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Moriarty v. Classic Auto Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 6, 2014

CLASSIC AUTO GROUP, INC., et al., Defendants.

John C. Eastlack, Jr., Esq., WEIR & PARTNERS LLP, Cherry Hill, NJ, Attorney for Plaintiff.

James Bucci, Esq., GENOVA BURNS BIANTOMASI WEBSTER LLC, Camden, NJ, Attorney for Defendants.


JEROME B. SIMANDLE, Chief District Judge.


Before the Court is a partial motion to dismiss by Defendants Ernest Calvello, John La Sala, [1] Classic Auto Group, Inc., and Penske Automotive Group, Inc. [Docket Item 5.] Plaintiff Paul Moriarty alleges that Mr. Calvello and Mr. La Sala defamed him when they stated to law enforcement, and other individuals, that Plaintiff was "smashed" or otherwise intoxicated when he visited a car dealership. Defendants seek dismissal of the defamation and slander per se claims against Mr. Calvello and Mr. La Sala, as well as dismissal of the vicarious liability claim against the corporate Defendants, to the extent that liability was premised on defamation or slander per se.

Because the Complaint does not contain sufficient factual content to permit a reasonable jury to infer Defendants acted with actual malice, the defamation claims will be dismissed without prejudice. Because the alleged defamatory statements do not fall within one of four recognized categories that comprise slander per se, the slander per se counts will be dismissed with prejudice. The vicarious liability claim is dismissed in part without prejudice and in part with prejudice, to the extent it is based on tort claims dismissed herein.


The facts of this case are drawn from the Complaint and, for the purposes of this motion are accepted as true. On July 31, 2012, Plaintiff Paul Moriarty visited Turnersville Nissan, a car dealership in Turnersville, N.J., operated by Defendant Classic Auto Group, Inc., because the lease on his car was ending. (Compl. [Docket Item 1-2] at 2, 3.) Plaintiff is a New Jersey State Assemblyman - a fact that is not pleaded in the Complaint but upon which all parties rely in their motion papers.[2]

At the dealership, Plaintiff interacted with several employees, including Defendants Ernest Calvello and John La Sala. (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff alleges that Mr. La Sala stated to Mr. Calvello, among others, that Plaintiff was "smashed' and/or otherwise utilized words that described Plaintiff as intoxicated, drunk and/or inebriated by way of alcoholic beverages." (Id. at 3.) According to Plaintiff, La Sala directed Calvello to repeat the assertion to others, and Calvello did so. (Id. at 4-5.) Plaintiff alleges that the two men knew these statements were false and made them out of malice. (Id.)

Plaintiff further alleges that Mr. Calvello and Mr. La Sala called the police to say that Plaintiff was driving under the influence or otherwise "acting in a manner which caused... alarm and discomfort so as to require police involvement...." (Id. at 7-8, 11-13.) As a result, Plaintiff alleges he was "falsely stopped, seized and arrested by law enforcement authorities, without reasonable or probable cause." (Id. at 12-13.) Plaintiff asserts the charges against him "were favorably terminated on May 13, 2013." (Id. at 16.)

Plaintiff filed suit in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Gloucester County, alleging defamation against Mr. La Sala, Mr. Calvello, and unnamed individuals (Counts One, Two, and Three, respectively); slander per se (Counts Four, Five, and Six); false light (Count Seven); intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress (Counts Eight, Nine and Ten); aiding and abetting the violation of Plaintiff's state and federal constitutional rights to be free of illegal seizure, unlawful arrest, and malicious prosecution (Counts Eleven, Twelve); negligence (Counts Thirteen and Fifteen); and vicarious liability against the corporate Defendants (Count Fourteen).

Defendants removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 because the Complaint alleges violations of the federal constitution, and soon thereafter filed this partial motion to dismiss. This Court has jurisdiction over the federal constitutional claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343, and pendent jurisdiction over the related state-law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.


Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Fleisher v. Standard Ins. Co. , 679 F.3d 116, 120 (3d Cir. 2012). The complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id . Allegations that are no more than legal conclusions are not entitled to the same assumption of truth. Bistrian v. Levi , 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012). To determine if a complaint meets the pleading ...

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