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Darakjian v. Hanna

February 05, 2004

FRAN DARAKJIAN, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JAMES HANNA, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT, AND DARIUS AMOS, CAROLYN MOLYNEAUX, NORTH JERSEY COMMUNITY NEWSPAPERS, PASCACK VALLEY COMMUNITY LIFE, AND NORTH JERSEY MEDIA GROUP, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Civil Part, Bergen County, L-8295-02.

Before Judges Kestin, Cuff and Winkelstein.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kestin, P.J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued: October 22, 2003

This is a defamation action by plaintiff against the person who uttered an allegedly injurious statement at a public meeting and the press persons and entities who reported the meeting and published the statement. Defendant press persons and entities moved to dismiss the complaint, pursuant to R. 4:6-2(e), for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. In considering such a motion, a court is obliged to accept as true the facts alleged in the complaint. See Printing Mart-Morristown v. Sharp, 116 N.J. 739, 746 (1989).

On October 17, 2001, defendant newspaper, Pascack Valley Community Life (the newspaper), published an article, written by defendant Darius Amos, reporting on a regular meeting of the River Vale Board of Education (board). Defendant Carolyn Molyneaux is the editor of the newspaper. The remaining entity defendants are business organizations connected with the newspaper. Defendant James Hanna is the person who uttered the statement at issue.

According to the complaint, the events that culminated with the publication of the offending article related to the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. On September 14, a candlelight vigil occurred in River Vale in memory of all who had perished in the incident, among whom were individuals residing in River Vale and surrounding communities. On that date, before the vigil was to begin, a member of the board, Jeffrey Matfus, called the police department"to inquire as to the political nature of the [event]."

An article written by Amos and published in the newspaper on October 3, 2001, reported that plaintiff had appeared at the September 24 board meeting and had complained about the inquiry, stating she"found it insulting" that Matfus had suggested the event was political. The article reported that Matfus replied he had called the police at the request of a friend whose husband had died in the attack, after she had asked him"to clarify who had organized the event." The article also referred to a comment made by Hanna, a friend of the widow, saying that the widow had been"insulted by a comment [plaintiff] had made on September 12, making whoever organized the event significant to her."

Count one of the complaint asserts as actionably defamatory a statement made by Hanna at a subsequent meeting of the board on October 8, and Amos's report of that meeting published in the newspaper on October 17. According to the complaint, Hanna made false and defamatory statements falsely accusing the plaintiff of being cruel and dispassionate towards the widow of a resident of River Vale who had perished in the tragedy of September 11 by falsely claiming that the plaintiff had imposed her position as wife of the mayor of River Vale to"prevent the wife of a town employee from visiting the [widow's] residence after the attack."

The complaint alleges further that Hanna's statement was reported as follows:

At the October 8 meeting, resident Jim Hanna defended Dr. Matfus, a school board trustee, saying he had called the township police department on behalf of [the widow] whose husband... has been missing since the World Trade Center attack. According to Hanna, Fran Darakjian tried to prevent the wife of a town employee from visiting the [widow's] residence after the attack.

The complaint goes on to allege, once again, the falsity of Hanna's statement, and to assert that it was made by him intentionally and with malice and with full knowledge of the presence of the newspaper reporter and made solely with the intent and purpose to harm the plaintiff and to falsely vilify her by falsely accusing her of using her position as wife of the mayor of the township to prevent the wife of an employee from visiting a grieving widow for the sole purpose of defaming the plaintiff.

The second count of the complaint alleges in its third paragraph that defendants Amos and Molyneaux"knew and/or reasonably should have known" that Hanna's statement"was false." That paragraph goes on to state that the publication of the statement

in the October 17, 2001 issue of the Community Life, was made with malice and with the intent to harm the plaintiff and to describe the plaintiff as a heartless, insensitive, cruel individual who would intentionally use her position as wife of the mayor of the township to prevent the wife of an employee of the township to visit a bereaved widow whose ...


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