Deaton v. Napoli, 17-CV-4592 (RRM) (GRB)

CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York
Writing for the CourtROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF, United States District Judge.
PartiesJOHN DEATON and MARIA F. DEATON, Plaintiffs, v. PAUL NAPOLI and MARIE NAPOLI, Defendants.
Docket Number17-CV-4592 (RRM) (GRB)
Decision Date27 September 2019


17-CV-4592 (RRM) (GRB)


September 27, 2019


ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF, United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs John Deaton and Maria F. Deaton ("the Deatons"), proceeding pro se, bring this action pursuant to the Court's diversity jurisdiction, alleging defamation and tortious interference with business relations by defendants Paul Napoli and Marie Napoli ("the Napolis"). Presently before the Court is the Napolis' motion for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted and the amended complaint is dismissed.


The Deatons are attorneys in Rhode Island who were previously married. (Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 28) at ¶ 11.) The Deatons filed for divorce on June 5, 2007, and a formal divorce hearing was held on December 18, 2007. (Id. at ¶ 31.) John Deaton is the owner of the Deaton Law Firm, LLC, which is headquartered in Rhode Island and almost exclusively practices asbestos litigation. (Id. at ¶ 12.) The Napolis are attorneys who reside in New York. (Id. at ¶¶

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4, 5, 12.) The Deaton Law Firm is a competitor of Paul Napoli's former firm, Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik LLP ("Napoli Bern"). (Id. at ¶ 12.)

In November 2007, John Deaton employed a woman named Vanessa Dennis. (Id. at ¶ 14.) Dennis worked as an associate or paralegal at the Deaton Law Firm for several years before giving her notice in December 2010. (Id. at ¶¶ 14-15.) Shortly thereafter, she began working at Napoli Bern, where it is alleged that she had a relationship with Paul Napoli. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16.) As the amended complaint further alleges, the relationship was discovered by Marie Napoli, and Dennis was fired from Napoli Bern. (Id. at ¶ 16.) Several lawsuits have been filed related to these circumstances. (Id. at ¶ 17.)

On May 21, 2013, Marie Napoli sent a Facebook message to the Deatons, asking whether John had a relationship with Dennis, and whether that had caused their divorce. (Id. at ¶ 19.) John denied the relationship and claimed that the divorce was not due to infidelity. (Id.) He told Marie that his divorce was underway before he ever met and hired Dennis, and he asked Marie not to contact him or his family again. (Id.) She replied, "I want to know so I can warn any future employer's wives of this if it [is] a recurring problem." (Id.)

The Deatons allege that despite John Deaton's denial, Marie Napoli proceeded to make knowingly false statements about a relationship between John Deaton and Vanessa Dennis in letters, emails, texts, and social media messages. (Id. at ¶ 18.) First, on August 27, 2013, Marie Napoli posted on Dennis' Facebook page: "[Dennis] has lost her last two jobs for sexually perusing [sic] her last two bosses who were both married at the time. It ended badly." (Id. at ¶ 20; 8/27/2013 Facebook Post, Pls.' Ex. A to Am. Compl.) A few months later, around November 2013, Marie Napoli wrote letters to two wives of Dennis' "current employers," who reside in Houston, Texas, and who are referred to as Mrs. Shroder and Mrs. Stomel in the

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amended complaint. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 21.) The amended complaint's reference to "current employers" appears to refer to Shrader & Associates LLP., a Texas-based law firm focusing on asbestos litigation, where Dennis began working after she was fired from Napoli Bern. (Id. at ¶ 18 & n.1.) The letters intended to warn the women about Dennis' history with her former bosses, stating that Dennis "assisted her previous boss in his divorce" and that he "bought her a Mercedes and expensive gifts." (Id. at ¶ 21; Letters from Marie Napoli, Pls.' Ex. B and Ex. F to Am. Compl.) The letters stated that Dennis had received harassing emails from John Deaton, that she was "petrified to see him," and that after Marie Napoli contacted Maria Deaton, Maria would not allow John Deaton to see his children. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 21.)2

Shrader & Associates previously had a business relationship with John Deaton and the Deaton Law Firm. (Id. at ¶ 38.) However, the Deatons allege that after "Partners" at Shrader & Associates received Marie Napoli's letters, "claiming John Deaton not only had an affair with Ms. Dennis resulting in his ex-wife preventing him from seeing his children, but most significantly, was harassing Ms. Dennis at her new employment, Shrader and Associates decided to no longer continue their business relationship" with the Deaton Law Firm. (Id.)3

Marie Napoli also sent LinkedIn e-mails to "individuals associated with Ms. Dennis's current employer in Texas" in May 2014, stating, inter alia, "[Dennis] caused her boss from RI's

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divorce. She had to relocate and move to NY." (Id. at ¶ 22; 5/15/2014 LinkedIn E-mails, Pls.' Ex. C to Am. Compl.)

Marie then sent a message to Dennis' husband in June 2014, containing "other" knowingly false statements about an affair between Dennis and John Deaton. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 24.) She also sent messages to Dennis' Facebook friends in June and July 2014, stating that Dennis was forced to leave her job in Rhode Island due to an affair with her boss. (Id. at ¶ 23.)

In November 2014, Paul Napoli spoke to the New York Post. (Id. at ¶ 26; Nov. 2014 News Article, Pls.' Ex. D to Am. Compl.) He allegedly stated, "[e]verything my wife said in any email whether it sounds terrible or not was all true and was all factually correct." (Am. Compl. at ¶ 26.)

Additionally, the Napolis allegedly made false statements about the Deatons in the course of various lawsuits. The Deatons first discovered this in February 2017 through civil defense attorneys, their colleagues in the asbestos litigation community, who told them that their divorce and children had been discussed in court filings. (Id. at ¶ 28.)

Marie Napoli filed at least three lawsuits relevant to the Deatons' claims. First, on June 15, 2015, Marie filed a complaint against Dennis in Cook County, Illinois. (Id. at ¶ 27.) The Deatons allege that she made false statements in connection with that case, including, inter alia, that Dennis' "previous boss had bought her expensive gifts . . . and was harassing her via texts and emails after his divorce," and that Dennis was "the cause" his divorce. (Id.)

On December 9, 2016, Marie Napoli commenced an action, Napoli v. Ratner, which was removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. See 16-CV-6483 (JMA) (AKT) (E.D.N.Y.). (Id. at ¶ 28.) The Deatons attach an excerpt of the complaint in Ratner to the pleading, and allege that it contained several false statements, including that Dennis

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"had a sexual relationship with her previous employer from Rhode Island," that "Deaton was harassing" Dennis, that he was "threatening" to "tell her husband everything," and that he was unable to see his children after his wife discovered the affair. (Ratner Compl., Pls.' Ex. E to Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 27, 28, 30.) The Ratner complaint also alleged that Dennis "specifically targets her bosses and uses sex to advance her career," and that "[s]he has done this with her previous boss from Rhode Island, with [Marie Napoli's] husband, and appears to be doing it now with her current boss." (Id. at ¶ 55.)

Finally, on April 28, 2017, Marie Napoli filed claims against Dennis and other third parties in the Eastern District of New York in the case of Napoli v. Kern, et al., 17-CV-2563 (ADS) (AKT) (E.D.N.Y.). (Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 32, 33.) A portion of the relevant complaint in Kern is attached to the amended complaint. (See Kern Compl., Ex. H to Am. Compl.) The Kern complaint restates the aforementioned allegations, including that Dennis claimed John Deaton harassed and threatened her. (See Am. Compl. at ¶ 32; Kern Compl. at ¶¶ 63-66.)

On March 28, 2017, the Deatons commenced this action against the Napolis for defamation and tortious interference. The action was initially filed in the Superior Court of Rhode Island, (Doc. No. 2), but the case was removed to the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island on the grounds of diversity jurisdiction. (Notice of Removal (Doc. No. 1).) Upon the Napolis' motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue, in which they moved in the alternative to transfer venue, (Doc. No. 8), the case was transferred to the Eastern District of New York. (Doc. No. 15).4

In the amended complaint, the Deatons bring claims for (1) defamation, specifically libel per se, libel, and slander, and (2) tortious interference with business relations. They allege that

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the Napolis made defamatory statements with malicious and intentional disregard for the truth, and that the statements "originated" with Paul Napoli and were repeated by Marie. (Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 35-36.) They assert that the Napolis (1) "knew their statements were false" because John Deaton told Marie Napoli as much in 2013; (2) had "no reliable basis" for their claims; and (3) "fabricated" details. (Id. at ¶ 36.) The Deatons emphasize that the Napolis are sophisticated attorneys who ignored readily available legal documents which would have confirmed that their divorce was filed five months before John Deaton ever met Dennis, and that the alleged affair "clearly could not have been a cause" of the Deatons' divorce. (Id. at ¶ 31.)

The Deatons assert that the alleged defamation implicated their entire family in a "malicious tale," and also "intentionally interfere[d] with business relationships between" the Deatons, "fellow attorneys, and clients." (Id. at ¶ 1.) They believe that the Napolis spread lies "in an effort to intentionally harm" the reputations of John Deaton and the Deaton Law Firm, a "direct competitor[]" to Napoli Bern. (Id. at ¶ 37.) . (Id. at ¶ 36.) They believe that Shrader & Associates' decision to end its business relationship with the Deaton Law Firm was driven by Marie Napoli's...

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