United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable Roslyn O. Silver Senior United States District
Elisa Grassi and Frank Sponle made statements to non-parties
that Plaintiffs David Cains and Scott Bailey stole two horse
embryos. Based on those statements, Cains, Bailey, and two
related entities filed this suit against Grassi and Sponle,
alleging claims for defamation, false light, and intentional
infliction of emotional distress. Grassi and Sponle believe
all three claims are barred by the applicable statutes of
limitations. Viewed in the light most favorable to the
plaintiffs, the evidence establishes Grassi and Sponle are
are two individuals, David Cains and Scott Bailey, and two
entities, Stonewall Farms Arabians, LLC, and Knight Media
Networks, Inc. The parties have not provided a complete
explanation of the relationship between Cains, Bailey, and
the entities. It appears, however, that Cains and Bailey work
in the Arabian horse industry and the entities provide
services to that industry. Stonewall Farms is “owned
and controlled by . . . Bailey.” As part of its
business, Stonewall Farms owns numerous horses. Bailey also
owns and controls Knight Media, a business devoted to
operating horse-related websites. Bailey is not involved in
all the transactions regarding horses owned by Stonewall
Farms. Instead, Cains sometimes acts as Stonewall Farms'
agent when Stonewall Farms sells its horses. For the most
part, the presence of Stonewall Farms and Knight Media as
plaintiffs can be ignored.
to February 2012, Stonewall Farms owned a horse named La
Bella Versace (“Bella”). In February 2012, Cains
began negotiating with Defendant Elisa Grassi regarding the
sale of Bella. At that time, Grassi was acting as the agent
for non-party Sheikh Ammar bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, the Crown
Prince of the Emirate of Ajman (“Sh. Ammar”).
During those negotiations, Cains told Grassi that any sale
agreement would have to provide that Stonewall could retrieve
two embryos from Bella. Grassi agreed to those terms and, on
February 25, 2012, Bella was sold to Sh. Ammar. The written
agreement executed by Cains and Grassi did not include any
provisions regarding subsequent embryo retrieval.
Bella was sold, she remained at Stonewall Farms'
facility. While there, Cains retrieved two embryos from her.
Bella was then shipped out of Arizona. In 2013, Grassi and
her partner Defendant Frank Sponle had a disagreement with
Cains and Bailey regarding the purchase of another horse.
That disagreement led to Grassi and Sponle setting out to
“financially ruin” Cains and Bailey
(“Plaintiffs”). (Doc. 24 at 6). To do so, Grassi
and Sponle began “making false statements about the
Plaintiffs to others in the Arabian Horse Industry.”
(Doc. 24 at 6). Those false statements were that Plaintiffs
had “stole[n] horse embryos from Sheikh Ammar.”
(Doc. 24 at 7). Unfortunately, Plaintiffs have not clearly
identified each false statement Grassi and Sponle made. That
is, Plaintiffs have not clearly identified who said what to
whom. Based on the evidence presented at summary
judgment, however, the following statements are at
in approximately August 2013, Sponle told Sh. Ammar that
“Cains had stolen an embryo from [Bella].” (Doc.
79-1 at 11; Doc. 74 at 80). Next, on some unidentified date
prior to February 2014, Grassi told Sh. Ammar that Cains and
Bailey had stolen embryos from Bella. And finally, also on
some unidentified date prior to February 2014, Grassi and
Sponle made statements to two other non-parties that Cains
stole an embryo from Bella. (Doc. 79-1 at 11; Doc. 74 at 80).
hearing about the alleged embryo thefts, counsel for Sh.
Ammar sent Plaintiffs a letter titled “Pre-Litigation
Notice and Legal Demand.” (Doc. 74 at 34). That letter,
dated February 4, 2014, recited the basic facts regarding the
sale of Bella to Sh. Ammar and Cains' subsequent
extraction of two embryos. According to the letter, the sale
agreement did not include any terms allowing for the
retrieval of two embryos after the sale. And by retrieving
the two embryos, Plaintiffs had “committed the tort of
conversion by appropriating the property of Sh. Ammar to
[their] own beneficial use . . . namely, the use of [Bella]
to produce embryos.” (Doc. 74 at 37). Based on
Plaintiffs' actions, Sh. Ammar demanded immediate payment
of $215, 000. If Plaintiffs did not pay that amount within
ten days, Sh. Ammar stated he would file suit against them.
(Doc. 74 at 38). Bailey and Cains sent separate responses to
this letter. Both of those responses assumed it was Grassi,
not Sponle, who had told Sh. Ammar about the embryo theft.
February 15, 2014, Bailey emailed his response to Sh.
Ammar's letter. In that email, Bailey stated he had been
“shocked and amazed” by the letter. (Doc. 74 at
55). In Bailey's view, Grassi was “a very
vindictive, bitter and nasty person” who was doing
“everything possible to destroy” Bailey's
relationship with Sh. Ammar. Bailey stated Grassi was just
using Sh. Ammar to “get back at [Plaintiffs]” and
she was “telling you lies about the sale of that
mare.” On February 22, 2014, Cains emailed his response
to Sh. Ammar's letter. (Doc. 74 at 57). Cains' email
attacked the substance of the allegation that retrieving
embryos from Bella had not been part of the sale agreement.
According to Cains, he had told Grassi that Bella's
previous owner was entitled to one embryo and that Cains
hoped to retrieve an embryo for himself. (Doc. 74 at 57).
Cains claimed there had never been any intent to keep the
embryo retrievals secret. And Cains described Grassi as
“twisting the truth with regards to this sale”
out of some desire to harm Plaintiffs. (Doc. 74 at 57).
on the letter from Sh. Ammar's counsel, and the
responsive emails from Bailey and Cains, there is no genuine
dispute of material fact that as of February 2014, Bailey and
Cains knew Grassi had made a statement to Sh. Ammar about the
allegedly unauthorized embryo retrievals. The letters and
emails do not, however, explicitly identify Sponle as making
a similar statement to Sh. Ammar.
exact content of Grassi's and Sponle's statements to
two other non-parties is not as clear. But it is clear when
those statements were made. On some unidentified date prior
to February 2014, both Grassi and Sponle spoke with those
non-parties. Based on that conversation, rumors began to
spread within the Arabian horse community regarding
Plaintiffs' actions. In February 2014, Bailey and Cains
attended the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show and it was at that
show that Plaintiffs “first heard ‘rumors'
that [they] had stolen horse embryos from Sh. Ammar.”
(Doc. 74 at 3; Doc. 78 at 2). At that time, Plaintiffs
believed the rumors were attributable to statements made by
both Grassi and Sponle. (Doc. 78 at 2) (“The Plaintiffs
suspected that the Defendants were the source of the rumors
that the Plaintiffs had stolen embryos from Sh.
Ammar.”). Despite hearing the rumors, and receiving the
letter making it abundantly clear that Grassi had told Sh.
Ammar the embryo retrieval was unauthorized, Plaintiffs did
not file suit at that time.
unknown reasons, Sh. Ammar did not file his
previously-threatened lawsuit until April 16, 2015. On that
date Sh. Ammar sued Bailey, Cains, and Stonewall Farms for,
among other things, retrieving embryos from Bella after she
was owned by Sh. Ammar. CV-15-1045-PHX-DJH. On April 13,
2016, Sponle was deposed in that suit. During his deposition,
Sponle admitted that prior to February 2014 he told Sh. Ammar
that Plaintiffs had stolen embryos. In opposing summary
judgment in the present suit, Bailey submitted a declaration
stating Sponle's deposition was the first time he gained
“knowledge of the source of the rumors” regarding
embryo theft. (Doc. 79 at 2). Plaintiffs filed the present
suit the same day as Sponle's deposition, April 13, 2016.
(Doc. 1-2 at 5).
and Sponle seek summary judgment by arguing the claims for
defamation, false light, and intentional infliction of
emotional distress (“IIED”) are untimely. Grassi
and Sponle also argue there is insufficient evidence to
support the IIED claim. Because ...