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Ratner v. Kohler

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

February 26, 2018

BRETT RATNER, Plaintiff,
v.
MELANIE KOHLER; JOHN AND/OR JANE DOES 1-10, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT MELANIE KOHLER'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE COMPLAINT FILED NOVEMBER 1, 2017 AND HOLDING IN ABEYANCE DEFENDANT MELANIE KOHLER'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE THE COMPLAINT FILED NOVEMBER 1, 2017 (ECF NO. 26)

          Helen Gillmor, United States District Judge

         On or about October 20, 2017, Defendant Melanie Kohler, who is a resident and citizen of the State of Hawaii, posted a statement on her Facebook page. The statement claimed that Hollywood film director and producer Brett Ratner raped Defendant Kohler while she was living in California in either 2004 or 2005.

         Plaintiff Brett Ratner filed a Complaint against Defendant Kohler, alleging a claim for defamation based on her Facebook post.

         Defendant Kohler filed a Motion to Dismiss and a Special Motion to Strike pursuant to a California statute barring strategic lawsuits against public participation (“anti-SLAPP statute”).

         Defendant Kohler requests that the Court dismiss Plaintiff Ratner's lawsuit on the basis that he failed to sufficiently plead a defamation claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defendant also seeks to strike the Complaint pursuant to the California anti-SLAPP statute.[1]

         Defendant's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) is DENIED.

         Defendant's Special Motion to Strike pursuant to the California anti-SLAPP statute is HELD IN ABEYANCE.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint. (ECF No. 1).

         On January 2, 2018, Defendant filed DEFENDANT MELANIE KOHLER'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE COMPLAINT FILED NOVEMBER 1, 2017, AND TO STRIKE THE COMPLAINT FILED NOVEMBER 1, 2017. (ECF No. 26).

         On January 8, 2018, the Court set a briefing schedule and set the hearing on Defendant's Motion for Monday, February 12, 2018. (ECF No. 31).

         On January 10, 2018, the hearing was advanced to Thursday, February 8, 2018, at the Defendant's request. (ECF No. 33).

         On January 22, 2018, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF BRETT RATNER'S MEMORANDUM IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT MELANIE KOHLER'S MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT FILED NOVEMBER 1, 2017, AND TO STRIKE THE COMPLAINT FILED NOVEMBER 1, 2017. (ECF No. 34).

         On February 5, 2018, Defendant filed DEFENDANT MELANIE KOHLER'S REPLY TO PLAINTIFF BRETT RATNER'S MEMORANDUM IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT MELANIE KOHLER'S MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT, FILED NOVEMBER 1, 2017, AND TO STRIKE THE COMPLAINT, FILED NOVEMBER 1, 2017. (ECF No. 35).

         On February 8, 2018, the Court held a hearing on Defendant Kohler's Motion to Dismiss and to Strike (ECF No. 26). At the hearing, the Court denied Defendant's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This Order sets forth the basis for the oral ruling at the February 8, 2018 hearing.

         BACKGROUND

         The Complaint asserts that Plaintiff Brett Ratner “is an accomplished and well known film director and producer who resides in Los Angeles and is and has been a citizen of the State of California at all times relevant hereto.” (Complaint at ¶ 4, ECF No. 1). The Complaint states Defendant Melanie Kohler is a resident and citizen of the State of Hawaii. (Id. at ¶ 5).

         Plaintiff alleges that on or about October 20, 2017, Defendant Melanie Kohler “recklessly and/or intentionally posted a statement on her Facebook page claiming that ‘Brett Ratner raped [her]'.” (Id. at ¶ 7). The entirety of the Facebook post is attached to Defendant's Motion, as follows:

My hands are shaking even as I try to write this. It's not something I've ever told anyone in my entire life.
Not even my closest friends at the time.
Brett Ratner raped me. He is a famous director and producer in Hollywood.
If there is any chance of changing the hollywood culture, the american culture, it has to happen now while people are listening.
I tell this story in hopes that if he's done it to others that they might have the confidence to come forward.
And if he hasn't, that maybe he can be accountable for the way he's treated the nobodies of the world or at least the way he treated me.
Even if he treats all the somebodies of the world with respect and decency, he is not a public monster like Harvey and I don't think anyone has much bad to say about him professionally, that doesn't mean he can do this in the dark shadows of the night when he thinks no one is looking. He was a predator and a rapist on at least on one night in Hollywood about 12 years ago.
It happened when I worked at Endeavor Talent Agency in hollywood. It was 2004 or 2005. I won't go into the details here to spare the people who don't want to hear them but I'm willing to share my story with anyone who needs to hear it.
Long story short, he preyed on me as a drunk girl who was alone at a club at the end of the night, he took me back to Robert Evans house, he forced himself upon me after I said no and no and no again, and then left me there. He just got up, didn't say a word, got in his car and left and I laid there humiliated and broken on the floor. The rest of the night is fuzzy, I must have stumbled out of the house and called a cab and I went home and erased it from my mind.
I'm embarrassed, humiliated, ashamed, and wish I could go back to forgetting it ever happened. But if I do that, if we all do that, then it keeps happening. We have to come forward. I can't be an advocate for women speaking out if I don't speak out too.
Brett Ratner raped me. I'm saying his name, I'm saying it publicly. Now at least I can look at myself in the mirror and not feel like part of me is a coward or a hypocrite. I'm standing up and saying this happened to me and it was not ok.
Come what may, it is the right thing to do.

         (Melanie Kohler Facebook post, attached as Ex. A to Def.'s Motion, ECF No. 26-4).

         Plaintiff Ratner alleges the statement is “entirely false, fabricated, and fictional.” (Complaint at ¶ 8, ECF No. 1). The Complaint asserts that Defendant Kohler made the statement “with knowledge of its falsity, maliciously, and with the intent to harm Plaintiff's reputation and standing.” (Id. at ¶ 9).

         The Complaint states that Plaintiff believes that the Facebook statement constitutes “libel per se.” (Id. at ¶ 10). The Complaint alleges that as a result of Defendant Kohler's post Defendant Ratner “has suffered injuries to his personal and professional reputations in amounts to be proven at trial.” (Id. at ¶ 12).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Motion To Dismiss Pursuant To Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)

         A court must dismiss a complaint as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) where it fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Rule (8)(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must presume all allegations of material fact to be true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non- moving party. Pareto v. F.D.I.C., 139 F.3d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1998). Conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss. Id. at 699. The Court need not accept as true allegations that contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice or allegations contradicting the exhibits attached to the complaint. Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001).

         In Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, the United States Supreme Court addressed the pleading standards under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in the anti-trust context. 550 U.S. 544 (2007). The Supreme Court stated that Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” and that “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555.

         Most recently, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the Supreme Court clarified that the principles announced in Twombly are applicable in all civil cases. 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). The Court stated that “the pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id.(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plausibility standard is not akin to a “probability requirement, ” but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Id.(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant's liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         The complaint “must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively” and “must plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation.” AE ex rel. Hernandez v. Cnty of Tulare, 666 F.3d 631, 637 (9th Cir. 2012) (internal quotations omitted).

         Special Motion To Strike Pursuant To Cal. Code Civ. P. § 425.16

         California's anti-SLAPP statute states:

A cause of action against a person arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person's right of petition or free speech under the United States Constitution or the California Constitution in connection with a public issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike, unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established that there is a probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the claim.

Cal. Code Civ. P. § 425.16(b)(1).

         There are two steps in analyzing a motion to strike pursuant to California's anti-SLAPP statute.

         First, the defendant must make a prima facie showing that the plaintiff's suit arises from an act in furtherance of the defendant's rights of free speech on a public issue. Jordan-Benel v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 859 F.3d 1184, 1188 (9th Cir. 2017); Park v. Board of Trustees of Cal. State Univ., 393 P.3d 905, 907 (Cal. 2017).

         Second, if the defendant establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show a reasonable probability of prevailing on the challenged claim. Jordan-Benel, 859 F.3d at 1188. The plaintiff's burden at step two is relatively low. Roberts v. McAfee, Inc., 660 F.3d 1156, 1163 (9th Cir. 2011); Mindys Cosmetics, Inc. v. Dakar, 611 F.3d 590, 598 (9th Cir. 2010).

         If plaintiff cannot meet its minimal burden of stating and substantiating a legally sufficient claim, the claim is stricken pursuant to the statute. Jordan-Benel, 859 ...


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