Amirmotazedi v. Viacom Inc.

Decision Date09 March 2011
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 10–765 (GK).
Citation768 F.Supp.2d 256
PartiesGolzar AMIRMOTAZEDI, Plaintiff,v.VIACOM, INC., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

768 F.Supp.2d 256

Golzar AMIRMOTAZEDI, Plaintiff,
VIACOM, INC., et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 10–765 (GK).

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

March 9, 2011.

[768 F.Supp.2d 256]

Jason H. Ehrenberg, Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC, Washington, D.C., for Plaintiff.

[768 F.Supp.2d 257]

Michael Dennis Sullivan, Thomas Curley, Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, L.L.P., Washington, D.C. for Defendants.

GLADYS KESSLER, District Judge.

On April 21, 2010, Plaintiff Golzar Amirmotazedi brought this action in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia alleging invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress against Defendants Viacom, Inc., MTV Networks, and Bunim–Murray Productions (“Defendants”). On May 12, 2010, Defendants removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, and 1446. This matter is presently before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Compel Arbitration, or in the Alternative, to Stay the Litigation [Dkt. No. 12] (“Defs.' Mot.”). Upon consideration of the Motion, the Opposition, and the Reply, and for the reasons set forth herein, Defendants' Motion to Compel Arbitration is denied.

I. BackgroundA. Factual History 1

Defendants produce and televise a reality show named The Real World. Defs.' Answer ¶ 5. Each season, the show chronicles the career ambitions, friendships, and romantic attachments of a different group of young people living in a house together for several months. Defs.' Mot. at 1–2. Individuals audition to be cast on the program, and cameras follow the cast members both inside and outside of the group house. Id. at 2. In the fall of 2009, The Real World was set in the District of Columbia (“D.C.”), and the housemates resided in a town house in the Dupont Circle area of D.C. Compl. ¶ 6.

Because the show chronicles the cast members' lives both inside and outside of their group house, it often features members of the public with whom the cast members interact. Defs.' Mot. at 2. It is the show's policy to obtain the consent of such individuals to appear on the show before including them in an episode. Id. If an individual chooses to enter The Real World group house, access to which is limited by Defendants, he or she must first sign a Voluntary Participation Agreement (Guest Release), which governs the terms of their entry into the group house. Id. at 3. The Voluntary Participation Agreement (Guest Release) contains an arbitration provision (“Arbitration Agreement”) that assigns the final determination of “any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this Agreement” to binding arbitration. See Voluntary Participation Agreement (Guest Release) and Arbitration Provision at ¶ 11 (Ex. A to Defs.' Mot.).

On September 10, 2009, Plaintiff, a twenty-two year old woman, encountered The Real World's cast members for the first time at a restaurant in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C., where she was filmed by the production crew. Defs.' Mot. at 2. The next evening, on September 11, 2009, Plaintiff met the cast members again at The Sign of the Whale, a mid-town Washington, D.C. bar and restaurant. Once again, the production crew filmed Plaintiff. Id.; Compl. ¶¶ 7–8.

The precise events of September 11, 2009 that gave rise to this suit are the subject of some dispute. It is undisputed that Plaintiff and a companion named Isabella were walking by the Sign of the Whale that evening when they encountered

[768 F.Supp.2d 258]

some male cast members near the restaurant. Compl. ¶¶ 7–8. The male cast members invited Plaintiff and Isabella to join them inside the restaurant, and the latter agreed. Id. ¶ 8.

The parties dispute what occurred after Plaintiff entered the restaurant. Plaintiff alleges that from 11:00 p.m. until approximately 1:30 a.m., the cast members “fed [her]” between 8 and 10 alcoholic beverages. Id. ¶ 9. Although Plaintiff claims she has no recollection of leaving the restaurant because of her intoxicated state, she believes that she and the other cast members left the restaurant around 1:30 a.m. and went to The Real World group house. Id. ¶¶ 9–10. Before entering the group house, Plaintiff signed and dated the Arbitration Agreement and gave her name, date of birth, address, and telephone number. Defs.' Mot. at 4; Ex. A to Defs.' Mot. at 4. At or around 3:00 a.m., however, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants, over her objections and fully aware of her intoxicated state, threw her out of the house because she did not wish to have sexual relations with one of the male cast members. Compl. ¶ 11.

The parties also dispute the extent of Plaintiff's intoxication. Amirmotazedi does not deny that she signed the Arbitration Agreement before entering The Real World residence but claims she has no recollection of having done so because she was heavily intoxicated. Pl.'s Opp'n at 6. Defendants contend that Plaintiff was not intoxicated when she entered the house or when she signed the four-page Arbitration Agreement just prior to entering the house. Defs. Mot. at 18. In support of their contention, Defendants offer evidence that the show's producers, who were present the night of September 11, 2009, did not believe Amirmotazedi to have been intoxicated, and that it is the program's policy to prohibit intoxicated individuals from entering or remaining in The Real World residence. Id. Defendants also rely on video footage from that evening which features Plaintiff and which, Defendants argue, proves that she was not so intoxicated that she could not have entered into a legally binding agreement to arbitrate. Id. at 19.

On or about March 10, 2010, Defendants aired two episodes of The Real World entitled “Girlfriends and Dead Ends” and “Aftershow.” Compl. ¶ 12. The parties dispute the way in which Plaintiff was portrayed on the episodes. Defendants claim that the episodes “speak for themselves,” accurately depicting Plaintiff's conduct. Answer ¶ 15. Plaintiff contends that the episodes contained edited video footage that misrepresented her as an individual with multiple emotional and psychological problems. Compl. ¶ 13. In particular, the episodes showed various cast members referring to Plaintiff as “that ugly girl” and a “hot mess,” and a male cast member referring to her as the “girl he could not get rid of.” Id. ¶ 14–15. The episodes also disclosed statements that Plaintiff made but wished to keep private, such as remarks that she was bullied in high school, has “problems, and wears sunglasses frequently because she suffers from anxiety.” Id. ¶ 15.

Outtakes from the episodes, entitled “Too Much Andrew Attention,” were later posted on Defendants' The Real World Dailies website. Id. ¶ 17. Defendants dispute Plaintiff's claim that the portrayal of her in the episodes and outtakes gave rise to offensive, humiliating comments on websites operated by Defendants and others. Id. ¶ 19.

On or about March 30, 2010, Plaintiff's attorney notified Defendants that the episodes and outtakes had caused Amirmotazedi public ridicule and emotional distress. Id. ¶ 21. In response, Defendant

[768 F.Supp.2d 259]

MTV Networks, Inc. forwarded Plaintiff's concerns to Defendant Bunim–Murray Productions, but did not cease dissemination of the episodes. Id. ¶ 22.

B. Procedural History

On April 16, 2010, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia [Ex. B to Dkt. No. 1]. On May 12, 2010, Defendants removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, and 1446. Plaintiff alleges, in Counts I and II of her Complaint, that Defendants invaded her privacy by portraying her in a false light and by disclosing private facts about her without her consent. Id. at ¶¶ 23–34. In Count III, she alleges that Defendants intentionally caused her emotional distress by airing the episodes and outtakes and by continuing to disseminate the footage after she notified Defendants that the footage had caused her severe emotional distress. Id. at ¶¶ 35–39. Lastly, in Count IV, Plaintiff claims that Defendants negligently caused her emotional distress by airing the footage. Id. at ¶¶ 40–44. With regards to Counts III and IV, Plaintiff emphasizes that Defendants knew or should have known that she was particularly susceptible to emotional distress because she stated in part of the footage that she suffers from anxiety. Id. ¶¶ 36, 41. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages in excess of $5 million and punitive damages. Id. ¶ 45.

On June 18, 2010, Defendants filed an Answer denying Plaintiff's claims [Dkt. No. 10]. On July 6, 2010, Defendants filed a Motion to Compel Arbitration or, in the Alternative, to Stay the Litigation. In their Motion, Defendants argue that Plaintiff waived her right to file a lawsuit for any claims “arising out of or relating to” the Arbitration Agreement when she signed it, and must instead submit her claims in Counts I–IV to arbitration. Defs.' Mot. at 12–15 (quoting Ex. A to Defs.' Mot. at ¶ 11).

On August 10, 2010, Plaintiff filed an Opposition to Defendants' Motion. Plaintiff responds that she lacked the mental capacity to sign the Arbitration Agreement the night of September 11, 2009, because she was heavily intoxicated. Thus, Plaintiff argues, the Court must deny Defendants' Motion under § 4 of...

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