On August 8, 2011, David Yeagley of Oklahoma filed suit against Jeffrey Imm and Daryle Lamont Jenkins in the District Court of Oklahoma County of Oklahoma for allegedly civilly conspiring and tortiously interfering with his contract to speak at the New Century Foundation’s American Renaissance February 2010 conference.
Tortious interference occurs when a tortfeasor (1) knows of the existence of a contract between the plaintiff and a third party, (2) intentionally or recklessly causes without privilege the contract to be breached, and (3) proximately causes the plaintiff to suffer injury as a result.
Civil conspiracy occurs when a tortfeasor (1) intentionally or recklessly enters into an agreement with a third party (2) to commit an unlawful act, and (3) proximately causes the plaintiff to suffer injury as a result.
Yeagley was represented by Oklahoma Attorney W. Dan Nelson and Texan Attorney Joe Sibley; Imm and Jenkins represented themselves without the assistance of attorneys. The lawsuit sought at least $10,000.00 in damages, but not more than $75,000.00. The reason why the damages were voluntarily capped by the plaintiff is because the cap prevented the defendants from removing the lawsuit from state to federal court through diversity jurisdiction. Diversity jurisdiction occurs when there is complete diversity between the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ state residencies and the lawsuit seeks over $75,000.00 in damages. The first prong was satisfied through fate; the second prong was prevented from occurring through legal ingenuity.
The reason why state court would arguably be better for the case to be litigated is because state court judges are elected by the public or appointed by the governor and Oklahoma is a conservative state—and would therefore have conservative judges—while federal judges are appointed by the president of the United States with the consent of the U.S. Senate—and as a result, the federal court that could have otherwise exercised diversity jurisdiction has judges appointed by Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. In theory, a liberal judge would be more likely to rule in favor of the leftist defendants.
It is called “forum shopping” for attorneys to engage in efforts to have their case litigated in a court most likely to render a favorable judgment, and this is an excellent method by which to set the stage for a lawsuit.
According to the complaint filed by Yeagley’s attorneys, the case is “about a Native American patriot who has chosen to take a stand against the enemies of America and the enemies of freedom who promote violence and anarchy.” Describing the defendants as “openly tied to Communists,” the complaint alleges that Imm and Jenkins and their co-conspirators contacted hotels retained to host the American Renaissance conference and “used threats of murder, violence, and other tactics to induce those hotels to breach their contractual agreement to host Plaintiff’s speaking engagement.” The preliminary statement of the complaint palpably declares the intent of the lawsuit: ”These terrorists must now be brought to answer for their actions in Oklahoma.”
A few months after the lawsuit was filed, the case against Imm was dismissed—likely because Imm and Yeagley settled out of court. However, on January 17, 2012, Jenkins filed an answer to the complaint and filed a motion to dismiss for an alleged lack of personal jurisdiction.
In order for a court to render a lawful court order against a party, the court must have personal jurisdiction over that party. To have such jurisdiction, due process constitutional requirements must be met, as set forth in International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (1945). In this case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, it was held that a party must have minimum contacts with a state in order for the constitutional requirements to be met.
Jenkins argued in his brief that he has had no contact with Oklahoma and—citing Zippo Manufacturing Co. v. Zippo Dot Com., Inc., 952 F.Supp. 1119 (W.D. Penn. 1997)—that his website—www.onepeoplesproject.com—is a static website in which users from Oklahoma could not interact with it by posting their own content. At about this time, Jenkins deactivated the “legendary” One People’s Project online forum and otherwise made his website less interactive—but changing his website was simply too little and too late to impact the lawsuit.
Yeagley’s attorneys argued in their responsive brief that Jenkins purposefully availed himself to jurisdiction in Oklahoma by intentionally trying to interfere with an Oklahoma citizen’s rights and by having operated a website with features that were interactive to residents of Oklahoma.
After the judge read the briefs submitted by Yeagley’s attorneys and Jenkins concerning the personal jurisdiction issue, the judge decided to overrule Jenkins’ motion. After this event occurred, Yeagley’s attorneys sent Jenkins a series of requests for admissions as part of the pre-trial discovery process.
A request for admissions is basically a series of statements that the litigant is asked to either admit or deny under penalty of perjury. If a party does not respond to a request for admissions within the period of time set forth by the rules of civil procedure—which is often about 30 days but differs from state-to-state—the statements are deemed to be admitted.
Jenkins did not respond to Yeagley’s request for admissions. As such, Jenkins was deemed as a matter of law to have admitted the following averments:
- The allegations in Yeagley’s complaint are true and correct.
- Jenkins had actual knowledge that Yeagley was a scheduled contracted speaker at the American Renaissance conference.
- Jenkins contacted the hotel establishments with threats of violence to cause them to cancel the conference.
- That Yeagley suffered damages in the amount of $50,000.00 as a result of Jenkins’ tortious conduct.
With such damning admissions having been made by not responding to the request for admissions, Yeagley’s attorneys had the ammunition they needed to file a motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment is basically a pre-trial motion in which a party asks the judge to skip the trial and rule in their favor because the evidence is undeniably clear.
Yeagley’s motion for summary judgment was filed on December 3, 2013, and Jenkins did not file a responsive brief to it. During the morning of January 3, 2014, a hearing on the motion occurred, and the judge granted it: Jenkins has been ordered by a court of law to pay Yeagley $50,000.00 for shutting down the 2010 American Renaissance conference.
Although the Oklahoma court’s judgment is valid in Oklahoma, Yeagley’s attorneys will need to get the judgment transferred to Pennsylvania to begin collection efforts against Jenkins since he resides there. The process is easy and straightforward, and since Jenkins appeared in Oklahoma state court to contest the case by answering the complaint and filing a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, Jenkins will not be able to make a collateral attack on the judgment in Pennsylvania.
A collateral attack occurs when a party contests the validity of the original judgment that is based not on the foreign court’s rulings, but on the foreign court’s personal jurisdiction over the party when that issue was not decided by the foreign court. This procedural tactic is available only when a default judgment is rendered against a party, which occurs when a party fails to answer the complaint and judgment is automatically made. Since summary judgment was granted, however, the Pennsylvania courts are obligated to honor the Oklahoma court’s decision through the “Full Faith and Credit Clause” of the United States Constitution, which states in part, “Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” Ironically, the Full Faith and Credit Clause—which will be the cause of the judgment to haunt Jenkins for many years to come—was drafted in the very same city in which Jenkins resides: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Just as the Southern Poverty Law Center has used legal means to shut down right-of-center organizations, the same can be done to violent left-of-center organizations. It is my hope that Yeagley v. Imm et al. was but a trial run (pun intended).