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Smith v. Clinton

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

March 27, 2018

PATRICIA SMITH AND CHARLES WOODS, APPELLANTS
v.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON AND UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEES

          Submitted February 9, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:16-cv-01606)

          Larry E. Klayman was on the briefs for appellants.

          David E. Kendall, Katherine M. Turner, and Amy Saharia were on the brief for appellee Hillary Rodham Clinton.

          Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, and Mark B. Stern and Weili J. Shaw, Attorneys, U.S. Department of Justice, were on the brief for appellee United States of America.

          Before: Rogers, Millett, and Pillard, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods tragically perished in the September 11, 2012, attacks on United States facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Their parents, Patricia Smith and Charles Woods, sued former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for common-law torts based on her use of a private email server in conducting State Department affairs while Secretary of State and public statements about the cause of the attacks she made in her personal capacity while a presidential candidate. They appeal the substitution of the United States as the defendant on the claims involving the email server and the dismissal of their complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. We affirm.

         I.

         The genesis of this case is in Clinton's private meeting with Smith and Woods on September 14, 2012, in the wake of their sons' deaths. According to the complaint, Secretary Clinton "lied to [Smith and Woods] and told [them] that the Benghazi Attack was the result of [an] anti-Muslim YouTube video that had been posted online and that the creator of the video would be arrested." Compl. ¶ 19. An entry in Woods's daily journal for September 14, 2012, records that "[Woods] gave Hillary a hug and shook her hand, and she said [they] are going to have the film maker arrested who was responsible for the death of [his] son." Id. ¶ 20.

         Four years after this meeting, Smith and Woods sued Clinton for wrongful death, negligence, defamation, false light, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Their tort claims stem in part from Clinton's use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State "to conduct official government business, including but not limited to, " Smith and Woods allege, "sending and receiving thousands of e-mails regarding matters of national security." Id. ¶ 9. This information allegedly included the "location of . . . government operations in Benghazi, Libya" and "was intercepted by foreign powers." Id. ¶ 15. The complaint further alleges that Islamic terrorists acquired this information and "used it to plan, orchestrate, and carry out the horrific and devastating attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, . . . resulting in the death of four Americans, including Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods." Id. ¶ 16. The remaining claims arise from four statements Clinton made in her personal capacity during the 2016 presidential campaign, in response to Smith and Woods's accusations that she lied to them during the September 14 meeting about the cause of the attack. They alleged that these statements defamed them by "either directly calling them liars, or [] strongly implying that they are liars." Id. ¶ 23. The complaint alleged:

         First, on December 6, 2015, ABC News' George Stephanopoulos asked Clinton about the attack in Benghazi: "'Did you tell them it was about the film?'" Id. ¶ 23(a) (citation omitted). Clinton responded:

No. You know, look I understand the continuing grief at the loss that parents experienced with the loss of these four brave Americans. And I did testify, as you know, for 11 hours. And I answered all of these questions. Now, I can't - I can't help it the people think there has to be something else there. I said very clearly there had been a terrorist group, uh, that had taken responsibility on Facebook, um, between the time that, uh, I - you know, when I talked to my daughter, that was the latest information; we were, uh, giving it credibility. And then we learned the next day ...

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