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Eakin v. Rosen

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division

November 27, 2017

TAYLOR REEDABETH EAKIN, Plaintiff,
v.
FREDERIC A. ROSEN and JOHNSON PUBLISHING COMPANY, LLC, a/k/a JOHNSON PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER

          HUGH LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE.

         Before 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges the following facts, which the Court accepts as true for the purposes of determining the present motion.

         Between August 12, 2013 and April 9, 2014, Defendant Johnson Publishing Company, LLC (“Johnson Publishing”), published a series of articles on Ebony.com[1] 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 investigation.

         Rosen's 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. (Id.).

         While 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 mat.

(Id. at p. 2-3).

         Eakin 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.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A 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).

         A Rule 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).

         III. ...


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