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Mullane v. Breaking Media, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 6, 2020

Jonathan Mullane, Plaintiff,
Breaking Media, Inc., and Elie Mystal, Defendants.



         Plaintiff, Jonathan Mullane, a former student of the University of Miami Law School, brings this action against[1]Breaking Media, Inc., and journalist Elie Mystal alleging that an article on the legal website “Above the Law” was defamatory.

         Mullane asserts claims against Mystal and Breaking Media for libel per se, tortious interference with contractual relations, tortious interference with advantageous business relations, tortious interference with prospective economic advantages, intentional infliction of emotional distress, unfair and deceptive practices in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A § 9, joint and several liability for the republication of libel per se, and civil conspiracy.

         Defendants' motion to dismiss (Docket No. 80) is ALLOWED and Plaintiff's remaining motions (Docket Nos. 103, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145, 157, 162)[2] are DENIED as MOOT. The motions of Plaintiff's father, E. Peter Mullane, related to intervention in this case (Docket Nos. 138, 158, 161) are DENIED as MOOT.


         I. Factual Background

         The facts are primarily drawn from the Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint and the documents referenced therein, including the attached transcript of the Court hearing. Docket No. 57; Docket No. 57-1.

         A. Mullane's Hearing with Judge Moreno

         Mullane was a student at the University of Miami School of Law beginning in the fall of 2017. See Docket No. 57-1 at 11; Docket No. 138-1 at 10-12. During the spring of 2018, Mullane served as a legal intern with the United States Attorney's Office (“USAO”) in the Southern District of Florida. Docket No. 57 ¶¶ 7, 10.

         While employed with the USAO, Mullane was party to a pro se civil lawsuit involving a credit card dispute pending before Judge Federico Moreno in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Docket No. 22 at 2. In April 2018, Mullane entered Judge Moreno's chambers, allegedly to request that the clerk make an entry of default in connection with this personal civil dispute. See Docket No. 57 ¶ 83-84.

         Judge Moreno subsequently summoned Mullane to a hearing on April 10, 2018. Docket No. 57 ¶ 52. During the hearing, Mullane appeared to acknowledge that he had sought to file a writ of mandamus in his pending case. See Docket No. 57-1 at 13:14-18 (“THE COURT: Did you mention the word petition for mandamus? . . . MR. MULLANE: I did.”); Id. at 25:17-19 (“THE COURT: What was the question? MR. MULLANE: I can't remember exactly. It was about how to file the mandamus request or something.”). But see Id. at 7:19-20 (“MR. MULLANE: I said that I had a specific question about the entry of default.”). Judge Moreno reprimanded Mullane for his actions. See generally Docket No. 57-1 at 4-30. Mullane was terminated from his internship at the USAO soon after the hearing. Docket No. 57 ¶ 21.

         B. “Above the Law” Publishes Article on the Hearing

         On April 30, 2018, the legal news publication “Above the Law” published an article, titled “Judge Detonates Pro Se Law Student So Hard I Now Must Defend a Dumb Kid” (the “Article”). Docket No. 57 ¶ 68; Docket No. 57-1 at 32-36. The Article was authored by Mystal, the Executive Editor of “Above the Law.” Docket No. 57 ¶ 68, 77. “Above the Law” is owned and published by Breaking Media. Docket No. 23 ¶ 4.

         The Article describes the April 10, 2018 hearing. It states, inter alia:

• “[Mullane] was trying to file a petition of mandamus -- which basically asks an appellate court to order Judge Moreno to work on his case faster. That's pretty rude. He didn't know where to file the petition, and ended up asking the judge's career clerk, in the judge's chambers, ex-parte, what to do about it. That's pretty dumb. Initially, the clerk wasn't even going to let him in, but Mullane said he worked for the U.S. Attorney's office (he's an intern), which gained him access to the chambers to discuss his own personal case. That's pretty unethical.”
• “Basically Mullane was an idiot . . . .”
• “[T]o gain entry into those chambers, he dropped his USAO cred, even though he was just an intern, and even though he was there for reasons that had nothing to do with his internship.”
• “It also appears that Mullane is a little entitled ponce . . . .”
• “Turns out the kid's father is also an attorney . . . wonder if that helped him get his sweet internship.”
• “Okay, so Jon Mullane is a little brat who [sic] with a USAO internship who had an ex-parte conversation in judge's chambers while trying to file a motion arguing that the judge was lazily ignoring his pro se complaint.”
• “If Mullane is a dauphin . . . .”
• “The kid wasn't trying to upend the wheels of justice, he made a series of dumb mistakes.”

Docket No. 57-1 at 32-36.

         Following the publication of the Article, the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) rescinded Mullane's invitation to serve as a “Student Honors Volunteer.” Docket No. 57-1 at 43. Mullane later withdrew from the University of Miami School of Law. Docket No. 57 ¶ 125. He claims that the Defendants' actions caused him economic, professional and emotional harm. Id. ¶ 110-126.

         II. ...

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