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COOK v. WINFREY

July 9, 1997

RANDOLPH L. COOK, Plaintiff,
v.
OPRAH WINFREY, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KOCORAS

 CHARLES P. KOCORAS, District Judge:

 This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's amended complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons set forth below, this motion is granted, and the complaint is dismissed.

 BACKGROUND

 The following factual allegations are contained in the plaintiff's amended complaint. We are obligated to assume the truth of these allegations for purposes of deciding the motion to dismiss, without regard to whether they are in fact true or false. Plaintiff Randolph Cook ("Cook") is a resident of Columbus, Ohio. Defendant Oprah Winfrey ("Winfrey") is a television talk-show host living in Chicago. Cook and Winfrey had a relationship in the past, during which time Cook asserts that he and Winfrey used cocaine on a regular basis. In January, 1995, Cook was in contact with several media organizations with regard to publishing articles pertaining to his relationship with Winfrey. While he was entertaining offers from these organizations, Winfrey made statements both publicly and privately to third-persons concerning their relationship and drug use. Cook asserts that Winfrey made statements indicating that he was a liar, that he could not be trusted or believed, that he would be sorry if he told anybody else his story, and that they had never had a prior relationship. Winfrey allegedly made similar statements in the National Enquirer of February 18, 1997. Cook also was attempting to seek compensation for the publication of his experiences with Winfrey in early 1995. Due to the statements made by Winfrey (discussed above), Cook's opportunity to market his story was interfered with and he was prevented from entering into an agreement with any outlet to sell his story.

 As a result of the statements allegedly made by Winfrey, Cook filed a complaint against her on January 16, 1997. He subsequently filed an amended complaint which contained claims of defamation per se, defamation per quod, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, tortious interference with contract, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In response, Winfrey filed the motion to dismiss which is presently before us. Before we turn to the merits of this motion, we will outline the legal standard which guides our inquiry.

 LEGAL STANDARD

 The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not to decide the merits of the case. Defendants must meet a high standard in order to have a complaint dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must construe the complaint's allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all well-pleaded facts and allegations in the plaintiff's complaint must be taken as true. Bontkowski v. First National Bank of Cicero, 998 F.2d 459, 461 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1012, 126 L. Ed. 2d 567, 114 S. Ct. 602 (1993). The allegations of a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim "unless it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957). See also Hartford Fire Insurance Co. v. California, 509 U.S. 764, 125 L. Ed. 2d 612, 113 S. Ct. 2891 (1993); Sherwin Manor Nursing Center, Inc. v. McAuliffe, 37 F.3d 1216, 1219 (7th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 862, 116 S. Ct. 172, 133 L. Ed. 2d 113 (1995). Nonetheless, in order to withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege facts sufficiently setting forth the essential elements of the cause of action. Lucien v. Preiner, 967 F.2d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 893, 121 L. Ed. 2d 196, 113 S. Ct. 267(1992).

 In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court is limited to the allegations contained in the pleadings themselves. Documents incorporated by reference into the pleadings and documents attached to the pleadings as exhibits are considered part of the pleadings for all purposes. Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c). In addition, "documents that a defendant attaches to a motion to dismiss are considered a part of the pleadings if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to her claim." Venture Associates Corp. v. Zenith Data Systems Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 431 (7th Cir. 1993). It is with these principles in mind that we turn to the motion before us.

 DISCUSSION

 In this present motion, Winfrey seeks to dismiss all of the counts alleged against her in Cook's amended complaint. We will discuss each count in turn below. First, however, we must make a choice-of-law decision with regard to several claims in Cook's complaint.

 In Counts I, III, IV, V, VI, and VII, Cook alleges conduct by Winfrey which occurred at a time when they were both living in Chicago. As such, these claims are governed by Illinois law. However, in Counts II and IV, Cook alleges that Winfrey defamed him while he was living in Ohio by allegedly stating that he was a "liar" in the National Enquirer. For these counts, therefore, a choice of law question exists: does Illinois law or Ohio law apply? As a federal district court sitting in Illinois, we utilize Illinois choice-of-law principles when a conflict situation develops. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496, 85 L. Ed. 1477, 61 S. Ct. 1020 (1941). Under Illinois conflicts law, when a multi-state defamation case arises, the applicable law is that of the victim's domicile. Rice v. Nova Biomedical Corp., 38 F.3d 909, 916 (7th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1111, 131 L. Ed. 2d 855, 115 S. Ct. 1964 (1995), citing Velle Transcendental Research Ass'n, Inc. v. Esquire, Inc., 41 Ill. App. 3d 799, 354 N.E.2d 622, 625 (Ill.App. 1976). In this case, Cook was residing in Ohio at the time Winfrey (residing in Illinois) made the defamatory statements alleged in Counts II and IV. As such, Ohio law applies to these counts, and we will consider them accordingly.

 We also note that Cook has not bothered to file a response to the present motion. In a minute order dated May 19, 1997, we gave Cook until June 9 to respond to Winfrey's motion, and gave Winfrey until June 16 to reply. Cook did not heed our schedule, however, and no response has been filed to the motion to dismiss. As such, we have been given no additional insight to the allegations in Cook's complaint, and we must move on without his view of the matter. With these matters resolved, we now move to the merits of the present motion.

 I. Count I: Defamation Per Se (Illinois)

 First, Cook alleges that he suffered per se defamation when, in January 1995, Winfrey caused to be published to third persons comments indicating that he was a liar who could not be trusted or believed. Cook alleges that Winfrey knew that these words were false at the time they were spoken, and that they greatly injured his reputation by impugning his good name, fame, and reputation. See Amended Complaint Count I. This claim must be dismissed, however, because it was filed outside of the Illinois statute of limitations. 735 ILCS 5/13-201 provides that

 
Actions for slander, libel or for publication of matter violating the right to privacy, shall be commenced within one year next ...

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