United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge
before the Court is Plaintiff-Relator/Counter-Defendant
Daniel Hamilton's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
and Alternative Motion to Stay the Proceedings. (Doc. 216.)
For the following reasons, the Court denies both motions.
Hamilton is a former employee of the Counterclaimants'
business partner, Yavapai College (“Yavapai”).
(Doc. 132 at 23.) Hamilton served as Director of Aviation
Programs from September 2011 until May 2012. (Id.)
Yavapai contracted with the Counterclaimants to provide pilot
and helicopter training to flight students. (Id.) A
portion of these students were funded through veteran
education benefit funds administered through the Department
of Veteran's Affairs (“VA”). (Id.)
2013, Hamilton filed a qui tam suit under the False Claims
Act alleging that the Counterclaimants and Yavapai filed
claims for veteran education benefits despite knowing that
their programs violated VA funding regulations. (Doc. 8.) In
their answer to these claims, Guidance and Stonecipher filed
claims for defamation and for intentional interference with
contractual relations against Hamilton. Specifically, the
counterclaims allege that Hamilton developed a
“personal vendetta” against the Counterclaimants
because they “refused to support his proposal to
incorporate religious ministry into YC's and
Counterclaimants aviation instruction programs.” (Doc.
132 at 23-24.)
vendetta allegedly led Hamilton to tell members of the
community and media outlets, including the Prescott Daily
Courier and the Los Angeles Times, that
“Counterclaimants had conspired to defraud and
defrauded the United States by violating VA regulations
regarding educational benefits.” (Doc. 132 at 24.) In
March of 2015, the VA suspended educational support for the
veterans enrolled in the Counterclaimants' flight
program. (Doc. 132 at 24.) This lack of funding left Yavapai
unable to continue its contract with the Counterclaimants.
motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(c) “is properly granted when,
taking all the allegations in the non-moving party's
pleadings as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law.” Fajardo v. Cnty. of L.A.,
179 F.3d 698, 699 (9th Cir. 1999). To survive a Rule 12(c)
motion, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See,
e.g., Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(a); Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); United States ex
rel. Cafasso v. Gen. Dynamics C4 Sys., Inc., 637 F.3d
1047, 1054 n.4 (9th Cir. 2011) (finding Iqbal
applies to Rule 12(c) motions because Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule
12(c) motions are “functionally identical”). To
satisfy the plausibility standard, the plaintiff must plead
“factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
However, “conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted
inferences are not sufficient to defeat a motion to
dismiss.” Pareto v. F.D.I.C., 139 F.3d 696,
699 (9th Cir. 1998).
to Hamilton's assertions, the Counterclaimants are not
required to satisfy the heightened pleading standard of Rule
9(b). (Doc. 216 at 3-4.) Defamation is not
listed in the causes of action outlined in Rule 9(b), and
“nearly all of the circuits have now disapproved any
heightened pleading standard in cases other than those
governed by Rule 9(b).” Galbraith v. Cty. of Santa
Clara, 307 F.3d 1119, 1125 (9th Cir. 2002). Thus, the
pleading requirement of Rule 8(a) applies to the
The Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is Denied.
establish a prima facie case for defamation, a plaintiff must
establish the existence of “(1) a false defamatory
statement, (2) publication to a third party, and (3)
negligence on the part of the publisher.” Boswell
v. Phoenix Newspapers, Inc., 152 Ariz. 1, 3, 730 P.2d
178, 180 (Ct. App. 1985). Hamilton asserts that dismissal is
appropriate due to Counterclaimants' failure to plead
their defamation claim with sufficient detail to make it
plausible and their perceived failure to predict and preempt
Hamilton's affirmative defenses. These arguments are
rejected for the reasons set forth below.
The Complaint Sufficiently Alleges the Content as well as the
Third Party ...