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Krawatsky v. Avrunin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 21, 2018

STEVEN KRAWATSKY & SHIRA KRAWATSKY, Plaintiffs,
v.
RACHEL AVRUNIN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge.

         In this tort case, plaintiffs Steven Krawatsky (“Rabbi K”) and Shira Krawatsky (collectively, the “Krawatskys”), filed a 57-count Complaint against multiple defendants: Rachel Avrunin and Joel Arunin (collectively, the “Avrunins”); Sharon Avrunin-Becker and Scott Becker (collectively, the “Beckers”); and Chaim Levin. ECF 1 (the “Complaint”). In the Complaint, plaintiffs contend, inter alia, that defendants engaged in a scheme “to damage Rabbi K and destroy his reputation” by false and scandalous accusations that he committed sexual child abuse, disseminated by way of social media, website domains, media outlets, and communications with multiple third parties. See Id. ¶ 25. In particular, plaintiffs claim that defendants have falsely and repeatedly alleged that Rabbi K sexually molested the Avrunins' son (“B.A.”) and the Beckers' son (“S.B.”). See Id. ¶¶ 6-30. And, they have engaged Levin to disseminate falsehoods on social media. Id. ¶¶ 26-29.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, plaintiffs assert subject matter jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship. See id. ¶ 5 (“Jurisdiction is proper with this Court due to the diversity of citizenship of the parties, who reside in Maryland, Georgia, and New York, and the amount in controversy exceeds Seventy Five Thousand Dollars ($75, 000.00)”). The Complaint alleges numerous claims, all under Maryland law, including defamation, invasion of privacy, tortious interference with economic relations, tortious interference with contractual relations, loss of consortium, intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as conspiracy and aiding and abetting. See id. ¶¶ 31-387. Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Id. ¶¶ 388-93.

         In a joint motion, the Avrunins and Levin move to dismiss the Complaint, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), for lack of personal jurisdiction in Maryland. ECF 5 (the “Motion”). In addition, all defendants move to dismiss under Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(3), for improper venue, or to transfer venue to the Southern Division of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404. And, under Rule 12(b)(6), all defendants move to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiffs oppose the Motion. ECF 8 (the “Opposition”). Defendants have not filed a reply, and the time for doing so has passed. See Local Rule 105.2.

         Two matters stand out. Curiously, plaintiffs, who are domiciled in Maryland, claim diversity jurisdiction, even though the Beckers are also domiciled in Maryland. And, equally curious, the defense focuses on the claim of lack of personal jurisdiction as to Levin and the Avrunins, without raising a claim that the court lacks diversity jurisdiction because the Beckers are domiciled in Maryland. It is a hornbook principle of federal jurisdiction that, to invoke diversity jurisdiction, the parties on each side much be completely diverse.

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, the Complaint must be dismissed, without prejudice, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         I. Factual Background[1]

         Plaintiffs, husband and wife, allege that they are residents of Baltimore County, Maryland. ECF 1, ¶ 1; Id. ¶ 6. They claim that “Rabbi K has been a highly loved and respected teacher, counselor, and tutor for many years.” Id. ¶ 10. He “has been a teacher for 19 years, ” having taught “for almost 15 years” at a well-respected Jewish day school in Baltimore County, Maryland. Id. ¶ 8. In addition, “[f]rom 2010 to 2015, Rabbi K was also a head counselor at Camp Shoresh, a summer camp for children in Adamstown, Frederick County, Maryland.” Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiffs, who are the parents of four children, also assert that, “[u]ntil the summer of 2015, there had never been any allegation made that [Rabbi K] had harmed a child in any way.” Id. ¶ 10.

         The Avrunins reside in Dekalb County, Georgia. Id. ¶ 2. They are the parents of B.A., “who attended Camp Shoresh from June 22, 2015 through July 17, 2015.” Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiffs assert that “BA was in Rabbi K's division of over 300 campers at Camp Shoresh during that camp session.” Id.

         The Beckers are residents of Montgomery County, Maryland. Id. ¶ 3. They are the parents of S.B, who “attended Camp Shoresh in the summers of 2014 and 2015.” Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiffs claim that Joel Avrunin and Sharon Avrunin-Becker are “brother and sister.” Id. ¶ 12. It follows that “[S.B.] and [S.A.] are first cousins.” Id.

         According to the Complaint, on August 13, 2015, B.A. “made an allegation of sexual abuse by Rabbi K to his parents, Defendants Rachel Avrunin and Joel Avrunin.” Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiffs maintain that B.A.'s allegation was false and that “[a]ll three of the individuals whom [B.A.] said were present during the alleged abuse denied said acts ever occurred.” Id. ¶ 14.

         Nevertheless, B.A.'s allegation was “reported by Defendant Joel Avrunin to the head of Camp Shoresh, Rabbi David Finkelstein.” Id. ¶ 15. Also, the “allegation was brought to the attention of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office and the Frederick County Department of Social Services.” Id. ¶ 16. In early September 2015, personnel at these county agencies interviewed Rabbi K and commenced an investigation. Id. ¶ 17. During Rabbi K's interview with the county sheriff, “Rabbi K flatly denied the allegations” made by B.A. and “agreed to submit to a polygraph examination, or ‘lie detector' test, without hesitation.” Id. According to plaintiffs, Rabbi K “passed the test without question.” Id. And, at the conclusion of the investigation, “the Frederick County Sheriff's Office declined to pursue any charges against Rabbi K.” Id. ¶ 18.

         Plaintiffs maintain that, in the subsequent months, the Avrunins “continued to insist that their son was sexually abused by Rabbi K” and they “engaged in a calculated and coordinated campaign to destroy Rabbi K's reputation.” Id. ¶¶ 19-20. The Complaint asserts that the Avrunins took the following actions, id. ¶ 21:

a. Contacting Rabbi K's employer . . . and demanding that he be fired, alleging that he ...

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