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Browning v. Clinton

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff contends wrote a “semi-autobiographical novel” about her affair with Defendant. Plaintiff was unable to get her novel published. The New Yorker published an article, which cited another company saying the company would never publish the novel because the novel was not up to its standards. Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant, two lawyers, an aide, The New Yorker, and its writer. Defendants motioned to dismiss the case, and the court dismissed the case with prejudice. Plaintiff appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    In federal court, a plaintiff is required to plead special damages with particularity.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff, Dolly Browning, contends that she has had a long friendship and extramarital affair with former President Clinton, Defendant. Plaintiff wrote a “semi-autobiographical novel,” where she elaborated on the affair. Plaintiff asserts that she obtained encouragement from an editor. Nonetheless, after, Plaintiff’s brother, Defendant’s brother, and a Deputy White House Counsel started to threaten her to stop her from publishing the novel. Plaintiff claims that Defendant apologized to her, and Plaintiff’s sister negotiated an agreement with Defendant, regarding what Plaintiff was permitted to write. Plaintiff hired a literary agent and obtained media attention. Nonetheless, Plaintiff did not get publication offers and was not able to sell the rights. The New Yorker published an article, which had statements by a publisher that the company stated it would never publish Plaintiff’s book because it was not up to the company’s standards. Plaintiff sued Defendant, two lawyers, an aide, The New Yorker, and its writer (collectively known as “Defendants”) for eight claims under both federal and common law, involving disparagement of property. To support her claim, Plaintiff amended the complaint to include a statement stating the publication of The New Yorker article caused her to be unable to sell her novel. Thus, Plaintiff contends she experienced damages resulting from the marketing and business costs, loss of goodwill, emotional distress, and mental distress. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss alleging Plaintiff has failed to state a claim. Thereafter, the district court dismissed the case with prejudice, and Browning appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether a plaintiff is required to plead special damages with particularity in federal court.

    Held.

    Yes, a plaintiff is required to plead special damages with particularity in federal court.

    Discussion.

    In federal court, a plaintiff is required to plead special damages with particularity, meaning plaintiff must present “facts showing that such special damages were the natural and direct result” of the defendant’s actions.  For example, a plaintiff may plead special damages by introducing a list of certain customers who specifically have left the plaintiff or another form of proof of lost sales that resulted due to the disparagement publication. Here, Plaintiff contends that her general allegation to obtain special damages properly satisfies the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. However, this assertion is incorrect because claims involving disparagement of property must state “the precise nature of the losses as well as the way in which the special damages resulted from the allegedly false publication.” Schoen v. Washington Post, 246 F.2d 670 (D.C. Cir. 1957).  Further, Plaintiff has not alleged the amount of damages, specified the lost of relationships, or introduced any evidence to demonstrate a causation of loss from the publication. Therefore, Plaintiff’s general pleading is insufficient, and the district court properly dismissed all claims.  


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