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Yoon v. Lee

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 20, 2019

HYEWOONG YOON, Plaintiff,
v.
SEYEON LEE, JUHYUNG LEE, and KOREAN BROADCASTING SYSTEM, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

         Hon. Patti B. Saris Chief United States District Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         This dispute arises out of a television broadcast aired in South Korea and posted on the internet about Hyewoong Yoon and his father, who is the Chief Executive Officer of an international Korean restaurant company. Yoon alleges that Korean Broadcasting System (“KBS”), and its employees, Seyeon Lee and Juhyung Lee, unlawfully wiretapped him in Massachusetts and aired the recordings on various internet sites watched in the United States. He asserts claims for violation of the Massachusetts Wiretapping Statute (Count I), defamation (Count II), and commercial disparagement, injurious falsehood, and trade libel (Count III).

         Yoon originally filed three separate lawsuits against KBS, Seyeon Lee, and Juhyung Lee. The Court consolidated all three cases into this action on June 3, 2019. Prior to the consolidation, Defendants individually filed motions to dismiss all three claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. All three motions sought to dismiss the claims based on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Juhyung Lee also moved to dismiss the claims on the basis that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over him.

         After hearing, the Court ALLOWS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' motions to dismiss.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The following factual background is drawn from the complaint and evidence presented by the parties. In deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), the Court may consider evidence outside of the complaint. See Valentin v. Hosp. Bella Vista, 254 F.3d 358, 363-64 (1st Cir. 2001).

         I. The Parties

         Yoon is a 22-year-old South Korean citizen, living temporarily in Massachusetts on an E-2 Visa.[1] Yoon's father, HongGeun Yoon (“Yoon Sr.”), is the Chief Executive Officer of BB.Q Chicken (“BB.Q”). BB.Q has approximately 300 restaurants in over 50 countries, including one location in Allston, Massachusetts.

         KBS is the public broadcasting network of the Republic of Korea (“South Korea”). The South Korean government founded KBS, as its sole capital investor, pursuant to Article 43 of the Broadcasting Act. The Broadcasting Act established KBS to provide “a culture of fair and objective broadcasting in Korea, ” and to deliver effective broadcasting both at home and abroad. Dkt. No. 6 at 2. Though KBS functions much like a private media company, the South Korean government retains significant influence over its operations. KBS annually submits its operating budget and provides financial statements to the National Assembly (South Korea's legislative body). Additionally, the Broadcasting Act provides that the South Korean president shall appoint KBS's president. The president of South Korea also retains the final appointment power of KBS's Board of Directors, after the Korean Communications Commission nominates prospective appointees. Though KBS does receive government subsidies, it also generates revenue from the traditional sources relied on by private media companies. KBS accepts regular commercial advertisers, albeit subject to the government's pre-approval. KBS charges its advertisers fees that vary according to the visibility of the desired timeslot. KBS's Board of Directors determines the licensing fees, though these fees are ultimately subject to approval by the South Korean National Assembly.

         KBS takes steps to limit potential political influence. For example, KBS prohibits its Board of Directors from being actively affiliated with political parties and, during the appointment process, anyone who has been active within the past three-years is subject to disqualification. While the company submits operational plans and financial accounting to the government, KBS formulates those plans independently.

         Seyeon Lee is a news reporter for KBS, working in the Social Affairs Division 2, News and Sports Department. Juhyung Lee is her supervisor and the manager of that department.

         II. The KBS Broadcast

         Yoon moved to the United States in 2007. For approximately nine-years, he lived with a guardian, Hyunwook Joo (“Joo”), in New Jersey, until he moved to Massachusetts in 2016. At some point in 2018, KBS became aware of allegations that Yoon Sr. was involved in an embezzlement scheme, wherein Yoon Sr. allegedly misappropriated BB.Q funds to finance his son's education and living expenses. In an attempt to investigate this accusation, KBS dispatched Seyeon Lee to the United States on October 25, 2018.

         She first visited New Jersey, where she interviewed Yoon's former guardian. In the interview, Joo discussed his experience caring for Yoon and relayed his familiarity with the alleged embezzlement scheme. After this interview, Seyeon Lee traveled to Boston, hoping to locate Yoon himself. While there, she visited Harvard University, where Yoon was once enrolled in its Extension School. In a recorded exchange with a school employee, she inquired into whether the school would have provided Yoon with a student visa. The school employee confirmed that Harvard University does not provide visas to Extension School students. Ultimately, KBS concluded that Yoon resides in the United States on an E-2 Visa. KBS reported that it had obtained this document, which listed Yoon as a “necessary” employee of BB.Q and referred to him as a full-time director of BB.Q.

         Seyeon Lee visited BB.Q's Allston location on two consecutive days. Yoon was absent on both occasions. While there, Seyeon Lee recorded an interview with two employees, neither of whom had met Yoon or observed him at the restaurant. One of these ...


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