Anthony Jay Robbins v Buzzfeed UK Ltd

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMr. Justice Mark Heslin
Judgment Date04 June 2021
Neutral Citation[2021] IEHC 433
Docket Number[2019 No. 9087 P.]
Year2021
CourtHigh Court
Between
Anthony Jay Robbins
Plaintiff
and
Buzzfeed UK Ltd
Defendant

[2021] IEHC 433

[2019 No. 9087 P.]

THE HIGH COURT

JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Mark Heslin delivered on the 4th day of June, 2021

Introduction
1

This matter comes before the Court in circumstances where, on 27 March 2020, the defendant issued a notice of motion seeking orders as follows: declining jurisdiction pursuant to Council Regulation (EC) no. 1215/2012 (hereinafter “Brussels Recast”) and/or the Rules of the Superior Courts (“RSC”); a declaration that the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the proceedings; an order pursuant to O. 12, r. 27 of the RSC setting aside service of the proceedings on the basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens and an order striking out and/or staying the proceedings on the basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

2

The plaintiff in the proceedings resides in California and is domiciled in the United States. The defendant has its registered office in London. Messrs. Tweed, solicitors for the plaintiff, issued a plenary summons on 26 November 2019 seeking, inter alia, damages for defamation, malicious falsehood, misrepresentation, breach of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress as well as an injunction pursuant to s. 33 of the Defamation Act, 2009, restraining the defendant, its servants or agents, from publishing or causing to be published the said or any similar words which are said to be defamatory of the plaintiff. Beneath the general indorsement of claim, it is stated, inter alia, that this Court has jurisdiction to determine the proceedings by virtue of Article 7(2) of Brussels Recast. It is also stated that the plaintiff limits his claim to damage suffered within the jurisdiction of this honourable Court.

3

The background to the proceedings, which were served the same day as being issued, concern articles which were posted in May, June and November 2019 on the website “BuzzFeedNews.com” which related to claims of sexual misconduct, bullying and harassment, by the plaintiff, of certain employees and attendees at his events, alleged to have occurred between the 1980s and 2009 in the United States and in Canada. In the plenary summons, the plaintiff is described as an entrepreneur, author, philanthropist and a life and business strategist. The articles in question were written by a Ms. Jane Bradley and Ms. Katie J. Baker and, in a manner explained later in this judgment, the defendant does not contend that Ms. Bradley and Ms. Baker were not employed by the defendant company, BuzzFeed UK Ltd., when they wrote the articles in question.

4

The evidence before the court comprised the contents of, and exhibits to, an affirmation of Ms. Ariel Kaminer dated 13 March 2020, grounding the defendant's motion; the replying affidavit sworn by the plaintiff on 13 November 2020 and the exhibit thereto, as well as the replying affidavit sworn by the plaintiff's solicitor, Mr. Paul Tweed, on 13 November 2020 and it is to an examination of these I now turn.

Affirmation of Ariel Kaminer
5

At para. 1 of her affirmation dated 13 March 2020, Ms. Kaminer confirms that she is the Global Head of the Investigative Unit at BuzzFeed, Inc.” and she affirms that she makes her affirmation for and on behalf of the defendant which is described as a wholly owned subsidiary of “BuzzFeed Inc”. At para. 4, Ms. Kaminer asserts that the defendant is not the proper party to the proceedings and that BuzzFeed UK Ltd. does not own or operate the website BuzzFeedNews.com, which is where the allegedly defamatory statements were published. She states that BuzzFeed Inc. owns that website. At this juncture, it is appropriate to say that the foregoing issue does not appear to me to be one for this Court to determine in the context of the present application. The contention that the plaintiff should have sued BuzzFeed Inc., rather than the defendant seems to me to be a substantive matter for a trial judge to determine.

6

At para. 5, Ms. Kaminer asserts inter alia that the relevant statements relate to factual matters exclusively concerned with events in the United States and that this Court has no jurisdiction to determine the claim which is said to have no connection to Ireland. At para. 6, reference is made to BuzzFeed Inc's concerns in respect of the plaintiff's proceedings against a subsidiary in what is described as a completely unconnected jurisdiction apparently brought because the plaintiff perceives this to be a more favourable jurisdiction for a defamation claim. At para. 7 reference is made to the plaintiff's claim as pleaded in the plenary summons. At para. 8, Ms. Kaminer refers to the headings deployed in terms of the structure of her affirmation beginning with her description of the parties contained at para. 9 and 10. At para. 9, the plaintiff is described as a citizen of and domiciled in the United States, having an address in San Diego, California. The defendant is described, at para. 10, as an entity organised under the laws of the United Kingdom, having no ownership, interest in or operational control over BuzzFeedNews.com. It is stated, however, that employees of the defendant may create content that is posted on websites owned and operated by BuzzFeed Inc., including BuzzFeedNews.com …. It is also stated that decisions about what does or does not get posted are made by BuzzFeed Inc. through its BuzzFeedNews.com division and that division's editorial leadership is based in New York City.

7

At para. 11, reference is made to BuzzFeed Inc. which is described as a leading independent digital media company headquartered in New York and organised under the laws of the State of Delaware which company owns and operates the English language website BuzzFeedNews.com, being a website operated from the United States hosted on the servers of a third party, Amazon Web Services, based in Virginia, USA. Ms. Kaminer also states that BuzzFeedNews is an unincorporated operating division of BuzzFeed Inc.

8

At para. 12, reference is made to investigations conducted by BuzzFeedNews reporters into allegations regarding the conduct of the plaintiff towards members of staff and attendees at events. Ms. Kaminer also refers to correspondence received by BuzzFeed Inc., during the course of that investigation, from US – based attorneys on behalf of the plaintiff. At para. 13, Ms. Kaminer refers to articles posted on BuzzFeedNews.com in May, June and November 2019. From paras. 14 to 19, inclusive, Ms. Kaminer refers to the title, date and content of the relevant articles, comprising what is described as Parts 1 to 6 of the investigation. The following are the headings which appear in Ms. Kaminer's affirmation, immediately before paras. 14 to 19, with details set out in the relevant paragraphs themselves:-

“Part 1: Leaked records reveal Tony Robbins berated abuse victims, and former followers accuse him of sexual advances” – 17 May 2019”;

“Part 2: Tony Robbins accused of sexual misconduct by four more women” – 22 May 2019”;

“Part 3: “Tony Robbins was filmed using racial slurs”—23 May 2019”;

“Part 4: “Tony Robbins punishes followers” – 18 June 2019”;

“Part 5: “Tony Robbins has been accused of groping more women” – 19 June 2019”;

“Part 6: “Tony Robbins has been accused of sexually assaulting a high schooler at a summer camp” – 22 November 2019”.

9

In the context of the application before this Court, it is unnecessary to look in any detail at the contents of the paragraphs which appear under the foregoing headings. At para. 20, Ms. Kaminer exhibits what she describes as Parts 1 to 6 of the investigation which she says has been reproduced as accurately as it can be. This material comprises Exhibit “AK 1”, being a replication, in print, of material which appeared “online”. Exhibit “AK 2” comprises a USB stick containing a “Word” document with hyperlinks to each of the online articles. At this juncture it is appropriate to point out to say that a detailed analysis of the nature of what is said in the relevant articles is not required for the purposes of the present application.

10

Paras. 21 to 28, inclusive, of Ms. Kaminer's affirmation appear under the heading Correspondence with Mr. Robbins' US legal representatives. At para. 21, Ms. Kaminer states that, between 30 November 2018 and 12 June 2018, there was extensive correspondence between (1) the plaintiff's US legal representatives, (2) BuzzFeed Inc. and (3) the BuzzFeedNews New York City office. Exhibit “AK 3” comprises what Ms. Kaminer describes as “… a booklet containing a selection of that correspondence …”. Ms. Kaminer states that a review of this correspondence will show that the matter bears no relation to Ireland and that “… during that period the plaintiff's legal representatives understood that the issues were UScentric and were dealing with the matter on that basis”. The first letter which is included in Exhibit “AK 3” comprises a letter dated 30 November 2018 sent by Lavely & Singer, being a firm of attorneys – at – law with an address in California. This letter was sent by email to the editor in chief and general counsel, respectively, of BuzzFeed.com and referred to what was then an intended article. The first paragraph of the letter refers to representation of the plaintiff and a named company, Robbins Research International, Inc. (“RRI”), whereas the second paragraph of the letter begins as follows:- This letter pertains to a potential story by BuzzFeed writers Katie Baker and Jane Bradley (the “Writers”) regarding Mr. Robbins and RRI. We have closely monitored the conduct of the Writers in their investigation of the potential story regarding our clients …”. The letter is a detailed one, running to 12 pages and employing a number of headings, namely:-

The said letter cites US case law in support of the assertions contained in the letter. Having referred to...

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