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Courts and Crime

Judge Dismisses Defamation Suit Brought By Maine Activist For Haiti

A federal judge has thrown out a $14 million defamation suit involving a Maine activist who publicized sex abuse allegations against a former catholic brother who ran an orphanage in Haiti. The judge ruled that the plaintiff in the case was not living in the United States when the claim was filed, and so the suit should never have been heard in a US court.

A year after a federal jury concluded that activist Paul Kendrick had defamed Michael Geilenfeld, the suit is back to square one. Geilenfeld, the founder of St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in Port-au-Prince, Haiti had been awarded more than $14 million in damages. But an appellate court questioned whether Geilenfeld should have been able to file a claim in a U.S. court since he wasn’t living in the United States at the time of the filing. The appellate court sent the case back to U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock for review and on Monday, Woodcock dismissed the claims on jurisdictional grounds.

“I’m not surprised the decision, I think the evidence was pretty clear that Mr. Geilenfeld was a permanent resident of Haiti,” says Portland attorney David Walker.

He represents Kendrick and he says Woodcock’s ruling essentially nullifies the jury’s verdict against his client. But Walker says Kendrick is preparing for more litigation.

“I think he understands the situation and understands that an appeal is likely,” Walker says. “We sort of knew that going in and also I think it’s possible that another lawsuit could be filed.”

“We’re still in the process of considering the likelihood of a successful appeal and I think it would be certainly the next most logical step would be to appeal the court’s ruling,” says Russell Pierce, a Portland attorney who now represents Geilenfeld following the recent death life his former lawyer, Peter DeTroy.

Pierce says Woodcock’s ruling was based on an arcane rule concluding that because his client was residing in Haiti at the time of the alleged conduct, that prevented him from bringing suit in federal court.

“Of course we disagree with that ruling and we’re disappointed by it,” Pierce says. “We felt all along that Mr. Geilenfeld was domiciled in Iowa. It’s where his voter registration is, driver’s license, bank account, his permanent address was located throughout the time that he worked in Haiti. But he remained domiciled in Iowa. But the judge did not agree.”

Any appeal of the dismissal ruling would be lodged with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.