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International Unions v. Maritas

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

August 1, 2019

INTERNATIONAL UNIONS, SECURITY POLICE AND FIRE PROFESSIONALS OF AMERICA, SPFPA an International Union, and DAVID L. HICKEY, the International President of SPFPA, Plaintiffs,
v.
STEVE MARITAS, an individual, and LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS SECURITY UNION, an unincorporated union, CALVIN WELLS, JAMES BURKE, and BRIKENER JEAN-GILLES, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS OR TRANSFER VENUE (DOC. 3) AND DISMISSING JAMES BURKE AND BRIKENER JEAN-GILES AND DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO CHANGE VENUE

          AVERN COHN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         This is a defamation and tortious interference case. Plaintiffs are David Hickey (Hickey) and International Unions, Security Police and Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA). SPFPA is an unincorporated international union doing business in Michigan and elsewhere. Hickey is the President of SPFPA and a resident of Michigan. Defendants are Law Enforcement Officers Security Union (LEOSU), Steve Maritas (Maritas), the founder and CEO of LEOSU, LEOSU board members Calvin Wells (Wells), James Burke (Burke), and Brikener Jean-Gilles (Jean-Gilles). LEOSU is a rival union with locals in various states and is headquartered in New York. Wells is a resident of Pennsylvania. Maritas, Burke, and Jean-Gilles are residents of New York.

         SPFPA says that beginning in late 2017, LEOSU began a campaign of publishing defamatory statements on the internet regarding SPFPA. SPFPA says that this campaign has been damaging and has continued to the present day.

         Before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) and/or for change of venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). (Doc. 3). For the reasons which follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part. Burke and Jean-Gilles will be dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction. Defendants' motion to change venue will be denied.

         II. Background

         A.

         SPFPA is a labor union which represents over 16, 000 security, police, and fire professionals. It has roughly 175 local unions. LEOSU is also a labor union that represents security, police and fire professionals. Maritas was employed by SPFPA in Michigan for approximately eleven years before being terminated. (Plaintiffs' Opposition, Exhibit 1, Hickey Affidavit at ¶ 1).

         The complaint states that shortly before being terminated, Maritas founded a rival union known as Federal Protective Service Officers of America (FPSOA)[1] and that Maritas initially began defaming SPFPA through FPSOA. The complaint also says that Maritas' job performance with SPFPA deteriorated and he became subordinate, presumably due to his involvement with FPSOA. He was terminated by SPFPA effective February 7, 2013. After his involvement with FPSOA, Maritas founded LEOSU.

         B.

         There are three counts listed in the complaint, each of which will be discussed further.

• Count I - Defamation
• Count II - Tortious Interference
• Count III - Preliminary Injunctive Relief

         In Count 1, SPFPA says that LEOSU's statements were harmful, disparaging, defamatory and false. Complaint at p.8 ¶ 20. It also says that LEOSU knew or had reason to know that the statements would be published, and that they acted either negligently or with actual malice. Id. at ¶ 22. A number of examples of these statements are set forth in the complaint as follows:

• “SPFPA the true authority of corrupt security police unions” (10/24/2018) Id. at p. 4 ¶ 16.
• “Have you ever wondered why SPFPA Officials are not answering your phone calls” (Image on man on toilet in jail cell) (10/31/2018) Id.
• “SPFPA has a long history of corruption and embezzlement” (Image of man in cuffs) (10/27/2018) Id.
• “It's amazing how all these people in coverup media roles end up linked to pedophilia and Satanism” (10/28/2017) Id. at p. 5.
• “Hickey is living large on his members dues money” (5/4/2018) Id.

         It is also alleged that LEOSU is using multiple websites, YouTube channels, and various social media accounts to publish defamatory statements. (Plaintiffs' Opposition, Exhibit 1, Hickey Affidavit at ¶ 4). These statements have been posted on the internet by LEOSU in what is alleged to be an attempt to defame SPFPA.

         In Count II, it is alleged that LEOSU deliberately and maliciously spoke to SPFPA union members and told them that SPFPA was corrupt. Id. at p. 9 ¶ 29. Further, it is alleged that the statements were false and intended to harm and destroy the relationship between SPFPA and its local unions and members. Id. at ¶ 30.

         Finally, in Count III, SPFPA asks for injunctive relief, focusing on the destruction of their reputation and business relationships which resulted from the defamatory statements of LEOSU.

         III. Legal Standard

         A.

         The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that jurisdiction exists when bringing an action in federal court. Theunissen v. Matthews, 935 F.2d 1454, 1458 (6th Cir. 1991) (citing McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 56 S.Ct. 780, 80 L.Ed. 1135 (1936)). Once the action is brought, it is up to the discretion of the district court to either; ‚Äúdecide the motion upon the affidavits alone; permit discovery in aid of deciding ...


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