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Halvorssen v. Simpson

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

March 18, 2020, Decided

19-3068-cv

Opinion

SUMMARY ORDER

UPON DUE CONSIDERATION, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED that the judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.

Plaintiff-appellant Thor Halvorssen appeals from the district court's judgment, entered August 28, 2019, dismissing his complaint against defendants-appellees Glenn R. Simpson, Peter Fritsch, Francisco D'Agostino-Casado, and defendants Leopoldo A. Betancourt-Lopez, Pedro Jose Trebbau-Lopez, and Francisco Convit-Guruceaga ("defendants") for violations of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq. Halvorssen alleged that Fusion GPS ("Fusion"), whose principals are Simpson and Fritsch, conspired with others [*2]  to create and disseminate dossiers of false and damaging information about Halvorssen and two other individuals. By memorandum and order entered August 26, 2019, the district court granted motions filed by D'Agostino-Casado and by Simpson and Fritsch to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). We assume the parties' familiarity with the underlying facts, the procedural history of the case, and the issues on appeal.

BACKGROUND

The facts alleged in the complaint are assumed to be true for purposes of this appeal. Halvorssen is the President of the Human Rights Foundation (the "Foundation") and a critic of corruption in Venezuela. D'Agostino-Casado, Betancourt-Lopez, Trebbau-Lopez, and Convit-Guruceaga (the "Venezuelan defendants") owned Derwick Associates ("Derwick"), a Venezuelan energy company that purportedly engaged in kickback schemes and overbilling in Venezuela. In July 2015, Halvorssen became a shareholder of Harvest Natural Resources, Inc. ("Harvest"), a Texas-based energy company with business interests in Venezuela, and one month later he sent a letter to the Harvest board expressing concerns about the board's nomination of D'Agostino-Casado to a board seat. The letter accused the [*3]  Venezuelan defendants of violating federal laws in connection with Derwick, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1 et seq., and money laundering statutes, and was copied to various federal law enforcement officials.

In retaliation for the letter, in August 2015, the Venezuelan defendants engaged Fusion to produce a dossier accusing Halvorssen of engaging in unsavory and illegal activities and to publicize the dossier through a media campaign to discredit Halvorssen and pressure the Foundation to dismiss him. Fusion gave the dossier to Washington, D.C. journalist Kenneth M. Silverstein, who agreed to use the dossier to write a "hit piece" about Halvorssen, which first appeared on the internet on September 28, 2015. App'x at 32. Between September 24, 2015 and October 2, 2015, Silverstein, with the approval of Simpson and Fritsch, posted unflattering statements about Halvorssen on Facebook. Simpson and Fritsch also engaged in search engine optimization to ensure that Silverstein's story appeared on the first page of any internet search for Halvorssen or the Foundation, though the complaint does not indicate when this occurred. After a two-year hiatus, Silverstein again attacked Halvorssen, publishing [*4]  a blog post on October 26, 2017 accusing him of lying in testimony before the U.S. Senate.

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2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 8512 *

THOR HALVORSSEN, Plaintiff-Appellant, -v- GLENN R. SIMPSON, PETER FRITSCH, and FRANCISCO D'AGOSTINO-CASADO, Defendants-Appellees, LEOPOLDO A. BETANCOURT-LOPEZ, PEDRO JOSE TREBBAU-LOPEZ, FRANCISCO CONVIT-GURUCEAGA, Defendants.1

Notice: PLEASE REFER TO FEDERAL RULES OF APPELLATE PROCEDURE RULE 32.1 GOVERNING THE CITATION TO UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS.

Prior History:  [*1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Eric N. Vitaliano, J.).

Vorssen v. Simpson, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148030 (E.D.N.Y., Aug. 9, 2019)

CORE TERMS

dossier, enterprise, relatedness, schemes, district court, blog, predicate act, horizontal, pattern of racketeering activity, retaliation, continuity, corruption

Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Failure to State Claim, Antitrust & Trade Law, Private Actions, Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations, Claims