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Case Number: 7:23-CV-91
Judge: Michael F. Ubanski
Court: United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia (Roanke County)
Defendant's Attorney: Hilary Jaqueline Oran
Description: Roanoke, Virginia personal injury lawyer represented Plaintiffs who sued Defendants on a slander theory.
In January 2022, the Media defendants broadcast a news segment (the “Segment”) titled “COP'S ROLE IN JANUARY 6 ATTACK DIVIDES VIRGINIA TOWN WITH TIES TO CONFEDERACY.” Compl., ECF No. 1-1, at ¶ 1. Individual Media defendants
Dwyer, Thomas, and Yoo created this Segment, which discusses the Rocky Mount community's reaction to learning that two local law enforcement officers were at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Id. Frpm timestamps 0:57 to 1:01-a period of no more than four seconds-the Segment included footage of the Minnix's red, white, and blue home. ECF No. 10-1, Ex. A.
A minor child is briefly visible far to the side in the image. Id. Immediately preceding display of the Minnix home, the Segment depicts Media defendant Dwyer, a reporter, interviewing Local defendant Craighead, director of Black Lives Matter Franklin County. Compl., ECF No. 1-1, at¶¶ 32-33. During this interview, Craighead says “It;s their land and their country and we just live in it” (“Craighead's Statement”). Id. at ¶ 32. Plaintiffs claim that this is “a clear reference that white people control the land.” Id. While the Minnix home is shown, a voiceover states that “Rocky Mount is predominantly white and politically conservative” (“Voiceover Statement”). ECF No. 10-1, Ex. A.
Plaintiffs claim that the Segment “centers its theme of racism in Rocky Mount, Virginia, referencing whites versus people of color and specifically, President Donald John Trump supporters as white supremacists being involved in violent insurrection at the Washington, D.C. capit[o]l on January 6, 2021.” Compl., ECF No. 1-1, at ¶ 30. However, the Minnix home is located not in Rocky Mount, but in Boones Mill. Id. at ¶ 4.
Plaintiffs claim that the Segment, taken as a whole, “falsely depict[s] the Minnix house as “tied to [the] violence in Washington, D.C. capit[o]l on January 6, 2021;” “associated with the Confederacy;” “supporting President Donald John Trump;” and "an inhospitable place for people of color.” Id. at ¶¶ 37-40. Plaintiffs also allege that, “by clear implication,” the Segment depicts every resident in the house-including seven minor children, id. at ¶ 14-“as violent insurrectionists, as rebelling Confederacy supporters, as supporters of President Donald John Trump[,] and as individuals and businesses  who stand against or discriminate against people of color.” Id. at ¶¶ 41-42.
As a result of this depiction, plaintiffs claim that they have “suffered significant damages” including “fear, trespassers, and strangers near their residence,” causing “destruction of tranquility in their personal abode,” and “great mental anguish, which manifested itself in physical pain and injury.” Id. at ¶ 46. This has caused several adults and children within the residence to seek professional mental health treatment. Id. at ¶ 47. Crystal Minnix claims to have lost revenue from her independent consulting and sales businesses. Id. at ¶ 48.
Plaintiffs sued in the Circuit Court for Franklin County, alleging that both sets of defendants are liable on theories of defamation per se, assault and endangerment, and negligence. Id. at ¶¶ 61, 65-67, 73-79. Plaintiffs seek $62 million in compensatory damages, $4.9 million in statutory damages, plus costs, attorney fees, and injunctive relief requiring defendants to redact, delete, and destroy images of the Minnix house. Id. at 17.
The Media defendants removed this action to federal court. Although the original parties are not completely diverse, the Media defendants argue that the court ought to overlook the citizenship of the Virginia defendants due to fraudulent joinder. ECF No. 1, at 5-6. Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Remand for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. ECF No. 15, at 7. Both the Media defendants and the Local defendants filed Motions to Dismiss for failure to state a claim. ECF Nos. 8,10.
Outcome: Motion to remand denied.
Both the Motions to Dismiss as to the Local defendants, ECF No. 8, and the
Media defendants, GRANTED. Further, the Local defendants request for attorney fees and costs, is GRANTED and the Local defendants are directed to submit further briefing related to these costs within fourteen (14) days of entry of this Order.