Greene v. Paramount Pictures Corporation et al
MEMORANDUM & ORDER granting in part and denying in part 12 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim; For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss the Complaint (Docket Entry 12) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The motion is DENIED insofar as it seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's libel claims based on a failure to plead the "of and concerning" element of a defamation claim. The motion is GRANTED with respect to Plaintiff's right of privacy claims, which are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. The motion is also GRANTED with respect to Plaintiff's fifth cause of action based on negligent defamation and this claim is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE and with leave to replead. If Plaintiff wishes to file an amended complaint repleading this claim, he must do so within thirty (30) days of the date of this Memorandum and Order. If Plaintiff fails to do so, Plaintiff's fifth cause of action will be dismissed with prejudice. So Ordered by Judge Joanna Seybert on 9/30/2015. C/ECF (Valle, Christine)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
-againstPARAMOUNT PICTURES CORPORATION, a
Delaware corporation; RED GRANITE
PICTURES, INC., a California
corporation; APPIAN WAY, LLC, a
California limited liability company;
SIKELLA PRODUCTIONS, INC., a Delaware
corporation; and JOHN AND JANE DOES 1
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
Aaron M. Goldsmith, Esq.
225 Broadway, Suite 715
New York, NY 10007
and Red Granite:
Louis P. Petrich, Esq.
Vincent Cox, Esq.
Leopold, Petrich & Smith P.C.
2049 Century Park East, Suite 3110
Los Angeles, CA 90067
Katherine Mary Bolger, Esq.
Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP
321 West 44th Street, Suite 1000
New York, NY 10036
Rachel Fan Stern Strom, Esq.
Hogan Lovells US LLP
875 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022
For Appian Way
Katherine Mary Bolger, Esq.
Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP
321 West 44th Street, Suite 1000
New York, NY 10036
SEYBERT, District Judge:
Corporation, Red Granite Pictures, Inc., Appian Way, LLC, and
Sikella Productions, Inc. (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging
that Defendants, the producers and distributors of the motion
picture The Wolf of Wall Street, violated his right of privacy and
defamed him under New York law through the portrayal of a character
in the movie. Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint for failure
to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
Defendants’ motion to dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN
Oakmont, Inc. (“Stratton Oakmont”), where he served on the Board
of Directors and as the head of the Corporate Finance Department.
(Compl. ¶ 18.) Stratton Oakmont was a notorious “over-the-counter”
brokerage house based in Long Island, New York that stole millions
of dollars from investors during the early 1990s through various
“pump-and-dump” stock schemes.
Jordan Belfort (“Belfort”), one of
the firm’s cofounders, was eventually arrested and served prison
time for securities fraud and money laundering.
Years later, he
published a memoir chronicling the seven-year period during which
he operated the firm and oversaw its securities fraud.
memoir later served as the basis for the motion picture The Wolf
of Wall Street (the “Movie”), directed by Martin Scorcese and
starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Plaintiff regards the Movie as an invasion of his right
of privacy and defamatory under New York law.
He brings this
action against Defendants, claiming that one of the characters in
the movie, Nicky “Rugrat” Koskoff (“Koskoff” or the “Koskoff
Character”), is an identifiable portrayal of him.
alleges that Koskoff engages in a number of illegal and morally
questionable acts and contends that people who have watched the
Movie believe that Koskoff is a depiction of him, causing damage
to his reputation.
Plaintiff seeks compensatory and exemplary
damages in excess of $50 million, as well an injunction prohibiting
future dissemination of the Movie and an order directing Defendants
advertisements that contain Plaintiff’s alleged likeness.
Belfort’s memoir, also titled The Wolf of Wall Street
(the “Memoir”), was first published in 2007 and rereleased in
paperback with a cover promoting its association with the Movie.
The Memoir is told from Belfort’s perspective and purports to be
“a true story based on [Belfort’s] best recollections of various
events in his life.”
(Memoir at Author’s Note.)
It provides a
lurid account of Belfort’s rise and fall and a glimpse into the
outlandish behavior that he claims occurred in his life and at
Stratton Oakmont during the 1990s.
This behavior included drug
use and prostitution in the office.
Plaintiff is prominently featured in the Memoir.
Memoir identifies Plaintiff by his full name, Andrew Greene, and
a nickname, “Wigwam,” a reference to the toupee he wore at the
time. (Memoir at 65.) Plaintiff is described as Stratton’s lawyer
and Belfort’s “old and trusted friend,” whose job was “to sift
through dozens of business plans Stratton received each day and
decide which, if any, were worth passing along to [Belfort].”
(Memoir at 65.) Physically speaking, he is described as “frump[y]”
and having a “prodigious potbelly,” (Memoir at 65), and his toupee
is mocked incessantly throughout the Memoir.
For example, in the
chapter introducing Plaintiff to the reader, Belfort describes
Plaintiff’s toupee as “the worst toupee this side of the Iron
(Memoir at 65.)
The Memoir further describes Plaintiff
as engaging in various types of illegal conduct related to Stratton
Oakmont’s securities fraud, which Plaintiff steadfastly denies.
Defendants released the Movie in December 2013.
As stated in the closing credits, the Movie purports to be
“based on actual events”--i.e., the story told in the Memoir.
the most part, the Movie’s screenplay does track the storyline of
However, as the closing credits also explain, the
Movie also contains some dramatic elements.
While purporting to
be “based on actual events,” the closing credits also indicate
that some of the events depicted are fictional and that some of
the characters have fictional names or are composites of real-life
individuals depicted in the Memoir.
(See Movie, Closing Credits
(“[C]ertain characters, characterizations, incidents, locations
invention, any similarity to the name or to the actual character
or history of any person . . . or any product or entity or actual
incident, is entirely for dramatic purposes and not intended to
reflect on an actual character, history, product or entity.”
(Movie, Closing Credits.)
The Movie does not use Plaintiff’s name, nor does it
contain an actual image of Plaintiff.
Rather, Plaintiff complains
portrayed through the character Nicky ‘Rugrat’ Koskoff.”
In support of this allegation, Plaintiff cites several
similarities between him and the Koskoff Character that allegedly
make Plaintiff’s “identity . . . readily apparent in the [Movie].”
(Compl. ¶ 21.)
For example, like Plaintiff, Koskoff is also “one
of Jordan Belfort’s close friends” who went to law school and later
moves into “a significant leadership position at Stratton Oakmont
(Compl. ¶¶ 22-25).
Koskoff also wears a toupee, which is the
subject of constant ridicule, and he has a similarly punned
(See Compl. ¶¶ 27-29.)
are some differences between the Koskoff Character, on the one
hand, and Plaintiff in real life and how he is depicted in the
Memoir, on the other.
For example, in the Movie, Belfort hires
Koskoff as a broker when Stratton Oakmont opens in the late 1980s,
while in real life, Plaintiff started at Stratton Oakmont in 1993
and was not a broker.
In the Memoir, Gary Kaminsky (“Kaminsky”),
the Chief Financial Officer of a company in which Belfort illegally
held stock, arranges a meeting between Belfort and a Swiss banker
who launders money for Belfort.
(Memoir at 121.)
the Swiss banker are later arrested for money laundering in Miami,
(Memoir at 338-39.)
In the Movie, it is the Koskoff
Character who arranges the meeting and is later arrested with the
Swiss banker in Miami.
According to Plaintiff, the Movie is defamatory because
it portrays the Koskoff Character “as a criminal, drug user,
degenerate, depraved, and/or devoid of any morality or ethics.”
(Compl. ¶ 30.)
Plaintiff points to the following scenes in
(Compl. ¶ 30.)
In one scene, Koskoff is depicted
shaving a female sales assistant’s head who agreed to have her
head shaved at the front of Stratton Oakmont’s boardroom in
exchange for $10,000, which she would use to pay for breast
In the Memoir, Belfort claims that this
incident occurred, but he does not implicate Plaintiff as actually
performing the haircut.
(Memoir at 104.)
Plaintiff also points
to the scenes where Koskoff accompanies Belfort to the meeting
with the Swiss banker and is later arrested for money laundering.
Plaintiff further alleges that Koskoff is depicted “in a reckless
and depraved manner” in other scenes of the Movie, including scenes
prostitutes at work.
(Compl. ¶ 30.)
After the Movie was released, Plaintiff commenced this
action, alleging that the portrayal of the Koskoff Character is
libelous and violates his right of privacy under New York law.
The Complaint contains five causes of action, which do not have
The Court reads the first and second causes
of action to assert an invasion of Plaintiff’s right of privacy
under New York Civil Rights Law § 51, (Compl. ¶¶ 15-53)1; the Court
The second cause of action differs from the first only in that
it does not specifically cite to Section 51 of the New York
Civil Rights Law. In moving to dismiss the Complaint,
Defendants therefore interpret the second cause of action to
assert a common law right of privacy. (See Defs.’ Br., Docket
Entry 12-1, at 14.) The Court disagrees with Defendants’
interpretation. Although the second cause of action does not
specifically mention Section 51, it tracks the language of the
statute and does not indicate that it is based on a right
derived from the common law.
Plaintiff’s right of privacy under New York common law, (Compl.
¶¶ 54-56)2; and the fourth and fifth causes of action are in libel
Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Docket Entry 12.) This motion is fully
briefed and currently pending before the Court.
In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court
applies a “plausibility standard,” which is guided by “[t]wo
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.
Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009); accord Harris v. Mills, 572
F.3d 66, 71–72 (2d Cir. 2009).
First, although the Court must
accept all allegations as true, this “tenet” is “inapplicable to
legal conclusions;” thus, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements
of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; accord Harris, 572 F.3d at
Second, only complaints that state a “plausible claim for
relief” can survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.
Defendants also interpret the third cause of action to assert a
common law right of privacy. (Defs.’ Br. at 14.) The Court
agrees with this interpretation, as the third cause of action
specifically alleges that Defendants “have consciously and
deliberately disregarded and violated Plaintiff’s common law
propriety [sic] right to exclusive control of the commercial use
of his image, likeness, and characterization.” (Compl. ¶ 55
U.S. at 679.
Determining whether a complaint does so is “a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on
its judicial experience and common sense.”
Id.; accord Harris,
572 F.3d at 72.
The Court is confined to “the allegations contained
within the four corners of [the] complaint.”
Pani v. Empire Blue
Cross Blue Shield, 152 F.3d 67, 71 (2d Cir. 1998).
has been interpreted broadly to include any document attached to
the complaint, any statements or documents incorporated in the
complaint by reference, any document on which the complaint heavily
relies, and anything of which judicial notice may be taken.
Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152–53 (2d Cir. 2002)
(citations omitted); Kramer v. Time Warner Inc., 937 F.2d 767, 773
(2d Cir. 1991).
Right of Privacy
In the first and second causes of action, Plaintiff
alleges that Defendants violated his statutory right of privacy
under Section 51 of the New York Civil Rights Law because the Movie
appropriates his likeness for commercial gain without his consent.
(Compl. ¶¶ 15-53.)
The third cause of action seeks to enforce a
common law right of privacy based on the same factual premise.
(Compl. ¶¶ 54-56.)
Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s statutory
privacy claims should be dismissed because the Movie does not use
Plaintiff’s name, portrait, or likeness in a manner sufficient to
trigger the protections of Section 51 of the New York Civil Rights
(Defs.’ Br. at 7-9.)
They also move to dismiss Plaintiff’s
common law claim on the ground that New York law does not recognize
a common law right of privacy.
(Defs.’ Br. at 14.)
agrees with Defendants on both grounds.
“New York does not recognize a common-law right of
Messenger ex rel. Messenger v. Gruner + Jahr Printing
& Pub., 94 N.Y.2d 436, 441, 727 N.E.2d 549, 551, 706 N.Y.S.2d 52,
Instead, New York provides a limited statutory right
of privacy under Sections 50 and 51 of the New York Civil Rights
Law that prohibits “nonconsensual commercial appropriations of the
name, portrait or picture of a living person.”
Finger v. Omni
Publ’ns Int’l, Ltd., 77 N.Y.2d 138, 141, 566 N.E.2d 141, 143, 564
N.Y.S.2d 1014, 1016 (1990).
Section 50 makes it a misdemeanor to
use a living person’s “name, portrait or picture” for advertising
or trade purposes “without having first obtained the written
consent of such person.”
N.Y. CIV. RIGHTS LAW § 50.
creates a private right of action for violations of Section 50.”
Naked Cowboy v. CBS, 844 F. Supp. 2d 510, 519 (S.D.N.Y. 2012).
Section 51 states:
Any person whose name, portrait, picture or
voice is used within [the State of New York]
for advertising purposes or for the purposes
of trade without the written consent first
obtained . . . may maintain an equitable
action . . . against the person, firm or
corporation so using his name, portrait,
picture or voice, to prevent and restrain the
use thereof; and may also sue and recover
damages for any injuries sustained by reason
of such use.
N.Y. CIV. RIGHTS LAW § 51.
The New York State Court of Appeals has consistently
underscored that the privacy statute “is to be narrowly construed
and ‘strictly limited to nonconsensual commercial appropriations
of the name, portrait or picture of a living person.’”
94 N.Y.2d at 441, 727 N.E.2d at 552, 706 N.Y.S.2d at 55 (quoting
Finger, 77 N.Y.2d at 141, 566 N.E.2d at 143, 564 N.Y.S.2d at 1016).
“These statutory provisions prohibit the use of pictures, names or
portraits ‘for advertising purposes or for the purposes of trade’
only, and nothing more.”
Finger, 77 N.Y.2d at 141, 566 N.E.2d at
Thus, to state a claim under Section 51, a plaintiff
must allege: “‘(1) the use of his name, portrait, or likeness;
(2) for ‘advertising purposes or for the purpose of trade;’
(3) without written permission.’”
Edme v. Internet Brands, Inc.,
968 F. Supp. 2d 519, 528 (E.D.N.Y. 2013) (quoting Candelaria v.
Spurlock, No. 08-CV-1830, 2008 WL 2640471, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. July 3,
As noted, the Movie does not use Plaintiff’s real name
or an actual image of Plaintiff.
What Plaintiff argues is that
the Koskoff Character’s physical resemblance to him and their
toupees, viewed in conjunction with their similar backstories and
“identity . . . readily apparent in the [Movie].”
(Compl. ¶ 21.)
Stated another way, Plaintiff argues that “the likeness [between
him and Koskoff is] so significantly similar as to cause members
of the public to recognize the character as [him].”
Br., Docket Entry 22, at 10.)
As an initial matter, Plaintiff’s third cause of action,
which asserts a common law right of privacy, must be dismissed
because there is no common law right of privacy in New York.
Duncan v. Universal Music Grp. Inc., No. 11-CV-5654, 2012 WL
1965398, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. May 31, 2012) (dismissing the plaintiff’s
common law right of privacy claim because “[i]t is well settled
that New York does not recognize the common law right of privacy
and that the exclusive remedy for such harm is provided under
Sections 50 and 51”).
Plaintiff’s statutory claim also must be dismissed.
is well settled that Section 51 is to be construed narrowly and
“[m]erely suggesting certain characteristics of the plaintiff,
without literally using his or her name, portrait, or picture, is
not actionable under the statute.”
Allen v. Nat’l Video, Inc.,
610 F. Supp. 612, 621 (S.D.N.Y. 1985).
Thus, New York courts have
consistently dismissed Section 51 claims based on the use of a
fictitious name, even if the depiction at issue evokes some
characteristics of the person or the person is identifiable by
reference to external sources.
See, e.g., Cerasani v. Sony Corp.,
991 F. Supp. 343, 356 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (depiction of the plaintiff’s
character under a fictitious name in the motion picture Donnie
Brasco failed to state a Section 51 claim, “even assuming [that
the plaintiff was] identifiable” as the character at issue);
Wojtowicz v. Delacorte Press, 43 N.Y.2d 858, 860, 374 N.E.2d 129,
130, 403 N.Y.S.2d 218, 219 (1978) (affirming the trial court’s
holding that the depiction of the plaintiffs under fictitious names
in the motion picture Dog Day Afternoon failed to state a Section
51 claim, despite that the plaintiffs were “portrayed . . . in
sufficiently detailed accuracy of physical characteristics and
Springer v. Viking Press, 90 A.D.2d 315, 316, 457 N.Y.S.2d 246,
247 (1st Dep’t 1982) (affirming the trial court’s holding that the
plaintiff failed to state a Section 51 claim even though the
character in the novel State of Grace was based on the plaintiff,
shared “some physical similarities” with the plaintiff, and had
the same “common first name,” but not the same last name, as the
plaintiff), aff’d, 60 N.Y.2d 916, 458 N.E.2d 1256, 470 N.Y.S.2d
579 (1983); Waters v. Moore, 70 Misc. 2d 372, 375, 334 N.Y.S.2d
428, 433 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Nassau Cnty. 1972) (depiction of the
plaintiff’s character under a fictitious name in the motion picture
The French Connection failed to state a Section 51 claim, despite
that the plaintiff’s “identity [could] be ascertained from his
involvement with the actual event [depicted in the movie] or by
Character or is identifiable because of his position at Stratton
Oakmont, his Section 51 claim still must be dismissed.
In sum, because the Movie does not use Plaintiff’s name,
portrait, or picture, Plaintiff’s right of privacy claim under
Section 51 must be dismissed.
Plaintiff’s common law right of
privacy claim likewise fails because there is no such right under
New York common law.
individual’s right to one’s reputation.’”
Kavanagh v. Zwilling,
997 F. Supp. 2d 241, 248 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (quoting Idema v. Wager,
120 F. Supp. 2d 361, 365 (S.D.N.Y. 2000)), aff’d, 578 F. App’x 24
(2d Cir. 2014).
Defamation is comprised of “‘the twin torts of
libel and slander’ . . . .
Spoken defamatory words are slander;
written defamatory words are libel.”
Colodney v. Continuum Health
Partners, Inc., No. 03-CV-7276, 2004 WL 829158, at *7 (S.D.N.Y.
Apr. 15, 2004) (quoting Albert v. Loksen, 239 F.3d 256, 265 (2d
To state a claim of libel under New York law, a
plaintiff must plead five elements: “‘1) a written defamatory
statement of fact concerning the plaintiff; 2) publication to a
third party; 3) fault (either negligence or actual malice depending
on the status of the libeled party); 4) falsity of the defamatory
statement; and 5) special damages or per se actionability ([i.e.,
that the statement is] defamatory on its face).’”
F. Supp. 2d at 248 (alteration in original) (quoting Celle v.
Filipino Reporter Enters. Inc., 209 F.3d 163, 176 (2d Cir. 2000)),
aff’d, 578 F. App’x 24 (2d Cir. 2014).
In the fourth and fifth causes of action, Plaintiff
alleges that the Movie is libelous because it depicts the Koskoff
Plaintiff denies that he committed any of the acts depicted in the
Movie, but contends that he is similar enough to the Koskoff
Character that people who have watched the Movie have recognized
the Koskoff Character to be a portrayal of him engaging in the
alleged defamatory scenes, causing damage to his reputation.
fourth cause of action alleges that Defendants “acted with malice
or acted with reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity of the
(Compl. ¶ 60.)
The fifth cause of action
alternatively alleges that Defendants “acted negligently as to the
truth or falsity of the [defamatory scenes].”
(Compl. ¶ 65.)
Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot plausibly allege
that the Koskoff Character is “of and concerning” him because
Koskoff is a fictional composite of various characters in the
Memoir who is only superficially similar to Plaintiff.
Br., Docket Entry 12-1, at 14-16, 18 n.2.)
Defendants also argue
that the fifth cause of action, which alleges mere negligence,
legitimate matter of public concern and therefore falls under the
standard set forth by the New York State Court of Appeals in
Chapadeau v. Utica Observer-Dispatch, 38 N.Y.2d 196, 199, 341
N.E.2d 569, 571, 379 N.Y.S.2d 61, 64 (1975), which requires the
allegedly defamatory statement to be published in “a grossly
irresponsible manner” in order to be actionable.
(Defs.’ Br. at
For the reasons explained below, the Court agrees with
disagrees with their argument regarding the “of and concerning”
element of Plaintiff’s libel claims.
“Of and Concerning”
As noted, “[a] statement is not libelous unless it is
Companion, Inc., 828 F.2d 921, 925 (2d Cir. 1987) (citation
This requirement “generally presents a factual question
for the jury.”
Diaz v. NBC Universal, Inc., 536 F. Supp. 2d 337,
342 (S.D.N.Y. 2008), aff’d, 337 F. App’x 94 (2d Cir. 2009).
However, “‘the Court properly may dismiss an action pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6) where the statements are incapable of supporting a
jury’s finding that the allegedly libelous statements refer to
Id. (quoting Church of Scientology Int’l v. Time
Warner, Inc., 806 F. Supp. 1157, 1160 (S.D.N.Y. 1992), aff’d sub
nom., Church of Scientology Int’l v. Behar, 238 F.3d 168 (2d Cir.
Thus, “‘[w]hether the complaint alleges facts sufficient
to demonstrate a reasonable connection between the plaintiff and
the alleged libel is . . . a question for the Court.’” Id. (quoting
Gristede’s Foods, Inc. v. Poospatuck (Unkechauge) Nation, No. 06CV-1260, 2009 WL 4547792, at *13 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 1, 2009).
Where, as in this case, the plaintiff claims that he or
character, “[t]he test is whether a reasonable person, viewing the
[alleged defamatory work], would understand that the character
portrayed in the [work] was, in actual fact, the plaintiff acting
Davis v. Costa-Gavras, 619 F. Supp. 1372, 1375
(S.D.N.Y. 1985); see also Fetler v. Houghton Mifflin Co., 364 F.2d
650, 651 (2d Cir. 1966) (“[T]he question is whether the libel
designates the plaintiff in such a way as to let those who knew
him understand that he was the person meant.
It is not necessary
that all the world should understand the libel; it is sufficient
if those who knew the plaintiff can make out that he is the person
meant.” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).
inquiry necessarily requires a search for the similarities and
dissimilarities between the plaintiff and the fictional character
so as to determine whether a person who knew the plaintiff could
Springer, 90 A.D.2d at 320, 457 N.Y.S.2d at 249.
Because the “of and concerning” inquiry is so fact
specific, New York courts have failed to carve out consistent
guidelines for determining how similar the plaintiff and the
fictional character must be.
Compare Geisler v. Petrocelli, 616
F.2d 636, 639-40 (2d Cir. 1980) (same name and similar physical
composition and history held sufficient to present an issue of
fact to a jury), with Springer, 90 A.D.2d at 320, 457 N.Y.S.2d at
insufficient to establish the “of and concerning” element in light
of the “profound” dissimilarities “both in manner of living and in
outlook”), and Carter-Clark v. Random House, Inc., 196 Misc. 2d
1011, 1014-15, 768 N.Y.S.2d 290, 294 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. County 2003)
concerning” element), aff'd, 17 A.D.3d 241, 793 N.Y.S.2d 394 (1st
counterintuitive nature of a libel by fiction claim. The plaintiff
concerning” him and her because of their similarities, but also
must deny significant aspects of the fictional character, i.e.,
the defamatory aspects of the character.
Accordingly, New York
courts have required the plaintiff in a libel by fiction case to
show that the “description of the fictional character . . . [is]
so closely akin to the real person claiming to be defamed that a
reader [or viewer] of the [alleged defamatory work], knowing the
real person, would have no difficulty linking the two. Superficial
similarities are insufficient . . . .”
Springer, 90 A.D.2d at
320, 457 N.Y.S.2d at 249.
Relying on Davis v. Costa-Gavras, 654 F. Supp. 653, 654
Plaintiff shares “some superficial similarities” with Koskoff,
Koskoff cannot be “of and concerning” Plaintiff as a matter of
law, because he is a fictional composite of real-life people
referenced in the Memoir.
(Defs.’ Br. at 14-16.)
therefore contend that “[a] reader of the [Memoir] who sees the
[Movie] would know that Nicky Koskoff is a composite, and someone
who has not read the [Memoir] who sees the film would have no basis
to connect Nicky Koskoff to [Plaintiff].”
Docket Entry 24, at 6.)
(Defs.’ Reply Br.,
There are a few issues with this argument
that render it unsound, at least at this stage of the litigation.
First, by Defendants’ own admission, the Movie is not a purely
fictional work. It is based on a true story. Thus, it is plausible
to allege that someone who was aware of Stratton Oakmont’s fraud
and Plaintiff’s role at the company could reasonably associate the
116059/04, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1933, at (Sup. Ct. N.Y. County
Mar. 14, 2008) (same unique first name, ethnicity, and physical
appearance in an episode of Law & Order depicting a public scandal
held sufficient to present an issue of fact to a jury).
should be permitted to take discovery on this issue.
Second, the holding in Davis II is wholly inapplicable
In Davis, the plaintiff alleged that he was defamed
through the portrayal of a fictional composite character in the
motion picture Missing, which was based on a nonfiction book about
an American journalist killed during the 1973 Chilean coup d’état
that deposed the government of then-Chilean President Salvador
See Davis v. Costa-Gavras, 619 F. Supp. 1372,
1373 (S.D.N.Y. 1985) (“Davis I”).
The plaintiff was a United
States Military commander stationed in Chile during this time.
After a full evidentiary hearing, the Davis II court granted
summary judgment in favor of the defendant filmmakers on the ground
that there was no evidence of fault in their making of the film.
Because the plaintiff was a public official, the court applied the
“actual malice” standard for determining fault set out in New York
Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S. Ct. 710, 11 L. Ed. 2d
Davis II, 654 F. Supp. at 654.
The court held that
the use of a fictional composite character in the context of a
“docudrama” did not establish the requisite evidence of actual
The court never addressed the “of and concerning”
element of the plaintiff’s defamation and, in fact, the defendants
previously conceded that the composite character in the movie was
intended to represent the plaintiff.
Davis I, 619 F. Supp. at
Thus, Davis II does not, as Defendants suggests, stand for
the broad proposition that a fictional composite character can
never satisfy the “of and concerning” element of a defamation
Davis II is also distinguishable from this case from a
procedural standpoint in that Davis II was decided after a full
In sum, given the alleged similarities between Plaintiff
and Koskoff, and the public nature of Stratton Oakmont’s fraud,
Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to withstand Defendants’
motion to dismiss with respect to the “of and concerning” element
of Plaintiff’s libel claim.
As noted, the plaintiff in a libel case must also
demonstrate that the defendant culpably published the alleged
false and defamatory statements.
The standard of fault varies
constitutional matter, if the plaintiff is a “public figure,” he
or she “must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the
defendant acted with ‘actual malice.’”
Supp. 2d 255, 276 (S.D.N.Y. 2013).
Biro v. Conde Nast, 963 F.
If the plaintiff is a “private
figure,” he or she “must show at least that the defendants were
negligent with respect to the truth if the statement complained of
bears on a matter of public concern.” Lopez v. Univision Commc’ns,
Inc., 45 F. Supp. 2d 348, 360 (S.D.N.Y. 1999).
Chapadeau v. Utica Observer-Dispatch, the New York Court of Appeals
held that under New York law, a private figure complaining of
defamation with respect to a matter that is “arguably within the
sphere of legitimate public concern, which is reasonably related
to matters warranting public exposition,” may not recover unless
he or she establishes that the defendant “acted in a grossly
irresponsible manner without due consideration for the standards
of information gathering and dissemination ordinarily followed by
Chapadeau, 38 N.Y.2d at 199, 341 N.E.2d at
571, 379 N.Y.S.2d at 64.
Here, assuming Plaintiff will assert that he is a private
figure, the Chapadeau standard governs his defamation claim.
story told in the Memoir, which was later adapted in the Movie,
unquestionably touches on a matter warranting public exposition.
However, as noted, the fifth cause of action only alleges that
(Compl. ¶ 65.)
The Court therefore must dismiss Plaintiff’s fifth
cause of action.
Leave to Amend
Although Plaintiff has not requested leave to replead,
the Second Circuit has stated that “[w]hen a motion to dismiss is
Hayden v. Cnty. of Nassau, 180 F.3d 42, 53 (2d Cir.
1999); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a)(2) (“The court should freely
give leave [to amend] when justice so requires.”).
Leave to amend
should be granted unless there is evidence of undue delay, bad
faith, undue prejudice, or futility.
See Milanese v. Rust–Oleum
articulated above, it would be futile to grant Plaintiff leave to
replead his right of privacy claims, and those claims are hereby
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
However, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff
leave to replead his fifth cause of action to assert a libel claim
based on gross negligence.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ motion to dismiss
the Complaint (Docket Entry 12) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN
The motion is DENIED insofar as it seeks dismissal of
Plaintiff’s libel claims based on a failure to plead the “of and
concerning” element of a defamation claim.
The motion is GRANTED
with respect to Plaintiff’s right of privacy claims, which are
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
The motion is also GRANTED with respect
to Plaintiff’s fifth cause of action based on negligent defamation
and this claim is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE and with leave to
repleading this claim, he must do so within thirty (30) days of
the date of this Memorandum and Order.
If Plaintiff fails to do
so, Plaintiff’s fifth cause of action will be dismissed with
/s/ JOANNA SEYBERT______
Joanna Seybert, U.S.D.J.
30 , 2015
Central Islip, New York
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?