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Couzens v. Donohue

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 18, 2017

Jon David Couzens, Jr. Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
William Donohue, individually; Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, a not for profit foreign corporation; KC Catholic League, Inc. a not for profit corporation; Joe McLiney, individually and in his capacity as President, Director and Member of KC Catholic League, Inc.; James E. O'Laughlin, individually and in his Capacity Secretary, Director and Member of KC Catholic League, Inc. Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: November 15, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Kansas City

          Before RILEY, [1] Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.

         Jon David Couzens, Jr., filed suit against William Donohue, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (the Catholic League), KC Catholic League, Inc. (KCCL), Joe McLiney, and James E. O'Laughlin (collectively, Defendants) in Missouri state court. Couzens's petition set forth claims of defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, alleging that Defendants published false information to discredit and humiliate him in retaliation for Couzens's public allegations that he was sexually abused by priests. Defendants removed the case to federal district court. Couzens appeals from the district court's[2]orders denying his motion to remand and dismissing his causes of action for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Our recitation of the facts of this case accepts as true the factual allegations in Couzens's petition. Joyce v. Armstrong Teasdale, LLP, 635 F.3d 364, 365 (8th Cir. 2011). Couzens is a Missouri citizen, Donohue and the Catholic League are New York citizens, [3] KCCL is a Kansas citizen, and McLiney and O'Laughlin, both of whom are directors of KCCL, are Missouri citizens. In 2011, Couzens reported that he had been sexually abused and had witnessed sexual abuse by priests in Independence, Missouri. He filed a lawsuit against the two individual priests, a diocese, and a monastery. He also described the abuse in a series of articles published by a Kansas City newspaper, the last of which was published on or about December 6, 2011. That same day, the Catholic League issued a statement by Donohue regarding Couzens's testimony in a 1992 murder trial:

[The author of the recent newspaper articles] never told readers that on the night [the victim] was murdered about a dozen years ago, Couzens got into a fight with him over a botched drug deal, and although another man was convicted, on appeal it was alleged that Couzens and two other men had "motive to commit the murder and the opportunity to do so."[4]

         On December 8, 2011, the Catholic League issued another statement: "Couzens may be a hero to the [newspaper], but his character is indeed questionable: he was implicated in a murder." The same article also suggested that Couzens was telling his story only to capitalize on the publicity from a recent sexual-abuse scandal involving a priest: "Why did Couzens wait 30 years before he told his 'wrenching' tale? Because the time was ripe to cash in after Fr. Ratigan's name hit the papers." Donohue, the Catholic League, and KCCL distributed these statements, as well as the assertion (in the words of Couzens's petition) that Couzens is "a Catholic hating bigot, " throughout the Kansas City community. The allegations against Couzens have been posted on the websites of the Catholic League and KCCL. The petition states that the allegations that Couzens was officially implicated in the murder, that he engaged in a "botched drug deal, " and that he is a "Catholic hating bigot" are false.

         The district court denied Couzens's motion to remand after concluding that Missouri defendants McLiney and O'Laughlin were fraudulently joined. Donohue and the Catholic League thereafter moved to dismiss the case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). They argued that the one-year New York statute of limitations applied to Couzens's defamation claim because, according to Donohue's affidavit in support of the motion to dismiss, the allegedly defamatory statements were first published in New York.[5] Accordingly, they argued, Missouri's borrowing statute required the application of New York's statute of limitations because Couzens's defamation claim originated in New York. Donohue and the Catholic League also argued that Missouri law does not recognize Couzens's invasion-of-privacy claim and that the petition failed to state facts to support claims of intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress. The court granted the motion to dismiss, dismissed the claims against the fraudulently joined defendants, and later dismissed the claims against KCCL for failure to prosecute.

         II. Discussion

         A. Removal

         We review de novo the district court's denial of Couzens's motion to remand. Christiansen v. W. Branch Cmty. Sch. Dist., 674 F.3d 927, 932 (8th Cir. 2012). Couzens asserted only tort claims under Missouri law, and no party argues that this case presents a federal question. Accordingly, diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 constitutes the only basis for subject matter jurisdiction in this case.

         1. Fraudulent Joinder of McLiney and O'Laughlin

         Couzens argues that the district court erred in determining that Missouri defendants McLiney and O'Laughlin were fraudulently joined. He contends that he sued McLiney and O'Laughlin as trustees of KCCL and that he could not sue KCCL directly because it was a forfeited corporation. KCCL, however, is a Kansas corporation, and Kansas law provides for a three-year wind-up period during which a corporation may be sued in its own name. Kan. Stat. Ann. § 17-6807; see Keystone Agency, Inc. v. Herrin, 585 S.W.2d 313, 314 (Mo.Ct.App. 1979) (concluding that a Nebraska corporation's dissolution was governed by Nebraska law). Moreover, even if Missouri law applied, Couzens could have sued KCCL because it was reinstated as a corporation in 2014.[6] See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 351.488(3) (providing that when the secretary of state grants a dissolved corporation a certificate of reinstatement, "it relates back to and takes effect as of the effective date of the administrative dissolution and the corporation resumes carrying on its business as if the administrative dissolution had never occurred").

         We reject Couzens's argument that McLiney and O'Laughlin were properly joined in their individual capacities. Although the caption of the petition names McLiney and O'Laughlin in both their individual and representative capacities, and paragraph 8 of the petition states that the district court has jurisdiction over them in their individual capacities, the petition sets forth no factual allegations against McLiney or O'Laughlin as individuals and instead alleges that KCCL republished and distributed the defamatory statements. Because Couzens protests KCCL's alleged conduct and not McLiney's or O'Laughlin's, we affirm the district court's determination that the Missouri defendants were fraudulently joined. See Filla v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 336 F.3d 806, 810 (8th Cir. 2003) ...


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