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Fields v. Jackson

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 19, 2017




         Plaintiffs Patricia and Reginald Fields (“the Fields”) have sued Defendants Nikita Jackson (“Jackson”) and Absolutely Edible Cakes & Catering, LLC (“Absolutely Edible”), alleging claims for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons provided herein, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         Factual Background

         The following facts are not in material dispute except where otherwise noted. The Fields reside in Lake County, Illinois. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 1, ECF No. 31. Jackson resides in Rowlett, Texas. Id. ¶ 2. She is the sole member of Absolutely Edible, a Texas limited liability company that offers catering services. See Id. ¶¶ 3-4.

         On February 24, 2015, the Fields hired Jackson and Absolutely Edible to cater their wedding reception in Illinois on July 18, 2015. See Id. ¶¶ 7-8. According to the Fields, Jackson submitted a proposal to cater the reception for $8, 027.89. Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 6, ECF No. 38. The Fields then paid Jackson $5, 000 as a down payment toward her services. Id. ¶ 7; Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 10. The Fields claim (and Defendants deny) that they later wired an additional $1, 500 to Jackson for these services. Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 7; Defs.' Resp. Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 7, ECF No. 41.

         After the wedding reception, according to the Fields, Jackson presented them with an invoice billing them for extra services costing $7, 021.71 more than they had previously agreed upon. See Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) ¶ 8. Patricia Fields (“Patricia”) challenged the invoice, not only because of these additional charges, but also on the ground that the invoice failed to account for $3, 000 of payments that the Fields had already made. Id. ¶ 9.

         Sometime around the date of the wedding, Patricia became pregnant. See Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶¶ 35, 40. On September 3, 2015, however, Patricia miscarried. Id. ¶ 41. According to Patricia's obstetrician, the miscarriage occurred due to a hormonal imbalance. Id. ¶¶ 41-42. The obstetrician attests that undue stress could not have contributed to the miscarriage. Id. ¶ 43.

         On September 18, 2015, Jackson began making social media posts on the Internet about the Fields' failure to pay in full for her catering services. Id. ¶¶ 11-14.[1] In one post on YouTube, for example, Jackson uploaded a video about the Fields and wrote in the video caption: “Patricia Fields is a con artist. She stole from me by writing checks totalling $4500.” See Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt., Ex. C, at 1. In another post, Jackson wrote: “Bitch Patricia Fields [d]idn't [h]ave my money. BRIDE stole from me. $4500 in nsf checks.”[2] Id. at 2. The Fields characterize Jackson's Internet posts as accusing Patricia of committing criminal acts. Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. ¶ 11.

         Starting around December 2015, Patricia became an employee at PM Solutions. See Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 17; Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt., Ex. 1, Patricia Aff. ¶ 6. As an employee of PM Solutions, Patricia was assigned to perform consulting work for a company called CF Industries. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 17. According to Defendants, Patricia was assigned to work for CF Industries from January 4, 2016, until February 12, 2016, at which time she was discharged from her employment at PM Solutions due to a lack of work. Id. ¶¶ 18, 20. According to the Fields, however, an upper-level employee told Patricia that she was discharged not because of a lack of work, but instead because of Jackson's Internet posts about the Fields' failure to pay for her catering services. See Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. ¶¶ 18, 20 (citing Patricia Aff. ¶ 6).

         Additionally, in early 2016, Patricia was being considered for a position at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. See Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 23. Her application was eventually declined. Id. ¶ 30. John Bouton, a recruiter at the Federal Reserve Bank, testified that he was not aware of Jackson's Internet posts, although he conceded that he was not the final decision-maker and others at the Federal Reserve thought that Patricia was not a good “fit” for the team, even though she satisfied the job requirements. See Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. ¶ 30.

         On February 23, 2016, Patricia was arrested and charged with theft of services based upon her failure to pay Jackson. Id. ¶ 15; Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 15.[3] The charges were dismissed with prejudice on July 5, 2016. Pls.' LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 3. In the meantime, ABC 7 News published news reports of Patricia's arrest. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 16.

         Based upon these events, the Fields have sued Defendants for intentional defamation (Count I), negligent defamation (Count II), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count III), and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count IV). Defendants have moved for summary judgment with regard to all claims.

         Legal Standard

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a);accordShell v. Smith,789 F.3d 715, 717 (7th Cir. 2015). To survive summary judgment, the nonmoving party must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), and instead must “establish some genuine issue for trial such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in her favor, ” Gordon v. FedEx Freight, Inc., 674 F.3d 769, 772-73 (7th Cir. 2012). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court gives the nonmoving party “the benefit of conflicts in the evidence and reasonable inferences that could be drawn from it.” Groc ...

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