Ludlow’s Defamation Suit Dismissed


Judge John P. Callahan of the Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court has dismissed Peter Ludlow’s defamation lawsuit against a Northwestern University undergraduate who had accused him of sexual assault (previously; related material here). Ludlow’s lawsuit claimed that “the student knowingly made false statements to news media and Northwestern professors after [Ludlow] rebuffed her sexual advances.”  In response, the undergraduate submitted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In considering such a motion, the judge asks whether the plaintiff has a case if the allegations he or she makes are viewed in a way most favorable to the plaintiff. If the answer is no, the suit is dismissed, as it was here. Ludlow was granted 28 days to file an amended complaint.

(There are currently no news stories about this case; this post is based on the Case Management Order.)

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anon
anon
6 years ago

“the judge asks whether the plaintiff has a case if the allegations he or she makes are viewed in a way most favorable to the plaintiff. If the answer is no…”

What? I’m not being pedantic: I literally cannot understand this. Are cases dismissed if the argument doesn’t favor the plaintiff? Or is the case dismissed when the conditional “if the allegations he or she makes are viewed in a way most favorable to the plaintiff, then the plaintiff has a case” is false? Neither of these possibilities makes much sense. Is there a typo? Gahh.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

In response to [email protected]:13, and following up on what Justin said: by dismissing Prof. Ludlow’s complaint, the court effectively asserted a conditional: EVEN IF all of the plaintiff’s allegations are viewed in the most favorable light, the case is STILL not one the Illinois Circuit Court has the power to deal with. By dismissing the case, the court effectively said that there’s no reason to even bother to gather evidence that would support or refute the plaintiff’s allegations, because even if all of the plaintiff’s allegations were substantiated, the plaintiff still would not have made the legal case that s/he had been defamed.Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

To be clear, it is the _factual_ allegations which are viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. The motion to dismiss precedes the expensive process of factual discovery, of taking depositions, demanding documents, and the rest. In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court is to imagine that the plaintiff’s version of facts is true, and the court is then to ask, if the facts are exactly as the plaintiff suggests, can the plaintiff win?

So, for example (and I haven’t read the Ludlow stuff, so this is not a commentary on that), imagine Anne sues Ben for defamation. In her lawsuit, Anna claims that Ben said to Carla, “Anna is a jerk.” Ben, in response, denies that he said any such thing — he’s a gentleman through and through. In considering Ben’s later motion to dismiss, however, the court assumes that he did say “Anna is a jerk,” and the court grants Ben’s motion to dismiss, ruling that describing someone as a jerk is, by law, not the sort of thing which can be defamatory.Report

Fritz Allhoff
Fritz Allhoff
6 years ago

@anon 9:27, that’s not quite right, the issue isn’t whether the court has the “power” to adjudicate the claim (i.e., whether it has jurisdiction). Rather the point is that, assuming all facts and inferences favorable to the plaintiff, he loses *anyway*, there’s no point in having a trial. These motions to dismiss are often filed under (federal) Civil Rule 12b6–there are analogues in state law as well–which is just “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” So the dismissal is saying plaintiff just can’t win. (Note that other people have said this is about presuming facts as alleged by plaintiff, but it’s actually more than that, namely facts and reasonable inferences.)Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Hi Fritz,

This is Anonymous 9:27. I didn’t mean to use “power” as a synonym for “jurisdiction.” I hoped that my second sentence would help to clarify what I was trying to say. As far as my second sentence goes, I checked the document to which Justin had linked, and I didn’t see anything about “reasonable inferences” until I got to the section on summary judgments. Maybe this is because Illinois is a fact-pleading state?Report

Fritz Allhoff
Fritz Allhoff
6 years ago

Idk, try this one for example; haven’t read whole opinion, but it’s first one that showed up on Westlaw: “In making this determination [about summary judgment] the pleadings, depositions, admissions, exhibits, and affidavits are to be construed strictly against the movant and liberally in favor of the opponent . . . . In addition, the court must draw all reasonable inferences from the record in favor of the non-moving party.” Delaney Elec. Co., Inc. v. Schiessle, 601 N.E.2d 978, 982 (Ill. App. 1992). Certainly the reasonable inferences language shows up in myriad other jurisdictions, including federal. Civil procedure was my worst grade in law school, though, so don’t hold me to it. 😉Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Hi Fritz,

This is Anonymous 9:27/2:28 again. Thanks for responding to my question. I’d love to follow-up, but since the Daily Nous isn’t the right venue for a discussion of MOTIONS TO DISMISS PURSUANT TO 735 ILCS 5/2-615 AND 2-619, I’ll resist! 😉Report

Another anonymous lawyer
Another anonymous lawyer
6 years ago

To explain a motion to dismiss in clearer terms.

Any legal claim requires the claimant to prove certain facts to win their claim. So when you file a complaint you are supposed to allege these facts, known as the elements of your claim.

A motion to dismiss simply says that to win you case you need to show A+B+C – but in your complaint you don’t even allege C. If there is no C you have no claim.

A motion for summary judgment amounts to saying, after discovery, you have no evidence of C, or at least not enough to prove C.

So a motion to dismiss is – the claim is simply insufficient, a motion for summary judgment, you don’t have the evidence.

Motions to dismiss are often not final, in that the plaintiff can amend the complaint to allege the missing element, i.e., item C. Motions for summary judgement usual,y are final,mother claim is dead,mat least until appeal.Report