PHILADELPHIA – A Philadelphia federal judge is reconsidering whether letters sent by attorneys describing sexual abuse were confidential and protected, as a former teacher accused of sexually molesting a student 25 years ago pursues a defamation lawsuit against a well-known abuse attorney.
Judge Jan DuBois ruled March 12 that there is some dispute over whether letters detailing alleged abuse sent with a $1 million settlement demand from attorney Mitchell Garabedian are privileged. The alleged abuser and plaintiff in this case known as “John Doe” says the letters defamed him and caused emotional distress.
“In his motion, plaintiff seeks reconsideration of the court’s ruling of Oct. 2, 2019, that the statements made by the Garabedian defendants in the April 11, 2018 letter and the Dec. 26, 2018 letter were subject to the judicial immunity privilege and were therefore absolutely privileged,” the court brief read.
The defendants – Garabedian, an attorney, and former student Kurtis Poulos – were involved in a case in which John Doe was accused of sexually abusing Poulos.
On April 11, 2018, Garabedian sent a settlement demand letter to the headmaster at Poulos’ former school where John Doe was employed, describing the allegations of sexual abuse of Poulos by Doe and demanding $1 million to settle the claim. On Dec. 26, 2018, Garabedian sent a letter to the school’s attorney in which further descriptions of the abuse were alleged. This was in response to a request for additional information.
The court ruled the absolute privilege of judicial immunity applied to the statements made by Garabedian in the two letters. Doe filed a motion asking the court to reconsider its ruling, alleging the allegations contained in the letters defamed him and caused him personal harm.
The court dismissed the plaintiff’s defamation claim against Garabedian without prejudice.
On the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, the court ruled the statements made by Garabedian in the two letters were “not so extreme or outrageous as to go beyond all possible bounds of human decency," and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim against Garabedian with prejudice.
On Oct. 10, 2019, the plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration with respect to the defamation claim. Garabedian never actually intended to file a suit over the matter, the brief stated, which called into question whether immunity was appropriate.
The court opinion concluded there was a factual dispute if the judicial immunity privilege in the statements made by Garabedian in the two letters was appropriate, because the letters were not made in the regular course of preparing for contemplated legal proceedings.
The court granted reconsideration of part of its order dated Oct. 2, 2019, the order that dismissed the plaintiff’s defamation claim against the defendants without prejudice.
“There is a factual dispute as to the application of the judicial immunity privilege to defendants’ statements in the letters dated April 11, 2018 and Dec. 26, 2018,” the brief read.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case number 2:19-cv-01539-JD