United States District Court, D. Maryland
ALICIA N. WATKINS, Plaintiff,
ANTHONY CARR, et al., Defendants.
XINIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court in this defamation action is a motion for
summary judgment filed by Defendants Bright Mountain Media
Group and JQPUBLIC (ECF No. 29), and a motion filed by pro se
Plaintiff Alicia N. Watkins (“Watkins”) for
extension of time to file her opposition to summary judgment.
ECF No. 34. The Court now rules because no hearing is
necessary. See D. Md. Loc. R. 105.6. For the
following reasons, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion
for extension of time and GRANTS Defendants' motion for
Mountain Media Group (“Bright Mountain”) owns and
operates JQPUBLIC (“JQP”), a website that hosts
blogposts focused on the military and government, with
particular attention paid to the Air Force. See ECF
No. 7 at 3, ECF No. 29 at 4. On March 24, 2016, a blogpost
was published on JQP concerning a public meeting between
Watkins, an Air Force veteran, and then-presidential
candidate Donald Trump (“Trump”). After Trump
Event, New Questions About Air Force Vet's
Backstory, John Q. Public (Mar. 24, 2016),
(“JQP Blogpost”). During a media event at
Trump's hotel project in Washington, D.C., Watkins,
wearing press credentials, asked Trump a question about
veteran employment. Id. Trump brought Watkins to the
podium, and after a brief conversation, offered her a job in
his organization. Id. The blogpost links to news
coverage of the exchange from, among others, CNN and Air
Force Times. These reports questioned the authenticity of
Watkins' supposed media credentials. Id.
blogpost itself also questions the plausibility of
Watkins' representations made to Trump and while
appearing on other news and entertainment shows, to include
the timing of Watkins' injuries in the September 11
terrorist attacks or in Afghanistan and the circumstances
leading to her separation from the Air Force. Id.
Notably, the blogpost was careful “[n]ot to outright
label Watkins a liar or Charlatan, ” but rather aimed
to “highlight ambiguities” unearthed in
researching Watkins' historic representations about her
service. Id. The blogpost ultimately acknowledged
that “the remarkable story of Alicia Watkins, ”
may be “totally legitimate, ” but nonetheless
opined that the “endless string of assertions and
inferences , while strictly plausible, require us to
stretch to believe them.” Id.
filed this case against Bright Mountain, JQP, and Anthony
(the ostensible author) based on this blogpost, asserting
claims of false light, defamation, and intentional infliction
of emotional distress. ECF No. 1 at 4, 5, 7. As relief, Watkins
seeks $30, 000, 000 in damages. Id. at 11.
Mountain and JQP (collectively, “Defendants”)
initially moved to compel arbitration based on the
Defendants' motion to compel arbitration, ECF No. 19, and
issued a discovery scheduling order. ECF No. 23. Watkins did
not participate in discovery at all. ECF No. 27.
close of the discovery period, Defendants moved for summary
judgment. ECF No. 29. The Court held a status conference on
September 5, 2018, and extended Watkins' time to respond
to the motion for summary judgment until September 18, 2018.
ECF No. 32. The Court also granted Watkins the opportunity to
file a motion to reopen discovery for good cause.
Id. Watkins did not move to reopen discovery.
thereafter moved for an extension of time to respond to the
summary judgment motion. ECF No. 34. In it, Watkins explained
that she had submitted a “partial and incomplete
filing” on September 18, 2018, and requested additional
time to supplement her response. Id. Because
Plaintiff proceeds pro se, the Court grants the extension
nunc pro tunc and considers Plaintiff's response
at ECF No. 33.
judgment is appropriate when the Court, construing all
evidence and drawing all reasonable inferences in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party, finds no genuine
dispute exists as to any material fact, thereby entitling the
movant to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a);
see In re Family Dollar FLSA Litig., 637 F.3d 508,
512 (4th Cir. 2011). Summary judgment must be granted
“against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient
to establish the existence of an element essential to that
party's case, and on which that party will bear the
burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “In responding
to a proper motion for summary judgment, ” the opposing
party “must present evidence of specific facts from
which the finder of fact could reasonably find for him or
her.” Venugopal v. Shire Labs., 334 F.Supp.2d
835, 840 (D. Md. 2004), aff'd sub nom. Venugopal v.
Shire Labs., Inc., 134 Fed.Appx. 627 (4th Cir. 2005)
(citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 252
(1986); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23)). Genuine
disputes of material fact are not created “through mere
speculation or the building of one inference upon
another.” Othentec Ltd. v. Phelan, 526 F.3d
135, 140 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Beale v. Hardy,
769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985)). Where a party's
statement of a fact is “blatantly contradicted by the
record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, ”
the Court credits the record. Scott v. Harris, 550
U.S. 372, 380 (2007).