As former Napoli Bern lawyers continue to grapple with fallout from the plaintiffs firm’s messy breakup, a federal judge in Rhode Island has dismissed defamation claims brought against successor firm Napoli Shkolnik by a rival asbestos attorney.
The judge kept related claims in place against two of the firm’s top lawyers, Marie Napoli and Paul Napoli, but granted their request to transfer the remaining parts of the suit to a federal court in Brooklyn for further proceedings.
In a mixed ruling on Aug. 4, U.S. District Judge William Smith of the District of Rhode Island granted a motion to dismiss by Napoli Shkolnik, ruling that the court didn’t have jurisdiction over defamation claims brought against the firm by John Deaton, who runs an asbestos law firm in Providence, and his ex-wife Maria Deaton. The judge also granted another request by the two individual Napoli lawyers, ordering the transfer of claims against them to Brooklyn federal court. Paul and Marie Napoli had filed a motion to dismiss the case for lack or jurisdiction or transfer the venue.
In an email on Tuesday, Paul Napoli stressed that he had not yet filed a motion to dismiss the case on the merits, but said he expects to win when he does.
“It was always our expectation that after transfer we would move on the merits. When the case is transferred to the Eastern District of New York, we expect to win our motion 100 percent just as we did in Rhode Island. We are confident that the baseless claim will be dismissed as without any merit,” Napoli said. “After the dismissal we will then seek costs from the Deatons for filing of a frivolous lawsuit.”
Deaton, who’s representing himself and his ex-wife in the defamation action, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The ruling comes in a case involving allegations of an extramarital affair between Napoli and a former associate at both Deaton’s firm and Napoli Bern. According to the suit, Deaton hired Vanessa Dennis as an associate and paralegal in 2007, where she worked until late January 2011.
At that point, Dennis left Deaton Law Firm to work at Napoli Bern. Once at Napoli Bern, the suit alleges that Dennis and Paul Napoli had an affair and that Marie Napoli, Paul Napoli’s wife, discovered the tryst.
In 2013, Marie Napoli allegedly sent John Deaton and his ex-wife a Facebook message, “requesting to know if Vanessa Dennis had an affair with plaintiff [John] Deaton and if it was the cause of the [Deatons'] divorce.” John Deaton responded to Marie Napoli with a denial, saying that his divorce was underway before he had ever met or hired Dennis, and that he had never had an affair with the associate.
Roughly four years later, after Napoli Bern had dissolved amid a nasty business breakup, Deaton learned that Marie Napoli and her new firm Napoli Shkolnik were mentioning the Deatons, their children and their divorce in court filings, according to Smith’s ruling in the defamation case. At that time, Napoli was embroiled in separate litigation related to Dennis.
The Deatons initially filed defamation claims in Rhode Island state court in April, and they were later removed to federal court. They alleged that Marie Napoli had falsely claimed in court filings that John Deaton and Dennis had an affair, and that the Napolis and the firm Napoli Shkolnik also sent letters to colleagues and fellow plaintiffs lawyers in the asbestos litigation bar repeating those false claims, according to the Aug. 4 ruling.
With Smith’s decision, claims against Napoli Shkolnik and its predecessor Napoli Bern are dismissed. But the judge stopped short of dismissing claims against Marie and Paul Napoli, who had filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction or to transfer venue.
“The court finds no factors that favor dismissal over transfer of the claim against the defendants Marie and Paul Napoli,” the judge wrote.
This story has been updated to reflect that the judge’s ruling considered a motion by the Napolis to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction or, in the alternative, to transfer venue.