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Dumpson v. Diggs

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware

August 31, 2018

Stephanie and Wayne Dumpson
v.
Adelle Diggs Stephanie Dumpson
v.
Kimberly S. Jackson

          Stephanie Dumpson Pro se Plaintiff

          Adelle Diggs Pro se Defendant

          Wayne Dumpson Pro se Plaintiff

          Kimberly Jackson Pro se Defendant

          ALEX J. SMALLS CHIEF JUDGE

         Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dumpson, Ms. Diggs, and Ms. Jackson:

         On August 15, 2018, trial was convened in the Court of Common Pleas and the Court reserved its decision. In case #000574, Plaintiff Stephanie Dumpson ("Plaintiff Stephanie") and Plaintiff Wayne Dumpson ("Plaintiff Wayne") (collectively "Plaintiffs") claim that Defendant Adelle Diggs ("Defendant Diggs") defamed Plaintiff Wayne and her daughter, Plaintiff Stephanie, in both spoken and written word, as well as intentionally causing extreme emotional distress. In case #000587, Plaintiff Stephanie claims that her daughter, Defendant Kimberly Jackson ("Defendant Jackson"), defamed her in both spoken and written word. Regarding Defendant Diggs, Plaintiffs claim they suffered "emotional distress in the form of Anguish, Humiliation, loss[s] of Productivity, los[s] of Sleep, pain and suffering, and Fear."[1]Likewise, Plaintiff Wayne claims he suffered "mental anguish as a 3rd party witness."[2] Plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages for pain and suffering caused by Defendant Diggs' intentional infliction of emotional distress and $5, 000 in punitive damages plus interest and court costs for their suffering.[3] Regarding Defendant Jackson, Plaintiff Stephanie claims she has suffered "Anguish, Humiliation, los[s] of Productivity, los[s] of Sleep, and Fear."[4] Plaintiff Stephanie is seeking $5, 000 in punitive damages plus interest and court costs for her suffering.[5]At trial, the Court heard testimony in this consolidated matter from Master Corporal Mark Grajewski, a police officer with the New Castle County Police Department; Plaintiff Wayne; Plaintiff Stephanie; Defendant Diggs; Defendant Jackson; and Antoinette Jackson, Plaintiff Stephanie's sister. Relevant to the claims before the Court, [6] the following exhibits were entered into evidence in support of Plaintiffs' claims: (1) a text message from Defendant Diggs to Plaintiff Wayne noting concern for Plaintiff Stephanie, [7] (2) a print out of the "Manage Blocking" settings of Facebook, Inc.'s website, [8] (3) a second print out of the "Manage Blocking" settings of Facebook, Inc.'s website, [9] and (4) a print out of the "Who viewed your profile" webpage on Plaintiff Stephanie's "Profile" on Linkedln Corporation's website.[10]Defendant Diggs did not proffer any exhibits at trial. Defendant Jackson submitted the following relevant exhibits into evidence: (1) text messages from Plaintiff Stephanie to Defendant Jackson evidencing contact extending from July 9, 2017 to August 25, 2017, [11] and (2) an August 21, 2017 text message chain between Plaintiff Stephanie and Defendant Jackson where Defendant Jackson advises her mother that she "need[s] help."[12] This is the Court's final decision after consideration of the pleadings, oral and documentary evidence submitted at trial, arguments made at trial, and the applicable law.

         In case #000574, Plaintiffs failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant Diggs defamed Plaintiff Stephanie or caused Plaintiff Wayne to suffer emotional distress. Defamation-written and spoken-requires proof of the following elements:" '(1) the defamatory character of the communication; (2) publication; (3) that the communication refers to the plaintiff; (4) the third party's understanding of the communication's defamatory character; and (5) injury.' "[13] The Delaware Superior Court has stated the following regarding a court's determination of whether the first element has been satisfied:

In determining whether a statement is capable of defamatory meaning, the Supreme Court of Delaware in Spence v. Funk looked to two similar, but slightly different, definitions of defamation:
• "That which tends to injure the reputation in the popular sense; to diminish the esteem, respect, goodwill or confidence in which the plaintiff is held, or to excite adverse, derogatory or unpleasant feelings or opinions against him."
• "A communication is defamatory if it tends so to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him."
Beginning with these fundamental definitions, this Court in Q-Tone broadcasting, Co. v. Muskradio of Maryland, Inc., adopted New Jersey's three-part test on determining a statement's capability of defamatory meaning. The Supreme Court of New Jersey, in Ward v. Zelikovsky, found that courts should consider the content, verifiability, and context of the allegedly defamatory statement(s). "In its analysis of the content of an allegedly defamatory statement, the Court must look to the 'fair and natural meaning which will be given it by reasonable persons of ordinary intelligence.' "[14]

         The text message at issue that Defendant Diggs sent to Plaintiff Wayne states:

(1/2) Happy New Year Wayne. I am writing to you because I am very concerned about my daughter Stephanie [sic] she has been involved in some destructive behaviors [sic] th (2/2) is is just to remind you of your responsibility to look out for you[r] wife [sic] mental and physical health. I want you to know you will be held accountable.[15]

         A "fair and natural interpretation" of this text message is not one of defamation, but a message of concern. Indeed, the context of the exchange involves an anxious mother texting her son-in-law regarding her daughter's wellbeing. In fact, the message does not even accuse Plaintiff Stephanie of possessing a "mental health illness."[16] Hence, I find that Plaintiffs ...


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