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Plaintiff's Idaho Murder Libel Claim Beats Defendant's "Tarot Readings" and "Psychic Intuition"

"[T]he only support for Defendant's statements about Plaintiff is that Defendant's 'spiritual investigation' into the murders using 'intuitive tarot readings' led her to Plaintiff."


From today's decision by Judge Raymond Patricco in Scofield v. Guillard (D. Idaho):

This case arises out of the tragic murder of four University of Idaho students in November 2022. Plaintiff Rebecca Scofield is a professor at the University of Idaho. She alleges that, despite never meeting any of these students or being involved with their murders in any way, Defendant Ashley Guillard posted over 100 sensational TikTok (and later YouTube) videos falsely claiming that Plaintiff (i) had an extramarital, same-sex, romantic affair with one of the victims; and then (ii) ordered the four murders to prevent the affair from coming to light. Plaintiff sent cease-and-desist letters to Defendant in the following days and weeks. When Defendant did not stop, Plaintiff initiated this action. Plaintiff asserts two defamation claims against Defendant: one is premised upon the false statements regarding Plaintiff's involvement with the murders themselves, the other is premised upon the false statements regarding Plaintiff's romantic relationship with one of the murdered students….

The court concluded that Guillard's allegations against Scofield (discussed in more detail in the full opinion) were defamatory as a matter of law, and that Scofield was entitled to summary judgment as to their being false—to the point that there was no need to leave the true-or-false question to the jury:

To begin, Plaintiff states in no uncertain terms that (i) Defendant's statements are false; (ii) she was never in a romantic relationship with [K.G.]; (iii) she was not involved in the murders of the four University of Idaho students; (iv) she never met any of the murdered students; (v) she never taught any of the murdered students; (vi) she did not personally know any of the murdered students; and (vii) she was in Portland, Oregon at the time of the murders. Moreover, in response to Plaintiff's subpoena, the University of Idaho confirmed that it has no records of the murdered students ever being enrolled in a class taught by Plaintiff, any investigation into Plaintiff having an inappropriate relationship with [K.G.], or any investigation into Plaintiff's involvement with the murders. Finally, there is no indication that Plaintiff is—or has ever been—even remotely considered a suspect in the murders…. To be sure, Mr. Kohberger was arrested and has been charged with the murders.

This is powerful evidence at the summary judgment stage. It not only substantiates Plaintiff's argument that Defendant's statements about her are false, it also highlights the complete lack of any corroborating support for Defendant's statements. In this way, Plaintiff has sufficiently demonstrated the absence of any genuine issue of material fact relating to the falsity of Defendant's statements about her.

This shifts the burden to Defendant to dispute that claim by setting forth facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial relating to whether her statements about Plaintiff are actually true. In that regard, Defendant "may not rely on denials in the pleadings but must produce specific evidence, through affidavits or admissible discovery material, to show that the dispute exists."

Except the only support for Defendant's statements about Plaintiff is that Defendant's "spiritual investigation" into the murders using "intuitive tarot readings" led her to Plaintiff. Opp. to Am. MPSJ at 3 (Dkt. 65) ("Guillard used her claircognizant abilities to gather all the pieces to the puzzle of what happened to the four students and why. She became very passionate and touched by their stories as told by the intuitive tarot readings and their social media footprint. An intuitive tarot reading revealed that Scofield would get away with murder if it wasn't for Guillard. At the time, Guillard did not know how that would happen, but she decided to continue to seek the truth regarding the murder of the four students and to advocate on their behalf."); see also Pl.'s Am. [Statement of Facts] (citing [admissions] (confirming that, with discovery closed, Defendant has no other evidence of Plaintiff's involvement in the murders or any relationship with [K.G.] besides her tarot reading)). This is not enough to create a genuine dispute of material fact.

To be admissible, Defendant's lay witness testimony concerning Plaintiff's alleged conduct surrounding the four students' murders must be rationally based on Defendant's perception and helpful to the factfinder. An opinion is rationally based on a witness's perception "where it is based upon personal observation and recollection of concrete facts." But crucially, there is no legal support for the proposition that tarot card readings are grounded in any objectively verifiable facts from which Defendant's testimony can ever be said to be rationally based. As a result, Defendant's psychic intuition, without more, cannot establish a genuine dispute of material fact to oppose Plaintiff's summary judgment efforts.

At bottom, the totality of the evidence reveals that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact that Defendant defamed Plaintiff. Therefore, on the issue of liability only, Plaintiff's Amended Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is granted….

And the court also allowed Scofield to amend her complaint to add a claim for punitive damages:

Plaintiff has established a reasonable likelihood of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that Defendant's conduct in accusing Plaintiff of an affair with a student before ordering that student's and three other students' murders was oppressive, fraudulent, malicious, and/or outrageous. As discussed above, those statements are defamatory as a matter of law and therefore represent a foundational set of bad acts. Further, those statements were based only on Defendant's spiritual intuition about the murders; there was never any objective basis to believe that Plaintiff did the things that Defendant publicly and repeatedly claims she did.

And while Defendant eventually took her theory about Plaintiff's involvement in the murders to law enforcement, she did so only after ignoring Plaintiff's cease-and-desist letters and going public with her claims on social media. Critically, Defendant's social media postings continued even after she learned from the Moscow Police Department that Plaintiff was not a suspect in the murders and after Mr. Kohberger had been arrested for and charged with the same. These circumstances combine to demonstrate that Defendant's social media postings were primarily self-serving, motivated by online viral attention, and made with an extremely harmful state of mind given the nature of the statements about Plaintiff….