Horton et al v. Guillot
DECISION & ORDER: It is Ordered that the # 17 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim is DENIED for the reasons noted herein. Signed by Senior Judge Thomas J. McAvoy on 3/2/2015. (jmb)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
WILLIS HORTON and LUIS SAEZ,
THOMAS J. McAVOY,
Senior United States District Judge
DECISION & ORDER
Plaintiffs Willis Horton (“Horton”) and Luis Saez (“Saez”)
(collectively “Plaintiffs”) bring this action for defamation,
slander, and libel per se as a result of statements, comments, and
writings made by the Defendant, Eric Guillot (“Guillot” or
“Defendant”). Defendant moves pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)
to dismiss Horton’s claims, contending that the pleadings fail to
adequately allege that he made a defamatory statement about Horton.
The Court has considered the parties’ submissions, and, for the
reasons that follow, Guillot’s motion is denied.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
“Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only ‘a short
and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief,’ in order to ‘give the Defendant fair notice of
what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’”
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley
v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957)).
complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not
need detailed factual allegations . . . a plaintiff’s obligation to
provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more
than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.”
Id. At 555.
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations
in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).”
“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.’”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
does not suffice “if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
must be supported by factual allegations.
Horton is the owner and manager of a thoroughbred racehorse
known as “Will Take Charge.” Amend. Compl. at ¶ 9.
Saez is a jockey
and was aboard “Will Take Charge” in the 2013 Travers Stakes at
Saratoga Raceway. Amend. Compl. at ¶ 10.
Guillot is a trainer of
thoroughbred racehorses including “Moreno,” which raced against
“Will Take Charge” in the 2013 Travers Stakes.
Amend. Compl. at ¶
In that race, “Will Take Charge”, ridden by Saez, was the
winner; “Moreno” finished second.
Amend. Compl. at ¶ 12.
“Following the completion of the race, more specifically on
August 30, 2013, and thereinafter on August 31, 2013, September 6,
2013, September 15, 2013, October 28, 2013, and August 1, 2014,
Defendant accused Saez and management, including Horton, of using an
electric device on ‘Will Take Charge’.”
Amend. Compl. at ¶ 13.
Defendant made various oral and written statements to other people
including, but not limited to, various reporters for the New York
Daily News, the Times Union, the Racing Daily Form, the Courier
Journal and [The Saratogian].”2
These various statements were
summarized in a complaint made by Guillot to the NYS Gaming
Amend. Compl. at 14.
Specifically, Defendant stated:
I Eric Guillot am filing a complaint for our lost [sic] in the
race called Traver’s at Saratoga on Aug 24th 2013 – My horse
For the purposes of this motion, the allegations in the First Amended
Complaint are deemed to be true.
The First Amended Complaint states that statements were made by Guillot
to “The Saratorian.” It is clear that this was a typographical error, meant to
be “The Saratogian,” and the Court will regard it as such.
Moreno was beat by a nose on the wire by [a] horse named Take
Charge Indy [sic]– After suffering biggest defeat in our career
– my brother Chip . . . had recorded races on NBC for family
once he got home and watched replay on NBC on big plasma TV he
said it was obvious the kid had trouble celebrating cuss [sic]
of black device in right hand switching too left hand and
tucking it under left shoulder under saddle pad! We feel this
has crossed every integrity line of horse racing and would like
this investigated and resolved!
Compl. at ¶ 15.
On August 31, 2013, Defendant repeated his accusations to a
reporter for the Times Union, the quotes of which were contained in
a written article and published to the general public.
article was published in the New York Daily News on August 31, 2013.
Amend. Compl. at ¶ 16.
On September 6, 2013, Defendant said to a reporter at the
[Daily Racing Form]3, as memorialized in an article: “To me, the
horse was dead in the water then jumps out from the wire when he hit
him with the machine;” and, “Pretty suspicious why they had a jock
change coming off a second place in the Jim Dandy.”
It is alleged
that the “they” referenced in this statement refers to the owners
and managers of “Will Take Charge,” and, therefore, is “of and
Amend. Compl. at ¶ 17.
On September 15, 2013, Defendant said to a reporter from the
New York Daily News, as published in a written article: “They won’t
use the machine on him in back to back races.”
It is again alleged
The First Amended Complaint states that statements were made by Guillot
to a reporter for the “Racing Daily Form.” It is clear that this was a
typographical error, meant to be “Daily Racing Form,” and the Court will regard
it as such.
that the “they” in this statement refers to the ownership and
management of “Will Take Charge,” and, therefore, was “of and
Amend. Compl. at ¶ 18.
On October 4, 2013, the New York State Gaming Commission
unanimously concluded that Saez was not carrying any sort of
electrical device in the 2013 Travers Stakes, and deemed Guillot’s
allegations unsubstantiated. See Defendant’s Exhibit “2" [Dkt. #173].
After learning of the Commission’s conclusion, Guillot told a
reporter from the Courier Journal, as published in an article, that
he apologizes to management but that “I’d do it all over again.”
August 1, 2014, Guillot told a reporter from The Saratogian: “Why
would I have any regret?
What I saw, if I took 100 consenting
adults and sent them the video, 99 thought it was right.
part of life.
If it happened Saturday, I’d do it again.”
Compl. at ¶ 19.
Plaintiffs assert claims for defamation, slander, and libel per
Under New York law, the elements for defamation, either libel
or slander, include: (1) a false and defamatory statement of fact,
(2) regarding the plaintiff, (3) the publication of the written or
oral statement to a third party, and (4) injury to plaintiff. See
Murphy v. Cadillac Rubber & Plastics, Inc., 946 F. Supp. 1108, 1122
(W.D.N.Y. 1996)(citations omitted); Celi v. Canadian Occidental
Petroleum Ltd. 804 F. Supp. 465, 470 (E.D.N.Y. 1992). Defendant
argues that Horton’s claims must be dismissed because Horton is not
specifically named in any of the alleged defamatory statements.
Defendant contends, therefore, that the pleadings fail to establish
or allege the second element of a defamation claim by Horton.
In reviewing the Amended Complaint, the Court finds that
Plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to support plausible
defamation claims by each Plaintiff. Plaintiffs correctly note that
New York Civil Procedure Law § 3016(a), which requires that
defamation claims be stated with particularity in State Court
pleadings, is inapplicable in the present case.
Rule 8(a)(2) merely
requires a plaintiff to set forth “a short and plain statement of
the claim showing that he or she is entitled to relief.”
v. Mortgageit Inc., 498 F. Supp.2d 659, 661-662 (S.D.N.Y. 2007).
“[I]n defamatory actions, the complaint need only give
defendant sufficient notice of the words at issue to allow defendant
to defend himself.” Condit v. Dunne, 317 F. Supp.2d 344, 368
(S.D.N.Y. 2004). It is not necessary that a plaintiff be named in a
publication containing alleged libelous statements; however, if he
is not named, the plaintiff “bears the burden of pleading and
proving that the defamatory meaning attached to him.” Bee
Publications Inc. v. Cheektowaga Times Inc., 107 A.D.2d 383, 385
(4th Dept. 1985). Further, a plaintiff must plead sufficient facts
to show that “the libel designates the plaintiff in such a way as to
let those who knew [him] understand that he is the person meant.”
Fetler v. Houghton Miffling Company, 364 F.2d 650, 651 (2d Cir.
1966). “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.”
Fetler, 364 F.2d at 651.
“the reference to a plaintiff may be indirect and may be shown by
Bee Publications Inc., 107 A.D.2d at 385.
Defendant argues that the allegations involving Saez’s use of
an electrical device during the 2013 Travers Stakes did not involve
Horton, and do not allege that Horton was responsible or involved in
any manner with the use of an electrical device.
Defendant’s argument by citing the statements quoted in paragraphs
seventeen and eighteen of the Amended Complaint.
statements, Defendant is alleged to have used the word “they” when
discussing the purported use of an electronic device during the 2013
Plaintiffs maintain that the “they” referenced in
these statements refers to the owners and managers of “Will Take
Charge,” and, therefore, is “of and concerning” Horton.
It is clear that an issue in this case is whether it is common
knowledge within the thoroughbred racing industry that a reference
to a jockey’s improper conduct to win a race is “of and concerning”
the management of the horse.4
However, Rule 8 requires only that
To support the conclusion that Defendant's use of the word "they" is "of
and concerning" Horton, Plaintiffs have submitted an Affidavit of Pamela Berg
(Dkt. #19-2). Ms. Berg's affidavit is not considered by the Court because it is
extrinsic evidence. At this time, the Court need not determine whether the
Defendant's statements were, in fact, "of and concerning" Horton, as such a
question is reserved for the jury. Geisler v. Petrocelli, 616 F.2d 636, 639 (2d
Plaintiffs plead a factual content supporting a claim that is
plausible on its face. Here, it is plausible that Defendant’s
statements that “they” used an electrical device on “Will Take
Charge” during the 2013 Travers Stakes is an allegation about both
Plaintiffs, not just Saez.
Thus, Plaintiffs have pleaded sufficient
detail regarding the alleged defamatory statements to plausibly
suggest that the statements were “of and concerning” both
Plaintiffs. Accordingly, Defendant’s motion is denied.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant’s motion to dismiss
Horton’s claims,(Dkt. #17), is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated:March 2, 2015
Cir. 1980). The Court must only determine whether the Plaintiffs adequately
stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendant may challenge
Plaintiffs’ extrinsic evidence on this issue on summary judgment or at trial.
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