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Higgins v. Save Our Heroes

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

May 14, 2018

Lieutenant Colonel Chantell M. Higgins, Plaintiff,
v.
Save Our Heroes, Defendant.

          Adine S. Momoh, Esq. and Stinson Leonard Street LLP, counsel for plaintiff.

          Zorislav R. Leyderman, Esq. and The Law Office of Zorislav R. Leyderman, counsel for defendant.

          David S. Doty, Judge United States District Court.

         This matter is before the court upon the motion to dismiss by defendant Save Our Heroes. Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         This defamation suit arises out of defendant Save Our Heroes's (SOH) blog post concerning the Naval Criminal Investigative Service's (NCIS) investigation of plaintiff Lieutenant Colonel Chantell Higgins. In March 2015, NCIS accused Higgins of “destroying, falsifying and tampering with evidence and obstructing justice” in connection with her previous representation of a military minor dependent. Compl. ¶¶ 15-18.

         On March 24, 2015, the Marine Times published an article about the NCIS investigation, which Higgins claims became the source of later allegedly defamatory articles about her. Id. ¶ 24. One day later, Joseph Jordan, a criminal defense attorney, also posted an article on the NCIS investigation, which contained factual errors.[1]Id. ¶¶ 25-26.

         In early April 2015, NCIS closed its investigation of Higgins, and on April 30, 2015, the Commander of Marine Corp Installations Command determined that the allegations against Higgins were unsubstantiated and closed the case. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. Additionally, the Officer in Charge of the Marine Corps Victims Legal Counsel Organization declined to pursue any professional responsibility action against Higgins. Id. ¶ 22.

         Nearly two years after the end of the investigation, in March 2017, SOH republished Jordan's 2015 article with the addition of its own commentary. Id. ¶¶ 29, 34. SOH did not disclose that the NCIS investigation was closed and that no charges had been filed against Higgins. Id. ¶¶ 32, 35. Before publishing the article, SOH was allegedly aware that Jordan's article was factually incorrect. Id. ¶ 31. In December 2017, after receiving a cease and desist letter from Higgins's counsel, SOH removed the March 2017 article from its website. Id. ¶ 36. Higgins alleges, however, that parts of the article still exist online. Id. ¶ 37; see id. Ex. A. She also alleges that SOH has republished the article by coordinating with third parties. Id. ¶ 37.

         On January 1, 2018, Higgins filed suit against SOH alleging claims of (1) defamation and libel, (2) intentional inflection of emotional distress, and (3) negligent infliction of emotional distress. SOH now moves to dismiss arguing that (1) the court lacks personal jurisdiction, and (2) the complaint fails to state upon which relief can be granted.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Personal Jurisdiction

         A. Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, a plaintiff must establish a prima facie case that the forum state has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Stevens v. Redwing, 146 F.3d 538, 543 (8th Cir. 1998). In the absence of an evidentiary hearing, a court “must look at the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve all factual conflicts in favor of that party.” Dakota Indus., Inc. v. Dakota Sportswear, Inc., 946 F.2d 1384, 1387 (8th Cir. 1991). A federal court may assume jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant “only to the extent permitted by the long-arm statute of the forum state and by the Due Process Clause.” Romak USA, Inc. v. Rich, 384 F.3d 979, 984 (8th Cir. 2004) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Because the Minnesota ...


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