FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS
Defendants' June 2, 2010 motion for summary judgment came on for hearing July 1, 2010. Cunina Agard appeared in pro per. Lawrence Hensley appeared for defendants. Upon review of the motion and the documents in support and opposition, and good cause appearing therefor, THE COURT MAKES THE FOLLOWING FINDINGS:
Plaintiff is a wedding planner residing in Sacramento, CA. (First Amended Complaint ("FAC") at 2.) Plaintiff was hired by Brett Justin Hill and Jennilee Hill ("the Hills" or defendants) as a wedding coordinator, but fired prior to the defendants' May 2008 wedding. (See FAC at 4-5.)
On February 6, 2009, judgment was entered for defendants in Sacramento Small Claims Court and, on April 29, 2009, that judgment was affirmed following trial de novo in the Superior Court of California, County of Sacramento Small Claims Division (Hensley Decl., Exs. A and B.) In that suit, the Hills sued plaintiff for reimbursement in the amount of $4,000.00 following their termination of her services. (Id., Ex. B.) The court ordered "[Agard] to reimburse [the Hills] $4,000.00 due to some work performed per wedding contract. However, the contract was not satisfactorily performed which caused plaintiffs to hire other individuals to assist with completion of their plans." (Id.)
On or about November 23, 2009, defendants published on multiple website forums the following statements:
Wedding Coordinator Warning
Congrats to all you future brides!
My husband and I were married in May 2008 at the Harvest Inn in St. Helena Ca. We originally hired Cunina Agard of Nina's Lovely I Do's (originally out of Sacramento) to be our wedding coordinator, but had to fire her a couple of months before the wedding due to issues that are too numerous and frustrating to go into at the moment (thought [sic] I would be more than happy to explain if you want to email me). Though Ms. Agard promised to return a portion of her fee to us, she did not do so and we were forced to sue. We won the case, but Ms. Agard appealed. We won the appeal as well. Still, she did not fulfill the court order to refund our money. Ms. Agard moved multiple times during the whole process and while trying to find her to serve yet another court order, we discovered that she is operating under a new name and location in Napa Ca. I am writing this post to warn anyone who is considering using Cunina Agard from (the now named) Nina's I Do's. You will not get what you paid for and your association with the company will cause way more stress, tears, and sleepless nights than any bride should have to deal with. We found out too late that we were not the first couple to have to sue Ms. Agard. I hope that nobody else has to go through what we did. Please feel free to shoot me a message with any questions. (FAC at 2-3.)
On January 4, 2010, plaintiff filed a complaint in the Superior Court of the County of Sacramento against defendants listed herein for libel and tortious interference with contract or prospective economic advantage. (See Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff sought general and special damages according to proof, punitive damages, and costs of suit. (Id. at 14.) The action was removed to this court on February 5, 2010 with jurisdiction based on diversity (defendants are residents of Reno, Nevada).
On February 18, 2010, plaintiff filed a first amended complaint ("FAC"). In the FAC, plaintiff contends the website posting by the Hills contains three false statements that portray her as an untrustworthy and incompetent wedding planner. First, plaintiff claims the statement "Ms. Agard moved multiple times" is false in that she only moved once "down the street" to a listed address and that she left a mail forward. (FAC at 4.) Plaintiff also asserts she maintained the same telephone number. (Id.) Plaintiff argues the statement implies that she attempted to avoid service in a lawsuit or that she was otherwise engaged in unfair or illegal business practices. (Id.)
Second, plaintiff claims the following statement is false: "We discovered that she is operating under a new name and location in Napa Ca. I am writing this post to warn anyone who is considering using Cunina Agard from (the now named) Nina's I Do's." (FAC at 4.) Plaintiff claims she did not change the name of her business or the location from which she conducts her business. (Id.) Plaintiff argues the statement is designed to be understood by the reader that she changed business names or business areas for purposes of unfair trade or as a way to avoid a lawsuit or other harm to her reputation. (Id.)
Third, plaintiff claims the Hills' statement that they had to fire plaintiff "a couple of months before the wedding due to issues that are too numerous and frustrating to go into at this moment" is false. (FAC at 4.) Plaintiff asserts she took no action to justify the firing; that she was fired approximately one month prior to the wedding (not a couple of months); that the Hills used the vendors and arrangements plaintiff secured for their wedding; and, lastly, that the firing was due to a difference of personality rather than any professional failing of the plaintiff. (Id. at 4-5.) Plaintiff argues the statement implies that she was fired due to failure to properly plan the defendants' wedding. (Id. at 5.)
Plaintiff also claims that she had a contractual business relationship with multiple vendors, of which defendants were aware. Plaintiff contends defendants approached these vendors to malign plaintiff's reputation and trustworthiness and to threaten to damage the reputation of any business that worked with the plaintiff. Plaintiff argues that as a result of defendants' statements to each of the vendors listed in the complaint, the vendors have subsequently refused to continue to have any business dealings with plaintiff.
On February 12, 2010, defendants filed a motion to dismiss that was heard before the undersigned on April 8, 2010. On April 9, 2010, the undersigned recommended that the motion be denied as to plaintiff's libel claim on the first two statements that plaintiff challenges as false and granted on the third statement that plaintiff challenges as false. It was also recommended that defendants' motion be denied as to plaintiff's intentional interference claim. On May 14, 2010, the Honorable Garland E. Burrell adopted the findings and recommendations in full.
On June 2, 2010, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. On June 10, 2010, plaintiff filed an opposition, On June 18, 2010, defendants filed a reply and their evidentiary objections and a motion to strike. On June 23, 2010, plaintiff filed her evidentiary objections ...