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HARMAN v. GIST

August 29, 2003

KEITH A. HARMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MEGAN C. GIST, ANDREEN NEUKRANZ-BUTLER, ANDREA M.. AHLSEN, AND NATIONAL-LOUIS UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David Coar, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Keith A. Harman ("Harman" or "plaintiff) filed a pro se complaint in this Court alleging that defendant Megan C. Gist ("Gist") defamed him, intruded upon his seclusion, and violated the Wiretap Act. Plaintiff alleged that Andrea M. Ahlsen ("Ahlsen") defamed him, intruded upon his seclusion, and engaged in a civil conspiracy against him. Plaintiff alleged that Andreen Neukranz-Butler ("Neukranz-Butler") defamed him, intruded upon his seclusion, and engaged in a civil conspiracy against him. Plaintiff alleged that defendant National-Louis University ("NLU") violated his Due Process rights and should be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employee, Neukranz-Butler. Before this court are motions to dismiss by Ahlsen and Neukranz-Butler/NLU for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and in the alternative to strike the complaint for failure to comply with Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, the motions to dismiss are granted in part and denied in part. [ Page 2]

I. Factual Background

NLU is an institution of higher education with campuses in, among other places, Evanston, Chicago, and Wheeling, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri. Harman was a tenured Associate Professor on the St. Louis Campus. NLU employed Neukranz-Butler in its Human Resources Department on the Wheeling campus. Ahlsen is a personal friend of Gist.

On June 16, 2002, NLU placed Harman on probation for:

1. Writing a series of accusatory and inflammatory e-mail messages to NLU"s Provost and its President questioning the competence and integrity of a dean, other administrators, colleagues, and other NLU employees.
2. Making repeated threatening and hostile comments to colleagues via e-mail and telephone; and
3. Displaying anger in the presence of administrators and colleagues.
Thereafter, NLU's Human Resources Department had received several complaints about Barman's behavior, with several of those people expressing concern about their personal safety. NLU informed Harman that he must take certain corrective steps and that a follow-up meeting would be held six months later or earlier, if warranted.

In September 2000, NLU received a complaint from Gist that Harman was harassing her. The two had been having a romantic relationship that ended early in September. NLU placed Harman on administrative leave while Neukranz-Butler investigated the allegations. Shortly thereafter, Ahlsen e-mailed the transcript of a voicemail message Harman had left for her to Neukranz-Butler. Harman contends that this establishes Neukranz-Butler as "the controlling agent." At some point during the investigation, Neukranz-Butler and Gist telephoned Serrano, [ Page 3]

Harman's soon to be ex-wife, and spoke with her about Harman. According to Harman, Neukranz-Butler "attempted to persuade [Serrano] to disclose intimate details of [their] marriage and family life."

On September 17, 2000, Neukranz-Butler met with Harman so that he could comment on the allegations against him. On September 20, 2000, NLU terminated Harman's employment after it determined Harman had violated the terms of the June 16, 2000 warning.

II. Discussion

A. Choice of Law

A federal court sitting in a diversity case must apply the choice of law provisions of the forum state (Illinois) to determine which state's substantive laws apply to the claims set out. Erickson v. Baxter Healthcare. Inc., 94 F. Supp.2d 907,910 (N.D. Ill. 2000) (citing Ruiz v. Blentech Corp., 89 F.3d 320, 323 (7th Cir. 1996)). Illinois uses the "most significant contact" approach of the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts of Law. Esser v. Mclntyre, 169 Ill.2d 292, 214 Ill. Dec. 693, 661 N.E.2d 1138, 1141 (1996) (citing Ingersoll v. Klein, 46 Ill.2d 42, 262 N.E.2d 593, 596 (1970)). In determining the most significant relationship, the Court considers what sort of case it is (tort, contract, etc.) and examines, for each separate claim: (1) the place of the injury, (2) the place where the injury — causing conduct occurred, (3) the domicile of the parties, and (4) the place where the relationship between the parties is centered. Fredrick v. Simmons Airlines. Inc., 144 F.3d 500, 503-4 (7th Cir. 1998). The Court also considers the interests and public policies of potentially concerned states as they relate to the transaction. Id. at 504 (citing Jones v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 289 Ill, App.3d 903, 224 Ill. Dec. 677, 682 N.E.2d 238, 249 (1997)). [ Page 4]

In multi-state defamation cases, the Court applies the law of the state where the plaintiff is domiciled. Cook v. Winfrey, 141 F.3d 322 (7th Cir. 1998). Thus, Missouri substantive law applies to Harman's defamation claims. The conspiracy and invasion of privacy claims, however, must be separately analyzed to determine which state's substantive laws apply. The civil conspiracy is alleged to have taken place between Gist, Neukranz-Butler, and Ahlsen, all of whom are Illinois residents. The conduct complained of occurred in Illinois. The relationship between the parties is centered in both Illinois and Missouri. Thus, Illinois has the most significant relationship and Illinois law will apply to the civil conspiracy claim. The basis of the intrusion upon seclusion claim is that Gist forwarded e-mails to NLU officials and that Ahlsen recorded phone calls. Gist is an Illinois resident and presumably forwarded the e-mail while in Illinois. Similarly, Ahlsen is an ...


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