United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division
LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE.
the Court is Defendants Frederic A. Rosen and Johnson
Publishing Company, LLC's Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings (Doc. 42). Upon review of the pleadings, and with
the benefit of oral argument, the Court
GRANTS Defendants' motion.
alleges the following facts, which the Court accepts as true
for the purposes of determining the present motion.
August 12, 2013 and April 9, 2014, Defendant Johnson
Publishing Company, LLC (“Johnson Publishing”),
published a series of articles on Ebony.com pertaining to the
death of Kendrick Johnson (“KJ”). KJ's body
was discovered on January 10, 2013, in a standing gym mat at
Lowndes County High School in Valdosta, Georgia. Defendant
Frederick A. Rosen (“Rosen”), who has published a
number of “true crime” books, authored the
majority of the submissions. Rosen's articles explored
possible motives for the murder of KJ, using pseudonyms to
refer to certain individuals closely associated with the
final article, “Who Killed Kendrick Johnson? Are We
Closer to Answers” (“Answers” article),
appeared on Ebony.com on April 9, 2014. (Doc. 1-1). The
article references an e-mail that CNN first reported having
obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request and
that purportedly contained information about an alleged
murder confession by one of KJ's classmates.
(Id. at p. 1). Rosen further notes in the article
that an attorney for the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office
(“LSCO”) stated that the e-mail was not credible.
Rosen remarks in the opening paragraph of the
“Answers” article that local law enforcement did
not view this anonymous e-mail as worthy of credence, the
e-mail itself afforded Rosen fodder for a possible motive for
murder. It is this portion of the article Plaintiff Taylor
Eakin claims refers to and defames her. In support of her
claim, she points to this passage:
That's when the anonymous email to the LCSO allegedly
picks up the story, in which the writer claims to have been
at a January 2014 party with a White female student who was
then dating KJ's friend-turned-rival. At the party, the
email alleges that the girl revealed “what the whole
nation has been wondering about for the past year . . . she
told my friend what really happened to Kendrick
Johnson.” The young lady allegedly told the email
writer's best friend that she, “had sexual
intercourse with Kendrick Johnson [the teammate who he
fought, who] found out and threatened KJ. KJ told [him] to
meet him in the old gym after third block and he would have
his knife ready.” Another student, a friend of KJ's
alleged romantic rival, was also reported to be there. The
result? Kendrick Johnson being killed and stuffed in a gym
(Id. at p. 2-3).
identifies herself the “White female student”
referenced in the article. She alleges that the
“Answers” article is per se libelous because it
falsely accuses her of engaging in a sexual relationship with
Kendrick Johnson, which in turn led to the death of KJ. She
further contends that the passage is libel by innuendo in
that it implicates her in an alleged conspiracy to conceal
the death of her classmate.
motion for judgment on the pleadings is properly filed
“[a]fter the pleadings are closed[, ] but early enough
not to delay trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c).
“Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when there
are no material facts in dispute, and judgment may be
rendered by considering the substance of the pleadings and
any judicially noticed facts.” Hawthorne v. Mac
Adjustment, Inc., 140 F.3d 1367, 1370 (11th Cir. 1998)
(internal citations omitted); Cunningham v. Dist.
Att'y's Office for Escambia Cty., 592 F.3d 1237,
1255 (11th Cir. 2010). In deciding a motion for judgment on
the pleadings, the facts in the complaint are accepted as
true and viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. Id. The court may consider documents attached
to the pleadings. Horsely v. Feldt, 304 F.3d 1125,
1134 (11th Cir. 2002).
12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is governed by the
same standards as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.
Strategic Income Fund, LLC v. Spear, Leeds & Kellog
Corp., 305 F.3d 1293, 1295 n.8 (11th Cir. 2002)
(explaining that the standard for either a Rule 12(b)(6) or
Rule 12(c) motion is “whether the count state[s] a
claim for relief”). The complaint must contain
sufficient factual information to state a claim for relief
that is “plausible on its face.” Wooten v.
Quicken Loans, Inc., 626 F.3d 1187, 1196 (11th Cir.
2010). When the plaintiff provides enough “factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged, ” the complaint is “plausible on its
face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009). “Labels and conclusions” and a
“formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action” are insufficient to raise a right to belief
above the “speculative level.” Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).