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Free Speech

Court Dismisses Defamation Lawsuit Over "Woman Accused of Defaming Dozens Online Is Arrested"

The case may get refiled, but it’s not looking promising.


From Atas v. New York Times Co., decided Tuesday by Judge Laura Taylor Swain (S.D.N.Y.):

Plaintiff, [Nadire Atas,] who is a Canadian national residing in Ontario, Canada, brings this pro se action alleging that The New York Times … published two articles with false and defamatory information about her, which were then discussed on The Daily, a podcast produced by the Times….

The following information is taken from the complaint and the Times' articles, which Plaintiff quotes liberally in the complaint. In "A Vast Web of Vengeance," published on January 30, 2021, the Times wrote that Plaintiff had put up on various websites thousands of online posts against dozens of people she perceived as her enemies, accusing them of being scammers, fraudsters, thieves, sexual deviants, and pedophiles. The article detailed how the hands-off policy of tech companies like Google have allowed Plaintiff—who had previously been deemed a vexatious litigant by the Canadian courts for filing numerous lawsuits—to conduct an online campaign of harassment and defamation for several years. According to the article, Plaintiff's alleged victims, who live in Canada, Britain, and the United States, included a family that had employed her over 30 years ago; a bank that had foreclosed on properties she owned and employees of the bank; lawyers who represented the bank and lawyers representing those lawyers; and the family members, colleagues, and employers of those people. Many of the people whom Plaintiff had attacked online sued her for defamation in Ontario.

Following the publication of the first article, on February 9, 2021, Plaintiff was arrested by the Toronto Police and charged with defamation, false statements, and harassment, which are crimes under Canada Criminal Code. On February 10, 2021, the Times published the second article, "Woman Accused of Defaming Dozens Online is Arrested," which noted the arrest and recapped the first article. In April and May 2021, the two articles were the subject of episodes of The Daily podcast. While Plaintiff was in custody, lawyers from the defamation cases before Justice Corbett of the Ontario Supreme Court of Justice "pressured" the Attorney General to oppose releasing her from custody. The lawyers also used evidence provided by the Toronto Police, which had seized Plaintiff's computer and cell phone upon her arrest, to file for a judgment in the defamation cases. On December 7, 2021, the Attorney General withdrew all of the criminal charges against Plaintiff.

Plaintiff brings this defamation action asserting that Defendants made false and defamatory statements against her, which have been widely disseminated through newspapers, the internet, and podcasts. She seeks to hold 73 named defendants and several Jane and John Does liable for the alleged defamation, including (1) the Times and entities and individuals associated with the Times—such as The Daily and its host; the Times's executive and business editors; and [Kashmir Hill, the author of the articles,] and her husband; (2) the alleged victims mentioned in the two articles; (3) individuals, entities, lawyers, and law firms who were involved in the defamation cases and other litigation in the Canadian courts to which Plaintiff was a party; (4) the relatives, colleagues, employers, and other entities associated with those whom Plaintiff perceives as enemies. Plaintiff alleges that the defendants reside or are domiciled in Canada, Britain, and the United States, including in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and New York. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages for the alleged harm caused by the two articles.

Plaintiff's complaint does not include facts demonstrating that the Court has diversity jurisdiction of this action. Section 1332(a) "require[s] complete diversity [of citizenship] between all plaintiffs and all defendants." Diversity of citizenship is present when the action is between "citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state," or between "citizens of different States and in which citizens or subjects of a foreign state are additional parties." "Diversity is lacking within the meaning of these sections where the only parties are foreign entities, or where on one side there are citizens and aliens and on the opposite side there are only aliens."

Here, because Plaintiff is a Canadian national, on the plaintiff's "side there are only aliens." She sues 73 named defendants, who are citizens of Canada, Britain, and the United States. As there are no citizens of the United States on the plaintiff side of the litigation, and there are aliens as well as citizens on the defendant side, Plaintiff cannot establish diversity jurisdiction …. Because diversity of citizenship is not complete, the Court does not have diversity jurisdiction of this matter….

Generally, a district court should allow a plaintiff "to drop dispensable nondiverse defendants whose presence would defeat diversity of citizenship." Plaintiff may be able to file an amended complaint dropping the alien defendants to establish diversity of citizenship in this action. As Plaintiff proceeds in this matter without the benefit of an attorney and the Court cannot say that an amendment would be futile, the Court grants her thirty days' leave to replead any plausible claim of which the Court has subject matter jurisdiction….

Even if Plaintiff is able to establish that the Court has diversity jurisdiction to consider this action, however, her factual allegations do not suggest that she would have viable claims against any defendant named in the amended complaint….

Plaintiff seeks to bring libel claims against a large number of individuals, lawyers, law firms, and other entities that have no apparent connection to the Times' articles from which her claims stemmed. She names these defendants and asserts where they are domiciled, but fails to allege any facts against them, much less sufficient facts, as required by Rule 8, to allow the Court to reasonably infer that each defendant is liable to her for libel.

For example, she names as defendants the Myers-Briggs Company, which she describes as "the world's largest business psychology providers" based in California, and IBM, which she identifies as a "multinational technology corporation" headquartered in New York. Plaintiff provides no facts in the complaint that would show how these two defendants—or most of the other defendants—are liable for the alleged libel stemming from the publication of the two articles by the Times. If Plaintiff amends her complaint to show a basis for subject matter jurisdiction of this action, she must also provide a short and plain statement of her claims and allege facts showing why each defendant named in the amended complaint is liable to her for the alleged libel.