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Pujols v. Pujols Family Foundation

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 28, 2017

WILFRIDO JUAN PUJOLS, Plaintiff,
v.
PUJOLS FAMILY FOUNDATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CHARLES A. SHAW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review.[1] For the following reasons, the Court grants defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Wilfrido Pujols is the cousin of defendant Jose Alberto Pujols, better known as Albert Pujols, a former St. Louis Cardinals baseball player and current first baseman for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Plaintiff, who is a former professional baseball player, brings claims against defendants Jose Alberto Pujols (“Albert Pujols”); Albert Pujols's wife, Deidre Pujols; and the Pujols Family Foundation, a not-for-profit organization.

         The allegations in the Amended Complaint (“Complaint”) arise, in part, from an email exchange between Deidre Pujols, the President of the Pujols Family Foundation, and a third party, Cheryl Cooper. Plaintiff alleges, among other things, that Deidre Pujols defamed him in an email she sent to Ms. Cooper dated December 7, 2007. Ms. Cooper later copied the email from Deidre Pujols and posted it on plaintiff's Facebook wall on November 4, 2014. Plaintiff also alleges that defendants Deidre and Albert Pujols made other defamatory statements about him to other third parties, Kristen Peter and Todd Perry. Plaintiff further alleges that Albert Pujols made intimidating phone calls to his house and to his father.

         Plaintiff brings one state law claim against defendants Albert Pujols, Deidre Pujols, and the Pujols Family Foundation for defamation (Count I), and one state law claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against defendant Albert Pujols (Count II). Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that he suffered injuries and damages as a result of defendants' conduct and is seeking “no less than 7.5 million dollars” in damages.[2] Doc. 22 at 22.

         In the motion before the Court, defendants move, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss the defamation claim on the following grounds: The statements in the December 7, 2007 email from Deidre Pujols are not defamatory because they are protected opinions; plaintiff has not suffered damages as a result of the email; defendants cannot be liable for the republication of the email; and any defamation claim arising from the email is time barred. In addition, defendants argue that plaintiff's allegations with regard to alleged defamatory statements made to Kristen Peter and Todd Peter are insufficient to state a claim. With regard to plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, Albert Pujols argues that the claim should be dismissed because plaintiff fails to allege sufficiently outrageous conduct, that his conduct was intended to cause extreme emotional distress to plaintiff, or that plaintiff suffered bodily harm as a result.

         II. Standard

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, “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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A plaintiff need not provide specific facts in support of its allegations, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam), but “must include sufficient factual information to provide the ‘grounds' on which the claim rests, and to raise a right to relief above a speculative level.” Schaaf v. Residential Funding Corp., 517 F.3d 544, 549 (8th Cir. 2008)(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 & n.3). This obligation requires a plaintiff to plead “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A complaint “must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory.” Id. at 562 (quoted case omitted). This standard “simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the claim or element].” Id. at 556.

         On a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, even if it appears that “actual proof of those facts is improbable, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, and reviews the complaint to determine whether its allegations show that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id; Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Materials attached to the complaint as exhibits may be considered in construing the sufficiency of the complaint. Morton v. Becker, 793 F.2d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1986).

         In this case, plaintiff is proceeding without the assistance of counsel. Pro se pleadings are to be liberally construed and are held to less stringent standards than those drafted by an attorney. Smith v. St. Bernards Reg'l Med. Ctr., 19 F.3d 1254, 1255 (8th Cir. 1994). Nevertheless, pro se pleadings must not be conclusory and must state sufficient facts which, when taken as true, support the claims advanced. Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004). The Court “will not supply additional facts, nor will [it] construct a legal theory for plaintiff that assumes facts that have not been pleaded.” Id. (quoting Dunn v. White, 880 F.2d 1188, 1197 (10th Cir. 1989)).

         III. Allegations in the Complaint

         Plaintiff makes the following allegations in his Complaint:

         Plaintiff is a former professional baseball player. He has worked as a professional hitting instructor, and in 2016 he became a self-employed sports agent and formed Team Pujols Sports & Entertainment LLC. Albert Pujols, a professional baseball player, is the Founder and Chairman of the Pujols Family Foundation. Deidre Pujols, Albert's wife, is the President of the Pujols Family Foundation. The Pujols Family Foundation is a not-for-profit that was organized to benefit people with Down syndrome, disabilities, or life-threatening illnesses, as well as children and families living in poverty in the Dominican Republic.

         On November 9, 2007, plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle driven by his brother, Wilfredo Pujols. Wilfredo Pujols was under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and while he was being pursued by law enforcement, Wilfredo Pujols's vehicle struck Christopher Cooper, who died that night due to blunt force trauma. Wilfredo Pujols was charged with multiple felonies, including second degree murder. Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that he attempted to stop his brother, and he was not charged with any crime related to the incident.

         On December 6, 2007, the mother of Christopher Cooper wrote an email to the Pujols Family Foundation directed to Albert Pujols. She states in her email that her son “was murdered by your cousins, Wilfredo and Wilfrido Pujols on November 8, 2007.”[3] Doc. 22, Ex. A. Ms. Cooper wrote:

I will promise you, I will do everything in my power to see to it that Wilfredo Pujols spends as many years as possible in a jail cell, denied the joy of raising his own child. Your money and fame will not buy his freedom or absolve him of murder, the murder of our most precious son, Christopher. We will always fight to see to it that he suffers for as long as a murder conviction allows. For as long as I live, I will be deprived of the love and company of my baby, and your cousin will pay, I swear it on the life and death of my child.

Id.

         A response was sent from the email address Info@PujolsFamilyFoundation.org, which was electronically signed by Deidre Pujols and dated December 7, 2007 (the “2007 Email”). The 2007 Email states in full:

Let me start off by telling you how sorry I am about the loss of your son's life. It is with regret that I didn't send you a letter that I had written in the days following the tragedy. I can't even pretend to know the measure of emotions that your family will ever go through. It is most unfortunate that my husband has become connected to this event because he is well known. We have never had a close relationship to these young men. My husband and I have a close relationship with God and through His Son, Jesus Christ, we have learned through Scripture what kind of character that we want to be accountable to. Let me assure you that in no way would we support these young men financially, legally or in any other means. It is an awfully bold assumption to make that my husband or I would support something so heinous without knowing anything about us. If you take a closer look at our website you will see that we ...

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