McFarland v. McFarland, No. C08-4047-MWB

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Northern District of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtMARK W. BENNETT
Citation684 F. Supp.2d 1073
PartiesBurns F. McFARLAND, Plaintiff, v. Robin McFARLAND, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. C08-4047-MWB,C09-4047-MWB.
Decision Date19 January 2010
684 F.Supp.2d 1073

Burns F. McFARLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
Robin McFARLAND, et al., Defendants.

Nos. C08-4047-MWB, C09-4047-MWB.

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division.

January 19, 2010.


684 F. Supp.2d 1077

John G. Martens, Martens Law Office, Ames, IA, O. Hale Almand, Jr, Almand Wiggins and Calhoun, Macon, GA, for Plaintiff.

John James Puk, Mark Alan Weber, Walentine, O'Toole, McQuillan & Gordon, Mary M. Schott, Sodoro, Daly & Sodoro, Omaha, NE, Joseph D. Thornton, Smith Peterson Law Firm, LLP, Council Bluffs, IA, Jeana L. Goosmann, Jeremy J. Cross, Goosmann Law Firm, PLC, Marci L. Iseminger Crary-Huff-Inkster-Hecht-Sheehan-Ringenberg-Hartnett-Storm, Steven Clark Kohl, Nymann & Kohl, Michael J. Frey, Hellige, Lundberg, Meis, Erickson & Frey, Timothy A. Clausen, Klass Law Firm, L.L.P., Paul D. Lundberg, Lundberg Law Firm, Sioux City, IA, Bradley K. De Jong, Klay Veldhuizen, Bindner, De Jong & Jacobsma, PLC, Orange City, IA, Mark S. Brownlee, Kersten, Brownlee & Hendricks, LLP, Fort Dodge, IA, Ryan Wayne Snell, William Gerold Beck, Woods, Fuller, Shultz & Smith P.C., Sioux Falls, SD, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANTS DENISE HARRISON, ROBERT VAN ES, RHONDA VAN ES, GERALD VAN ES AND KIM VAN ES'S MOTION TO DISMISS

MARK W. BENNETT, District Judge.

 TABLE OF CONTENTS
                I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND ................................................................................1078
                 A. Procedural Background.............................................................................1078
                 B. Factual Background.................................................................................1078
                II. LEGAL ANALYSIS.............................................................................................1080
                 A. Standards For A Motion To Dismiss..................................................................1080
                 B. Analysis Of Burns's Claims.........................................................................1082
                 1. Civil Conspiracy..........................................................................1082
                 2. Other claims..............................................................................1082
                 a. Defamation.......................................................................1085
                 b. Tortious interference with business relations....................................1084
                 c. Intentional Infliction of emotional distress.....................................1089
                 d. Invasion of privacy..............................................................1092
                 3. Absolute privilege.......................................................................1093
                III. CONCLUSION................................................................................................1096
                

This case represents the federal blowback from the ongoing, contentious marital dissolution proceeding between plaintiff Burns F. McFarland ("Burns") and his

684 F. Supp.2d 1078

wife, defendant Robin McFarland, a.k.a. Robin Van Es ("Robin"). Four of the named defendants in this case, who are caught up in the vortex of that dissolution storm, seek the dismissal of all claims against them, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b), for failure to state a claim.

I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

A. Procedural Background

On June 11, 2008, Burns filed his pro se Complaint in case no. C08-4047-MWB, against Robin, Dori Groenendyk ("Groenendyk"), and Robin's School of Dance & Tumbling. In that lawsuit, Burns alleges that Robin falsely accused him of domestic abuse in connection with their divorce proceedings and that Groenendyk and Robin's School of Dance & Tumbling conspired with Robin to slander, libel and defame Burns. Burns also alleges that defendants tortuously interfered with Burns's prospective business relations. On June 5, 2009, Burns filed his pro se Complaint in Case no. C09-4047-MWB, against defendants, including Robin, Groenendyk, Robin's School of Dance & Tumbling, Denise Harrison ("Harrison"), Robert Van Es ("Robert"), Rhonda Van Es ("Rhonda"), Gerald Van Es ("Gerald"), and Kim Van Es ("Kim").1 This second lawsuit also alleges actions taken by defendants in connection with the McFarlands' divorce. Specifically, Burns alleges that defendants conspired to slander, libel and defame him; to tortiously interfere with his business relationships; and to commit fraud and fraud in the inducement. On July 1, 2009, Case no. 08-4047-MWB was consolidated, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a)(2), with Case no. C09-4047-MWB, because both cases involve common questions of law and fact. On August 27, 2009, Burns filed an Amended Complaint.2 In his Amended Complaint, Burns again alleges the following claims against defendants: civil conspiracy (Count I); intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count II); invasion of privacy-false light (Count III); defamation-libel (Count IV); defamation-slander (Count V); tortious interference with business relations (Count VI); negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count VII); and, fraud and/or fraud in the inducement (Count VIII). In addition, Burns requests that punitive damages be assessed against defendants and that he be awarded his attorney fees and costs.

On September 21, 2009, Harrison, Robert, Rhonda, Gerald, and Kim (collectively `the Moving Defendants') filed a motion to dismiss all claims against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (docket no. 102). In their motion, the Moving Defendants allege that Burns's Amended Complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted. The Moving Defendants, alternatively, contend they are entitled to absolute immunity on account of their role as witnesses. Burns has filed a timely response in which he asserts that he has adequately pleaded factual allegations supporting his conspiracy claim and, as a result, the Moving Defendants are liable for the foreseeable conduct of each co-conspirator. Burns also argues that the Moving Defendants are not entitled to absolute immunity because they acted to intentionally harm him while acting outside the scope of their roles as witnesses. The Moving Defendants did not file a reply brief.

B. Factual Background

On a motion to dismiss, the court must assume all facts alleged in Burn's Amended

684 F. Supp.2d 1079

Complaint are true, and must liberally construe those allegations. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). Accordingly, the following factual background is drawn from Burns's Amended Complaint in such a manner.

Burns is a resident of Mississippi. Robin, Harrison, Robert, Rhonda, Gerald, and Kim are residents of Iowa. Burns and Robin were married on June 11, 2004. They have one son, HRBM. Burns is a licensed attorney and his business involves providing legal and regulatory advice to hospitals and hospital systems. Burns is also the author of multiple Christian books.

On June 4, 2007, Robin filed for divorce. Burns and Robin's divorce case is pending. As part of the divorce proceedings, both Burns and Robin are seeking custody of HRBM. Robin sought to deny Burns custody of HRBM, and/or to severely limit Burns's visitation rights with HRBM. She also sought to run Burns "out of town." Robin instituted a conspiracy to achieve her goals of depriving Burns of custody and visitation with HRBM, and driving Burns to leave town. The conspiracy began in June 2007. As part of the conspiracy, Robin, Rhonda, Groenendyk, and Randy Waagmeester ("Waagmeester") formulated a plan and recruited others to carry it out. Robin, Groenendyk, Harrison, Robert, Rhonda, Gerald, Kim, and the other named defendants conspired with each other and other persons to deprive Burns of custody of HRBM and to impose unreasonable restrictions on his visitation with HRBM. The conspiratorial plan called for people to make false and disparaging statements about Burns and to prepare and execute sworn affidavits that contained false statements about Burns or statements that were made about Burns with reckless disregard for their truth or accuracy. Another goal of the conspiracy was to destroy Burns's reputation in the community, including those with whom he was seeking to develop business relationships. Defendants agreed to accuse Burns of acts of physical, mental and emotional abuse. To that end, defendants made statements in which they accused Burns of committing acts of mental and physical abuse on Robin and HRBM, stealing money from Robin, and committing the crime of domestic abuse.

The allegations regarding domestic abuse were incorporated in a "petition for relief from domestic abuse" that was filed in Iowa District Court for Sioux County as part of Burns and Robin's divorce case. Robin, Rhonda, Robert and Groenendyk disseminated the accusations contained in the petition for relief from domestic abuse orally and in writing throughout the city of Sioux Center, Iowa. Defendants did so knowing that Burns was temporarily residing in Sioux Center and attempting to establish relationships with medical care institutions in the area. Robin filed the petition for relief from domestic abuse even though Burns had never assaulted her or committed any act of physical violence toward her.

In June 2007, Robin and Groenendyk sent out an email addressed to the parents of the children who attended Robin's School of Dance and Tumbling, Robin's business. The email was sent out to over 300 households using equipment from Robin's School or Dance and Tumbling and on that business's email account. The email contained false allegations that Burns was an abusive husband and that he had forced Robin to leave her home temporarily in order to "get away from" Burns's abuse. It stated that Robin "needs many affidavits from friends" and directed that "forms are available for pick up at Dori's house... Please return all affidavits to Dori's house by Friday morning." Amended

684 F. Supp.2d 1080

Compl. at ¶ 9. As part of the...

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14 practice notes
  • Van Stelton v. Van Stelton, No. C11-4045-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • July 17, 2013
    ...the maintenance of the person's business, and "slander" is defined as oral publication of defamatory material. McFarland v. McFarland, 684 F. Supp.2d 1073, 1086 (N.D. Iowa 2010); Park v. Hill, 380 F.Supp.2d 1002, 1015 (N.D. Iowa 2005); Lyons v. Midwest Glazing, L.L.C., 235 F.Supp.2d 1030, 1......
  • Van Stelton v. Jerry Van Stelton, Donna Van Stelton, Eugene Van Stelton, Gary Christians, Doug Weber, Scott Gries, Nate Krikke, Robert E. Hansen, Daniel Dekoter, Osceola Cnty., Iowa, & Dekoter, Thole & Dawson, P.C., No. C11-4045-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • September 30, 2014
    ...the maintenance of the person's business, and "slander" is defined as oral publication of defamatory material. McFarland v. McFarland, 684 F. Supp.2d 1073, 1086 (N.D. Iowa 2010); Park v. Hill, 380 F.Supp.2d 1002, 1015 (N.D. Iowa 2005); Lyons v. Midwest Glazing, L.L.C., 235 F.Supp.2d 1030, 1......
  • Pick v. City of Remsen, No. C13-4041-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • August 27, 2014
    ...26of the person's business, and "slander" is defined as oral publication of defamatory material. McFarland v. McFarland, 684 F. Supp.2d 1073, 1086 (N.D. Iowa 2010); Park v. Hill, 380 F.Supp.2d 1002, 1015 (N.D. Iowa 2005); Lyons v. Midwest Glazing, L.L.C., 235 F.Supp.2d 1030, 1043-44 (N.D. I......
  • Folkerts v. City of Algona, an Iowa Mun. Corp., No. C 15-3142-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • December 11, 2015
    ...Chester v. Northwest Iowa Youth Emergency Serv. Ctr., 869 F. Supp. 700, 710-11 (N.D. Iowa 1994); accord McFarland v. McFarland, 684 F. Supp. 2d 1073, 1090 (N.D. Iowa 2014) (reiterating this observation from Chester two decades later). A fully-developed record may ultimately lead me to a dif......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • Van Stelton v. Van Stelton, No. C11-4045-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • July 17, 2013
    ...the maintenance of the person's business, and "slander" is defined as oral publication of defamatory material. McFarland v. McFarland, 684 F. Supp.2d 1073, 1086 (N.D. Iowa 2010); Park v. Hill, 380 F.Supp.2d 1002, 1015 (N.D. Iowa 2005); Lyons v. Midwest Glazing, L.L.C., 235 F.Supp.2d 1030, 1......
  • Van Stelton v. Jerry Van Stelton, Donna Van Stelton, Eugene Van Stelton, Gary Christians, Doug Weber, Scott Gries, Nate Krikke, Robert E. Hansen, Daniel Dekoter, Osceola Cnty., Iowa, & Dekoter, Thole & Dawson, P.C., No. C11-4045-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • September 30, 2014
    ...the maintenance of the person's business, and "slander" is defined as oral publication of defamatory material. McFarland v. McFarland, 684 F. Supp.2d 1073, 1086 (N.D. Iowa 2010); Park v. Hill, 380 F.Supp.2d 1002, 1015 (N.D. Iowa 2005); Lyons v. Midwest Glazing, L.L.C., 235 F.Supp.2d 1030, 1......
  • Pick v. City of Remsen, No. C13-4041-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • August 27, 2014
    ...26of the person's business, and "slander" is defined as oral publication of defamatory material. McFarland v. McFarland, 684 F. Supp.2d 1073, 1086 (N.D. Iowa 2010); Park v. Hill, 380 F.Supp.2d 1002, 1015 (N.D. Iowa 2005); Lyons v. Midwest Glazing, L.L.C., 235 F.Supp.2d 1030, 1043-44 (N.D. I......
  • Folkerts v. City of Algona, an Iowa Mun. Corp., No. C 15-3142-MWB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • December 11, 2015
    ...Chester v. Northwest Iowa Youth Emergency Serv. Ctr., 869 F. Supp. 700, 710-11 (N.D. Iowa 1994); accord McFarland v. McFarland, 684 F. Supp. 2d 1073, 1090 (N.D. Iowa 2014) (reiterating this observation from Chester two decades later). A fully-developed record may ultimately lead me to a dif......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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