If Lawyer Representing Himself Is “Unable to Keep His Personal Feelings out of His Pleadings and the Way He Litigates This Case,”

February 9, 2024   |   Tags: ,

From Judge Kent Wetherell's decision yesterday in Kassenoff v. Harvey (N.D. Fla.) (for a news article with more background on the case, see here):

Plaintiff [Allan Kassenoff] is a lawyer from New York. Defendant [Robbie Harvey] is a "social media influencer" from Pensacola, Florida, with millions of followers on TikTok and other social media platforms.

Plaintiff and his then-wife, Catherine Kassenoff, were involved a contentious divorce and child custody proceeding in a New York court, starting in 2019. During the case, the court awarded sole temporary custody of the Kassenoffs' three children to Plaintiff and restricted (and ultimately suspended) Ms. Kassenoff's right to visit the children.

On May 27, 2023, a few weeks after losing her visitation rights, Ms. Kassenoff posted on Facebook that she would be "ending [her] own life" by medically assisted suicide in Switzerland because she had a terminal health condition and she could "no longer endure the abuse and terror" inflicted on her by Plaintiff. {Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Kassenoff lied about having a terminal health condition to make her story more sympathetic.} She asserted that the court system failed to protect her and her children by "favor[ing] the monied party," and she provided a link to a public Dropbox containing the children's mental health records, some of the court documents from the Kassenoffs' matrimonial proceeding, and old videos of Plaintiff and the children. She also encouraged her followers to share those documents everywhere and to "organize [themselves], use the facts of [her] case … and make change."

On May 31, 2023, four days after Ms. Kassenoff's Facebook post, Defendant began posting videos on social media about Plaintiff. In the videos, Defendant depicted Plaintiff as an abusive spouse and father who took advantage of the New York  court  system  by  "pa[ying]  off"  court-appointed  officials  during  the matrimonial proceeding. The videos have received approximately 39 million views, 5 million likes, and 150,000 comments.

In a series of videos from June 7 to June 9, 2023, Defendant encouraged his followers to "bombard" Plaintiff's law firm, Greenberg Traurig (Greenberg), and its clients with emails, phone calls, voicemails, and social media attacks "demanding" Plaintiff's termination. Greenberg received "many, many emails … as a result of [Defendant's] incitement," including one stating "[t]he emails, the calls, they won't stop until you do the right thing and FIRE HIM …. FIRE KASSENOFF OR WE WILL NOT STOP."

On June 9, 2023, as a result of these actions, the CEO of Greenberg informed Plaintiff that the firm had no choice but to sever ties with him. Plaintiff was told that he had to voluntarily resign or he would be fired, and two days later, Plaintiff "forcibly resigned" from the firm.

Plaintiff sued for defamation and related torts, in a 110-page complaint; the court rejected this on various grounds, including that:

[T]he sheer length of the complaint and the way some of its allegations are pled make it more difficult than it needs to be for Defendant to frame a responsive pleading and suggest that the amended complaint was intended for a broader public audience than Defendant and the Court. Thus, the amended complaint violates the letter (and spirit) of Rules 8 and 10 and it needs to be re-pled in its entirety to conform to those rules…. [The complaint,] by any measure, is far longer than it needs be. It also contains numerous allegations that appear to have little to nothing to do with the legal claims asserted in the case and are replete with unnecessary commentary.

For example, the first six pages of the amended complaint contain a slanted narrative about the "nature of the action," which reads more like a magazine article than allegations in a legal pleading, and the first 67 paragraphs (and nearly 40 pages) purport to provide a "backdrop" for the allegations about the allegedly defamatory videos on which Plaintiff's claims are based that start at paragraph 68. The amended complaint also includes gratuitous (or at least far more extensive than necessary) allegations about things such as the attempted conception and ultimate adoption of Plaintiff's children, Ms. Kassenoff's revenge plot on an ex-boyfriend, accolades about Plaintiff's law practice, the content of witness testimony from Plaintiff's matrimonial proceedings, the details of the matrimonial proceedings and content of the court's orders, and direct message communications between Defendant and his followers about subjects unrelated to Plaintiff.

Background information can be helpful or even necessary at times, but the focus of a complaint should be the events giving rise to the cause of action. Here, the events giving rise to Plaintiff's claims mostly occurred over a several week period in May and June 2023, and it should not take anything close to 100 pages (or even half that) to articulate what happened leading up to and during that short period of time that gave rise to Plaintiff's claims.

The Court understands that Plaintiff feels that he has been wronged by Defendant (and, if the allegations in the amended complaint are true, he may very well have been), but the amended complaint is not the place for Plaintiff to tell his entire side of the story or to air salacious details about Ms. Kassenoff from the matrimonial proceeding.

The court also added:

The Court … understands that this case is personal to Plaintiff, but if he is going to be unable to keep his personal feelings out of his pleadings and the way he litigates this case, he might want to consider hiring an attorney to represent him in this case.

The court largely rejected defendant's substantive arguments for dismissal; it did, however, dismiss the intentional infliction of emotional distress claims brought on behalf of plaintiff's children, and part of plaintiff's interference with business relations claim.

The post If Lawyer Representing Himself Is "Unable to Keep His Personal Feelings out of His Pleadings and the Way He Litigates This Case," appeared first on Reason.com.


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