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Sindi v. El-Moslimany

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 6, 2016

HAYAT SINDI, Plaintiff,
v.
SAMIA EL-MOSLIMANY and ANN EL-MOSLIMANY, Defendants.

          ORDER ON RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW AND MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL

          Indira Talwani United States District Judge.

         This case involved allegations that Defendants Samia El-Moslimany and Ann El-Moslimany engaged in a campaign to discredit Plaintiff Hayat Sindi professionally and personally. The campaign included blogs focusing on Plaintiff, emails and other online communications about Plaintiff sent to various audiences, and Defendants' appearance at conferences and public events to distribute leaflets about Plaintiff.

         After deliberation, the jury found that both Defendants were liable to Plaintiff for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, intentional interference with contractual relationships, and intentional interference with prospective business relationships.

         The jury awarded Plaintiff a total of $3, 500, 000 in damages. Under the jury's award, Samia El-Moslimany is liable for: $400, 000 for defamation, $2, 000, 000 for intentional interference with contractual relationships, $400, 000 for intentional interference with prospective business relationships, and $100, 000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and Ann El-Moslimany is liable for: $100, 000 for defamation, $400, 000 for intentional interference with contractual relationships, and $100, 000 for intentional interference with prospective business relationships. Jury Verdict [#198].

         Before the court are Defendants' post-trial motions. For the following reasons, Defendants' motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial [#212, #214] are DENIED. Defendants' motion to alter or amend the judgment is ALLOWED IN PART.

         A. Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law and Motion for New Trial

         a. Standards of Review

         A motion for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 “only may be granted when, after examining the evidence of record and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, the record reveals no sufficient evidentiary basis for the verdict.” Crowe v. Bolduc, 334 F.3d 124, 134 (1st Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). This court “is not free to make credibility determinations or to weigh the evidence.” Jordan-Milton Mach., Inc. v. F/V Teresa Marie, II, 978 F.2d 32, 34 (1st Cir. 1992).

         A motion for new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 may be granted when “the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, is based upon evidence that is false, or resulted from some trial error and amounts to a clear miscarriage of justice.” Payton v. Abbott Labs, 780 F.2d 147, 152 (1st Cir. 1985). Absent an error of law, a court should set aside the jury's verdict only if “it is quite clear that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result.” Milone v. Moceri Family, Inc., 847 F.2d 35, 37 (1st Cir. 1988) (quoting Borras v. Sea-Land Serv., Inc., 586 F.2d 881, 887 (1st Cir. 1978)). The court “cannot displace a jury's verdict merely because” the court “disagrees with it or because a contrary verdict may have been equally . . . supportable.” Jennings v. Jones, 587 F.3d 430, 436 (1st Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         b. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

         Defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law or new trial on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim on the grounds that their behavior was not extreme and outrageous and that Plaintiff did not suffer damages.

         To succeed on a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, Plaintiff had to show that (1) Defendants intended, knew, or should have known that their conduct would cause emotional distress; (2) that the conduct was extreme and outrageous; (3) that the conduct caused emotional distress; and (4) that the emotional distress was severe. See Polay v. McMahon, 10 N.E.3d 1122, 1128 (Mass. 2014).

         Conduct is extreme and outrageous “only if it go[es] beyond all possible bounds of decency, and [is] regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” Id. (quoting Roman v. Trs. of Tufts Coll., 964 N.E.2d 331, 341 (Mass. 2012) (alterations in the original)). Conduct is not extreme and outrageous if it consists only of “mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions, and other trivialities.” Id. (quoting Tetrault v. Mahoney, Hawkes & Goldings, 681 N.E.2d 1189, 1197 (Mass. 1997)). But, extreme and outrageous conduct may be found in the “totality of circumstances, ” as “[r]epeated harassment . . . may compound the outrageousness of incidents which, taken individually, might not be sufficiently extreme to warrant liability for infliction of emotional distress.” Boyle v. Wenk, 392 N.E.2d 1053, 1055-56 (Mass. 1979).

         The jury's finding that Defendants' conduct was extreme and outrageous was neither lacking of evidentiary basis nor against the weight of the evidence. The jury could have found from the evidence presented at trial that Defendants engaged in more than “mere insults, indignities” or “threats.” Polay, 10 N.E.3d at 1128 (quoting Tetrault, 681 N.E.2d at 1197). Instead, the jury could have viewed the evidence as demonstrating that Defendants engaged in a long and continuous campaign of harassment against Plaintiff that stretched over several years. First, as both Plaintiff and Samia El-Moslimany testified, Samia El-Moslimany sent emails and text messages to Plaintiff wishing that she would be ruined professionally and personally, and expressing hope that Plaintiff would get cancer. Then, as Plaintiff, Defendants, and witnesses (Myer Berlow, Joi Ito) testified, Defendants sent correspondence to many of Plaintiff's business contacts over a period of years, parroting false allegations about her professional and academic accomplishments. Both Plaintiff and Defendants further testified that Defendants posted comments stating the same false allegations about Plaintiff on many articles and other media about Plaintiff. Additionally, as Plaintiff and Defendants testified, Samia El-Moslimany handed out flyers and pamphlets at several conferences at which Plaintiff was ...


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