United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the court on Defendant Specialty
Marketing Corporation's motion for summary judgment
regarding Plaintiff Ed Leader's defamation claim. (Doc.
61.) Because the allegedly defamatory statement is true, the
court will GRANT Specialty Marketing's motion for summary
Facts and Procedural History
Target Media Partners owns several companies that publish and
distribute free magazines and newspapers for the trucking
industry. During the early- to mid-2000s, Mr. Leader worked
for Target Media as head of the trucking division and was
responsible for soliciting advertisements for placement in
the company's various publications. Organizations that
hire truck drivers purchase the lion's share of
advertisements in Target Media's publications. Defendant
Specialty Marketing Corporation publishes throughout the
Southeastern United States a free magazine of its own called
Truck Market News.
2002, Target Media contractually agreed to distribute and
display Specialty Marketing's Truck Market News
each month at truck stops, rest stops, and similar locations
frequented by truck drivers. In 2007, after
discovering that Target Media was apparently discarding
Truck Market News copies instead of distributing and
displaying them, Specialty Marketing sued Target Media in
Alabama state court, alleging breach of contract and fraud.
In 2010, the trial court found Target Media liable for $2.36
million in damages. A lengthy appeals process-including an
opinion by the State Supreme Court and a denial of certiorari
by the United States Supreme Court-upheld Specialty
Marketing's damages. Target Media Partners Operating
Co., L.L.C. v. Specialty Marketing Corp., 177 So.3d 843
(Ala. 2013); cert. denied, Target Media Partners
Operating Co. LLC v. Specialty Mktg. Corp., 135 S.Ct.
1702 (2015). More than five years after the Alabama Supreme
Court upheld Specialty Marketing's award, Mr. Leader
still owes Specialty Marketing $671, 200, plus interest, in
unsatisfied damages. (Doc. 61-1 at 3; Doc. 63 at 2.)
March of 2014, during the appeals process, Specialty
Marketing mailed packages to at least two of Target
Media's advertising clients. Included in each package was
a cover letter. The last paragraph of each letter, composed
by Specialty Marketing's president, stated:
It is my belief that you and everyone else that has any
business or personal dealings with Target Media Partners,
their owners and officers, need to know of this documented,
trail [sic] proven fraud by them. All of which has
been upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court. Further, it is my
belief that many others have been and continue to be, victims
of this fraud.
on this statement, Target Media and Mr. Leader filed a
defamation suit against Specialty Marketing on May 8, 2014.
(Doc. 1.) In November of 2015, the Magistrate Judge assigned
to the case recommended dismissing the suit for lack of
subject-matter jurisdiction based on the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine because Target Media's
claims were “inextricably intertwined” with the
underlying fraud and breach-of-contract case in state court.
(Doc. 35.) This court adopted the report and recommendation
and dismissed the case because the Rooker-
Feldman doctrine precluded the court's
subject-matter jurisdiction over Target Media's claims.
Target Media Partners v. Specialty Mktg. Corp., No.
1:14-cv-00865-KOB, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167397, at *4 (N.D.
Ala. Dec. 15, 2015).
appeal, the Eleventh Circuit considered the issue of
“whether the Rooker-Feldman doctrine can bar a
federal suit regarding events occurring long after the entry
of a state court decision.” Target Media Partners
v. Specialty Mktg. Corp., 881 F.3d 1279, 1281 (11th Cir.
2018). The Eleventh Circuit explained that the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine is a jurisdiction-narrowing
canon that applies “where a party in effect seeks to
take an appeal of an unfavorable state-court decision”
and “bars only that class of cases in which federal
litigants seek reversal of state court decisions.”
Id. at 1285 (citation omitted).
case, the Eleventh Circuit held that the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine was inapplicable for two
reasons. First, Specialty Marketing's fraud and breach of
contract claims presented distinct legal issues from Target
Media's defamation claim. Id. at 1287. And
second, the temporal sequence categorically precluded the
doctrine because the Alabama jury returned a verdict against
Target Media in 2010, and Specialty Marketing did not send
the allegedly defamatory letter until 2014. Id. The
court concluded that an “allegedly tortious act
occurring long after the state court rendered its judgment
cannot be barred by Rooker-Feldman because there was
no opportunity to complain about the allegedly injurious act
in the state court proceedings.” Id. The
Eleventh Circuit declined to consider the merits of Target
Media's defamation claim and remanded the case to this
court. Id. at 1289.
the case returned to this court, Plaintiff Target Media moved
to dismiss itself from the case. (Doc. 58.) On February 26,
2019, the court granted the motion and dismissed Target
Media's claim against Specialty Marketing with prejudice,
leaving only Mr. Leader's defamation claim against
Specialty Marketing. (Doc. 60.) Specialty Marketing filed the
instant motion on March 3, 2019 (Doc. 61), and both parties
provided briefs to the court regarding Specialty Media's
motion for summary judgment. (Docs. 63, 64.)
Standard of Review
district court reviewing a motion for summary judgment under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 must consider whether any genuine issues of
material fact exist, and, if not, whether the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The moving party
“always bears the initial responsibility of informing
the district court of the basis for its motion, and
identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it
believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56).
court must refrain from weighing the evidence and making
credibility determinations, because these decisions fall
within the province of the jury. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). All evidence and
inferences drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in
the light most favorable to the ...