED.
The following facts are drawn from the complaint (Dkt. 1) and are assumed to be
true for the purposes of the motion to dismiss. Many of the facts are in dispute.
Plaintiff Alharbi is a student who resides in Revere, Massachusetts. He is a Saudi Arabian citizen. Defendant Beck appears on a daily radio and television show which is broadcast nationwide and also published on the internet, making it available internationally. Beck's show is owned by defendants TheBlaze and parent company Mercury Radio Arts, and distributed and syndicated to United States radio stations by defendant Premiere Radio Networks.
Alharbi was a spectator at the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon, and was injured by the explosions that occurred near the finish line. Federal authorities questioned Alharbi and, with his permission, searched his apartment. Many news outlets reported on the search and noted that the authorities had questioned a man of Middle Eastern descent in connection with the bombings. Soon afterward, the authorities concluded that Alharbi had no involvement in executing the attacks, and news reports identifying him as a person of interest ceased.
From April 15, 2013 through May 8, 2013 and repeatedly thereafter, Beck made numerous false statements about Alharbi on his radio show, even after he was cleared. He identified Alharbi as an active participant in carrying out the marathon bombings and described him as the " money man" who funded the attacks. Beck accused Alharbi of criminal conduct resulting in loss of life and mass injury, and questioned the motives of federal authorities when they failed to pursue or detain him.
As a result of Beck's statements, Alharbi's reputation has been severely damaged. He has received several messages and has been the subject of online postings calling him " a murderer, child killer, and terrorist."
Alharbi has filed one count of defamation against all defendants, and one count of defamation with malice against Beck individually.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
To survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient facts which " state a claim to relief which is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009), quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The court " must take the allegations in the complaint as true and must make all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs." Watterson v. Page, 987 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993). Dismissal for failure to state a claim is appropriate where the pleadings fail to set forth " factual allegations, either direct or inferential, respecting each material element necessary to sustain recovery under some actionable legal theory." Gooley v. Mobil Oil Corp., 851 F.2d 513, 515 (1st Cir. 1988). " Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice."
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Typically on a motion to dismiss, the deciding court cannot consider information outside the four corners of the complaint.
See Watterson, 987 F.2d at 3. The First Circuit recognizes " narrow exceptions" to this rule " for documents the authenticity of which are not disputed by the parties; for official public records; for documents central to ...