Graduate student files memorandum in opposition to Kipnis, HarperCollins’ motion to dismiss lawsuit


Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Communication Prof. Laura Kipnis, shown in June 2015. The woman suing Kipnis filed a motion Monday in response to Kipnis’ own motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Matthew Choi, Reporter

A Northwestern graduate student on Monday filed a memorandum in opposition to a motion by Communication Prof. Laura Kipnis and HarperCollins, LLC, to dismiss a lawsuit the student had filed against Kipnis and the publishing house.

The graduate student, suing under the pseudonym Jane Doe, filed the lawsuit against Kipnis and HarperCollins on May 16 following the April 4 release of Kipnis’ book “Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus,” which had been published by HarperCollins. The suit alleges the book used “false and damaging statements” and private information about Doe’s life to portray her as “lying, manipulative, and litigious.”

Kipnis has referred to her book as a polemic, and it critiques the Title IX process at Northwestern by describing Kipnis’ interpretation of two separate cases of Title IX complaints filed by two students — including Doe — against former philosophy Prof. Peter Ludlow, who they allege had sexually assaulted them. The book also describes Kipnis’ own experience going through the Title IX process.

Doe filed the suit on counts of public disclosure of private facts, false light invasion of privacy, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Doe’s lawyers, Jennifer Salvatore and Julie Porter, did not respond to request for comment. Kipnis declined to comment. HarperCollins spokeswoman Erin Crum told The Daily in a separate June 14 email that the publishing house does not comment on pending litigation.

HarperCollins and Kipnis filed a motion July 21 to dismiss the case on all counts with prejudice because they allege the student “cannot state any plausible claim for relief.” A July 21 memorandum that accompanied the motion stated the lawsuit did not contain facts demonstrating actual malice — the knowledge of falsity or a reckless disregard for the truth — which is required for a defamation suit.

The July memorandum also stated Doe’s claims do not meet the requisite specificity. The memorandum stated the lawsuit only “vaguely referenced the statements she challenges as representative ‘categories’ of actionable statements.”

The July memorandum also characterized the categories Doe had listed for defamation as “statements of opinion.” The categories listed in the memorandum include the nature of Doe’s relationship with Ludlow, the number and content of Title IX complaints Doe initiated and the insinuation Doe is a liar who “fabricated a false claim of rape against Ludlow.” The memorandum argues Kipnis’ accounts are opinion “based on the mountain of concededly truthful facts” pertaining to Doe and Ludlow’s relationship and the Title IX investigation.

In response to Doe’s claim the book revealed personal information, the July memorandum rebutted that the facts about Doe were already made public during a 2014 lawsuit filed by Ludlow against the University for gender discrimination and defamation. The memorandum also stated the book, which analyzes Title IX, contained information on a matter of public concern that was lawfully obtained and does not affect state interests, constitutionally protecting it from punishment.

Doe’s memorandum in opposition, however, argues Doe “pleads defamation with precision and particularity,” and enumerates examples the lawsuit claims are false statements from the book about Doe. The examples alleged by the lawsuit include an assertion Doe had “initiated six Title IX complaints,” including one against another graduate student; “false statements about the contents of (Doe’s) single Title IX complaint against Kipnis”; “false statements that (Doe) had initiated two Title IX complaints against Kipnis, as well as (one) against (Kipnis’) support person”; and “false statements” mischaracterizing Ludlow and Doe’s relationship.

The lawsuit also alleges the book contained “false statements throughout Unwanted Advances insinuating that Plaintiff was a liar who fabricated a false claim of rape against Ludlow to seek revenge against him.”

The opposition rebuts the defendants’ request to dismiss the defamation claim because Doe did not recite the “specific words complained of,” arguing that “neither Illinois nor the federal courts applying Illinois defamation law require Plaintiff to plead per se defamatory statements verbatim.” Rather, “the substance of the statement must be pled with specific precision and particularity so as to permit initial judicial review of its defamatory content.”

Doe’s lawsuit had been “sufficiently specific” in listing the alleged false statements against her, the opposition argues.

It also argues Kipnis’ “defamatory statements are not ‘opinions’.” The opposition argues Doe’s complaint had nothing to do with Kipnis’ opinions and instead focused on “multiple, provably false statements of fact” regarding Doe. It also argues the Illinois Supreme Court had previously ruled in 1996 that there is no “wholesale defamation exemption for anything that might be labeled ‘opinion’.”

“The fact that Kipnis characterizes her text as ‘opinion,’ ‘humor,’ or otherwise does not matter,” the opposition stated.

The opposition also refutes the defendants’ claim that the information published in the book was publicly available or a matter of public concern. While the opposition concedes some information about Doe had been previously made public, it states Kipnis writes in her book that much of the information had “landed in her lap,” and she felt it had to “see the light of day.” The opposition also cites Kipnis’ remark that she had reviewed more than “two thousand discrete messages” between Ludlow and Doe.

The opposition concedes Title IX and sexual assault on college campuses are matters of public concern, and that Doe had no issue with Kipnis writing about those issues. Still, it argues Kipnis’ book “goes father — impermissibly using the most intimate details of Plaintiff’s life as fodder, revealing highly personal, never-before-publicized facts that are no one’s business.”

The status conference for the case is set for Oct. 18, according to court documents.

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