Thomas v US, CA 87-1820

Section 1


WILLIAM THOMAS, et. al.,         )                  
                   Plaintiffs    )             
        v.                       ) Civil Action No. 87-1280  
                     Defendants. )


Pro se plaintiffs William Thomas, Ellen Thomas, Concepcion Picciotto, and Robert Dorrough, individually and as organized, in various combinations, into the "White House Antinuclear Vigil" and the "Peace Park Anti-Nuclear Vigil," sue numerous official and private individuals and organizations for injuries allegedly arising out of plaintiffs' communicative activities in Lafayette Park.

On July 7, 1987, plaintiffs filed a complaint accompanied by a Motion for Preliminary Injunction and a Temporary Restraining Order naming as defendants inter alia, President Ronald Reagan; the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, News World Communications, doing business as The Washington Times, along with several of the newspaper's principals and employees; Jay Young, a political activist; the Young Americans for Freedom ("YAF"); Donald Hodel, in his official


capacity as Secretary of the Interior; two assistant solicitors in the Department of the Interior; two particular United States Park Police officers; and "Numerous Identifiable Agents of the United States Secret Service and the United States Park Police." Plaintiffs seek damages from all defendants totalling more than $150 million. In addition, plaintiffs pray for declaratory and injunctive relief against the enforcement of regulations presently codified at 36 C.F.R. § 7.96. Complaint at 29.

Two separate dispositive motions have been filed, News World Communications and defendants related to that organization (hereinafter "Times defendants") have filed motion to dismiss. The federal defendants have filed a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed in this Memorandum, an accompanying Order grants the Times defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.


Plaintiffs have attempted to maintain a continuous anti- nuclear demonstration in front of the White House, along Pennsylvania Avenue, and in Lafayette Park, Washington, D.C. One of the individual plaintiffs commenced his vigil in 1981; others joined periodically throughout the following six years.

Accompanied by signs bearing political and religious messages, and supplied with literature expressing and


advocating various ideological views, plaintiffs have sought

Complaint at ¶ 23. Plaintiffs summarize their message as one of "'Peace through Love,'" and "'love your enemies.'" Id. at ¶ 25. Those principles find practical application, plaintiffs maintain, in their conviction that "'unless humanity eliminates nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons will eliminate humanity,'" Id.

Plaintiffs' continuous vigil has been interrupted numerous times over the years by warnings, arrests, and convictions for violations of Department of the Interior regulations restricting the time, place, and manner of First Amendment activity near the White House and on federal park lands, such as Lafayette Park. In particular, the plaintiffs have run a foul of prohibitions on "camping" in the Park. codified at 36 C.F.R, § 7.96(1)(1) (1987), That rule defines the proscribed activity, in part, as

36 C.F.R. § 7.96(1) (1) (1987). In addition, plaintiffs have been cited for violations; of Lafayette Park restrictions governing the size and the structure of signs, as well as


sign attendance requirements, which regulations are codified at C.F.R. § 7.96(g)(5)(x)(B) (1987).

In 1984, plaintiffs filed suit against Department of the Interior officials challenging the constitutionality of these regulations as violative of plaintiffs' First Amendment rights of speech and association. In July of 1987, plaintiffs filed a second action, re-alleging many of their earlier challenges to the camping regulations and adding new challenges to a three-foot attendance sign regulation that had been promulgated since the filing of the original suit. The 1987 complaint, however, named as defendants not only federal officials and Park Police officers, as had the original complaint. The 1987 complaint also alleged that constitutional and common law torts had been committed against plaintiffs by The Washington Times its parent company, News World Communications, its editor-in-chief, and various employees and associates of the newspaper, alone and in conspiracy with each other and the federal defendants.

The federal defendants sued in the 1984 action have filed a motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, far summary judgment on that complaint. The federal defendants in the 1987 case have also filed a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. Three defendants affiliated with The Washington Times have filed a joint motion to dismiss the 1987 complaint as against them. "Defendants News World Communications, DeBorchgrave and Pak's Memorandum in support


of Motion to Dismiss (hereinafter "Times" Motion to Dismiss"), Defendant Jay Young has filed an answer, which denies all allegations of wrongdoing and, like the notion filed on behalf of all other Times defendants, argues that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

This Memorandum and accompanying Order address only those claims made by plaintiffs against the nonfederal defendants. They dispose only of the Times defendants' motion to dismiss the 1987 complaint. The federal defendants' dispositive motions in both the 1984 and the 1987 actions remain under advisement.

For the purposes of the present Memorandum, defendant Young's answer shall be treated as incorporating the other Times defendants' motion to dismiss; the resolution of the Times motion shall apply as well to all claims against defendant Young. Defendant Sun Myung Moon has filed neither an answer nor any other responsive pleading, Similarly, no response has been received from defendant Masty nor from defendant organization YAF. ' Accordingly, the 1987 complaint's allegations against these two parties also remain under advisement.


The 1987 complaint claims that defendants have acted, individually and in conspiracy with one another, to infringe plaintiff's First Amendment rights. Specifically, plaintiffs


allege that defendants "utilize[d] regulatory schemes, disinformation, psychological violence, [and] public defamation of character" in an effort to interfere with the twenty-four hour demonstration conducted by plaintiffs in Lafayette Park, Complaint at ¶ 20.

Plaintiffs contend that The Washington Times, through its editors, reporters, and commentators, has engaged in a campaign to discredit plaintiffs, their political convictions, and their chosen mode of First Amendment expression. To this end, plaintiffs allege, the Times has "repeatedly" published articles and cartoons that portray a distorted picture of plaintiffs' presence, words and ideas for the purpose of furthering defendants' collective intent to maliciously, falsely, recklessly, cause public defamation. [t]hereby irresponsibly plant[ing] seeds of untruth and prejudic[ing] readers' minds against plaintiffs. Complaint at ¶ 35.

Plaintiffs refer, in particular, to a series of what they describe as "editorials," accompanied on at least one occasion by a satirical cartoon making oblique reference to two of the plaintiffs, that appeared in the Times in February and March of 1983, See id, at ¶ 45, 47·49. These columns, entitled "Defacing the White House," "Defacing the White House: II," and "Defacing the White House: Update," refer both obliquely and explicitly to several of the plaintiffs and criticize "the garbage that passes for protest signs left night and day" on the White


House sidewalk and in Lafayette Park. See id. at Exhibit 13. These editorials refer to various plaintiffs as "bums" or "pitiable lunatics." See, id. at Exhibit 15, The writers denigrate plaintiffs' communicative placards as "gibberish" and "trash." See, e.g., id. Plaintiffs characterize these comments as false and defamatory statements of fact. [1]

The complaint alleges that the Times' "dissemination of malicious disinformation" has had at least three injurious consequences. First, the newspaper's publications regarding plaintiffs purportedly represent an "intentional infliction of emotional distress." Id, at § 78; see id. at § 93 ("Count Two"). Second, plaintiffs argue, the publications, taken together, reflect a "smear campaign" intended to injure plaintiffs' reputations and the pursuit of their lives' work and religious practice." Id. at § 79; see id. at § 93 ("Count Three"), 94, 96, Third, plaintiffs maintain that, through such defamatory publications, the Times conspired with the federal defendants, which conspiracy was intended to and did result in the promulgation of federal regulations that interfere with plaintiffs' exercise of their First Amendment rights of expression and association. See id. at ¶¶ 20, 95.

[1 The complaint makes repeated reference to defamation and Liable. See. e.a., Complaint at ¶¶ 51, 72, 92 C 104, Yet in another pleading, plaintiffs appear to disavow any libel claim. See Reply to Defendants News World Communications, DeBorchgrave and Pak's Motion to Dismiss (hereinafter "Plaintiffs' Opposition") at 19-15. Construing the complaint most favorably to plaintiffs,however, it is assumed for purposes of this memorandum that they do allege libel by The Washington Times.]


In addition to the defamation and emotional distress claims, the complaint alleges that in July of 1985 several of the Times defendants, joined by defendant Masty and defendant organization YAF, were involved in a physical assault against plaintiffs and their property in Lafayette Park. See id. at ¶¶ 58-61. Plaintiffs maintain, further, that the Times itself organized and implemented the alleged raid in an effort to generate a news story for publication. See id. at ¶ 59, 61. The raid itself is claimed to have been carried out for the "purpose of removing plaintiffs' signs from the park and, [sic] striking fear into the hearts of plaintiffs so that plaintiffs might abandon" their demonstration. Id. at ¶ 58.

The complaint alleges that the "raid" occurred at 4:00 A.M. on July 4, 1985. plaintiffs claim that they were attacked in the park by a group of "abusive and intimidating" persons who destroyed ar damaged several of plaintiffs' signs. id. at ¶ 60. This group, purportedly, also attempted to remove several signs from the park using a van driven by defendant Young. Members of the group allegedly erected signs of their own where plaintiffs' had stood. Id.

Not only did the alleged assault result in damage to property and injury to a person, plaintiffs claim, but the "raid" generated further defamation of plaintiffs in Times publications, Plaintiffs contend that a news story about the


incident, published on July 5, 1985 under the byline of defendant Masty, contained an "intentionally misleading" account of the event, which article, plaintiffs claim, erroneously characterized the YAF as "Freedom Fighters" while labelling plaintiffs as "weirdos" and "screwballs." Id, at ¶ 61. Maintaining that none of their number is or has ever been a member of any Communist or Socialist party, nor "even 'the screwball left,'" plaintiffs conclude that the Times defendants took advantage of the assault further to defame plaintiffs, Id. at ¶ 62.

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