United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
defendants frequently point out, and as courts regularly
affirm, even the most deeply wounding conduct rarely gives
rise to civil liability for the tort of outrage. Suffering
offense from truly insulting conduct is sometimes an
unfortunate fact of life, so the law understandably hesitates
to impose money damages for causing emotional distress in the
minds of others. But, in very limited circumstances, the law
recognizes extremely egregious conduct that no person should
be expected to endure without some sort of civil justice.
This case plausibly presents such outrageous conduct.
years after Natalee Holloway disappeared while on a high
school trip to Aruba in 2005, Defendants Oxygen Media and
Brian Graden Media tried to capitalize on the world's
fascination with the tragedy. Defendants produced and
published what they termed a six-part “true crime
documentary” series entitled “The Disappearance
of Natalee Holloway.” The series documented a so-called
“unscripted” and “real-time
investigation” of what happened to Natalee when she
Natalee's mother, Plaintiff Beth Holloway, alleges that
the series was not a “true-crime documentary” or
a legitimate “investigation” whatsoever. Instead,
Ms. Holloway contends that it was scripted and outrageous
fiction produced and published at the expense of her severe
emotional distress. In addition, she alleges that Defendants
fraudulently procured her DNA in production of the series.
have filed a motion to dismiss Ms. Holloway's claims for
fraud and the tort of outrage. The court will DENY the
motion. As further explained below, Ms. Holloway has pled
with particularity the fraudulent procurement of her DNA by
plausible agents of Defendants. And she has sufficiently
alleged facts showing a plausible claim for the tort of
STANDARD OF REVIEW
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss challenges whether a complaint
contains “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” as
required by Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil
a defendant may move to dismiss a complaint under Rule
12(b)(6) for “failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted.” The burden then shifts to the
plaintiff to show that her complaint “allege[s]
‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Adinolfe v. United
Tech. Corp., 768 F.3d 1161, 1169 (11th Cir. 2014)
(quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
claim to be “plausible on its face, ” it must
contain enough “factual content that allows the court
to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). And the court accepts
as true the factual allegations in the complaint and
construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
all allegations can defeat a motion to dismiss.
“[L]abels and conclusions” and speculation
“will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
So, the court will only look at well-pled facts, and
if those facts, accepted as true, state a plausible claim for
relief, then the plaintiff will survive a motion to dismiss.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
court must do on a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as
true the following well-pled factual allegations.
Holloway disappeared on May 30, 2005 while on a high school
senior class trip in Aruba. Print and broadcast media gave
Natalee's disappearance “nearly
unprecedented” and “round-the-clock”
coverage. (Doc. 23 at ¶ 45). Natalee's mother, Beth
Holloway, has worked tirelessly to find Natalee, but neither
Natalee nor her remains have ever been located.
produced and published a six-part television series entitled
“The Disappearance of Natalee Holloway” (the
“Series”). The Series aired between August 19,
2017 and September 23, 2017. Defendants marketed the Series
as an “‘unscripted' ‘real-time
investigation' and ‘documentary' following
‘a new lead that could deliver justice for Natalee once
and for all,' including ‘the specifics of what
happened to her and the remains of her body.'”
(Doc. 23 at ¶ 57).
Series followed Natalee's father and Beth Holloway's
ex-husband, Dave Holloway, and his private investigator, T.J.
Ward, as they investigated John Ludwick, the suspect who
claimed to have exhumed and desecrated Natalee's remains
in Aruba and asserted that he knew where Natalee's
remains were buried.
Holloway alleges that the Series and the
“real-time” events that it depicted were actually
scripted. She relies on the complaint in the matter styled
Kramer v. Brian Graden Media, LLC, et al., No.
2:17-cv-5990 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 11, 2017), where the plaintiff,
Edward Kramer, sought compensation for services he alleges
that he rendered to Oxygen and BGM for the Series. (Doc. 23
at ¶ 62). Mr. Kramer asserted in that case that he
created the Series as early as the fall of 2014.
(Id. at ¶ 69). Mr. Kramer alleged that he
created the plot, plans, scenarios, episode guides, and
resolution for the Series; that is, he “scripted”
the Series beforehand. (Id. at ¶ 64). In
addition, Mr. Kramer alleged that the main characters in the
series, even those depicted in the Series as unaware that
they were being filmed, were paid participants. (Id.
at ¶¶ 70, 74, 76, 79-80).
depicted in the Series, on March 19, 2017, Mr. Ludwick took
his roommate, Gabriel Madrigal, to identify the grave site in
Aruba where Mr. Ludwick claimed to have dug up Natalee's
remains. But Mr. Ludwick could not find the grave site. (Doc.
23 at ¶¶ 86-87).
on April 6, 2017, Mr. Madrigal told Mr. Holloway and Mr. Ward
that Mr. Ludwick would travel to Aruba again “to
pinpoint the exact location and cooperate with the Aruban
authorities in showing the exact location [of Natalee's
remains] and hopefully solving the case.” (Doc. 23 at
¶ 90). But on Mr. Ludwick's second trip to Aruba, he
again could not find the grave site. In addition, Mr. Ludwick
could not identify the cave near his aunt's property
where he claimed that he and another man burned Natalee's
skull. Defendants then cut ties with Mr. Ludwick
“because they believed the lead to have been false and
unfounded.” (Id. at ¶ 94).
Series then depicts a third visit to Aruba, this time filmed
on Mr. Madrigal's cell phone and purportedly undertaken
without Defendants' knowledge. Mr. Madrigal and Mr.
Ludwick stated on the cell phone videos that they
“returned to Aruba for a third time to ‘bring
Natalee home' and because Ludwick knew where her remains
are because ‘he kept [them] as a trophy.'”
(Doc. 23 at ¶ 96).
this third search, within seconds of the men's arrival at
Mr. Ludwick's aunt's house, Mr. Ludwick uncovered a
Ziploc bag “from just beneath the ground surface”
containing four bone fragments. (Doc. 23 at ¶ 100).
According to Ms. Holloway, “[t]he Ziploc bag,
supposedly buried for seven years, appears fairly new, clean,
and in good condition.” (Id. at ¶ 101).
Series then shows more footage from Mr. Madrigal's cell
phone on which Mr. Ludwick fails to identify the grave site
with the rest of Natalee's remains. (Doc. 23 at
The Bone Fragments and Ms. Holloway's
Holloway and Mr. Ward traveled to Aruba to collect the bone
fragments. Aruban authorities advised the men that the bones
were animal remains. (Doc. 23 at ¶ 5).
then delivered the bone fragments to their forensic expert,
Dr. Jason Kolowski. Defendants told Dr. Kolowski that Mr.
Ward recovered the bone fragments from a pet cemetery.
Defendants did not disclose that Mr. Ludwick found the bones
in a Ziploc bag without any corroboration. Dr. Kolowski later
told Ms. Holloway that Defendants did not inform him of the
true origin of the bones because he could have ...