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In re Anthony

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

January 8, 2020




         In the context of an adversary proceeding commenced in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, Appellant Roy Kronk appeals the Bankruptcy Court's determination that Kronk's defamation claim against the Debtor, Casey Anthony, was dischargeable in Anthony's underlying bankruptcy proceedings, and its resulting final judgment in favor of Anthony. Kronk, represented by counsel, filed a brief in support of his appeal on June 17, 2019. (Doc. # 14). Anthony, proceeding pro se after her attorneys withdrew from representation, did not file a brief. (Doc. ## 16, 18, 23). As discussed below, the Court affirms the decision of the Bankruptcy Court.

         I. Background

         A. Anthony's Criminal Trial and the Underlying Defamation Action

         The following facts are taken from the Bankruptcy Court's “Undisputed Facts” section in the order on appeal. Kronk does not dispute the veracity of these facts.

Caylee Marie was reported missing in July 2008. Her mother, Casey Anthony, was arrested shortly thereafter and charged with, among others, child neglect and obstruction. Casey Anthony was released from police custody for a brief period after her initial arrest, but then was formally indicted for her daughter's murder and incarcerated again on October 14, 2008. She remained in custody until a jury acquitted her of the capital murder charges in July 2011.
While out of jail in the late summer and early fall of 2008, Casey Anthony met and interacted with an unpaid private investigator named Dominic Casey. The circumstances and events surrounding Mr. Casey's involvement in the criminal case are ambiguous and confusing to say the least. But it is clear that he had no contact with Casey Anthony after October 14, 2008.
During the criminal proceedings, Casey Anthony was represented by many attorneys including, but not limited to, Jose Baez, Andrea Lyons, and Linda Kenney-Baden (collectively, the “Attorneys”). Ms. Anthony signed a retainer agreement with Jose Baez on July 17, 2008, and a second retainer agreement with Mr. Baez on September 3, 2008. Ms. Kenny-Baden and Ms. Lyons joined the defense team at Mr. Baez's invitation sometime after October 14, 2008.
In December 2008, Roy Kronk, a meter reader for Orange County, led investigators to Caylee Marie's body in a wooded area not far from Ms. Anthony's home.
As the criminal proceedings progressed, the case drew national attention. The media attention was unrelenting and, fair to say, was not favorable to Casey Anthony.
In November 2009, Mr. Baez and Ms. Lyons filed a motion in limine in the criminal proceedings that implicated Mr. Kronk in the crime. The motion in limine states that the evidence to be presented at trial of bad acts by Mr. Kronk related to statements from his son, his ex-wives, and the daughter of his ex-girlfriend.
After filing the motion in limine, the Attorneys began a media blitz of their own to discuss the allegations in the motion in limine and to try to counter the bad publicity that Casey Anthony was receiving in the press. They appeared on television and made comments picked up by the print media that raised suspicions about Mr. Kronk's discovery of Caylee Marie's remains. The media blitz also gave voice to the statements referenced in the motion in limine made by Mr. Kronk's ex-wives and others, who did not have good things to say about Mr. Kronk. According to the National Enquirer, Jill Kerley, one of Mr. Kronk's ex-wives, was “the most vicious in her accusations against her husband.” Casey Anthony was acquitted of the capital murder charges on July 5, 2011. However, she was convicted of giving false information to the police about the circumstances of Caylee Marie's disappearance.
A few months after the trial concluded, Mr. Kronk filed a defamation action against Casey Anthony in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court for Orange County. But the lawsuit was not served on Ms. Anthony until January 2013. Ms. Anthony responded by filing the underlying chapter 7 bankruptcy petition within days of being served with the state court complaint. She received her bankruptcy discharge on December 17, 2013.

(Doc. # 5-51 at 3-5).

         B. Adversary Proceeding before the Bankruptcy Court

         Prior to Anthony receiving her discharge, Kronk instituted an adversary proceeding in the Bankruptcy Court. See (Doc. # 5-4). In that proceeding, he sought an order that his defamation claim be excluded from Anthony's bankruptcy discharge because the claim resulted from willful and malicious injury within the meaning of 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6). (Doc. # 5-6 at ¶¶ 23-34).

         According to Kronk's amended complaint in the adversary proceeding, Anthony, through her attorneys “who acted as her agents, ” published false and defamatory statements about him during the investigation into Caylee's disappearance and Anthony's subsequent criminal trial. (Id. at ¶ 12). These statements were made “out of court” on television shows, national publications, and other media formats, and were widely published. (Id.). To support his amended complaint, Kronk pointed to the following specific statements:

• November 18, 2009: Attorney Baez made a statement in an out-of-court interview that, “[W]e are not playing around and we are going to get to the bottom of things. . . . [I]t is very odd [about Kronk finding the skull].”
• November 20, 2009: Attorneys Baez and Lyon appeared on NBC's Today Show and gave certain statements meant to implicate Kronk in the murder, including that “the state and the police should have investigated [Kronk] as a suspect; there were so many red flags, it was a sea of red”;
• November 20, 2009: Attorney Kenney-Baden appeared on The Early Show, stating that there was just as much evidence against Kronk as against Anthony and that “it is easy to snatch a kid away”;
• November 20, 2009: Attorney Kenney-Baden appeared on TruTV, making comments about “suspicious circumstances” in “a grand coincidence of [Kronk] finding the body”;
• December 7, 2009: Attorneys Baez, Lyon, and Kenney-Baden made statements reported in “national publications” implicating Kronk in the murder and abusing his character, including statements that Kronk had a prior criminal history, had a history of abusing women, and had been involved with holding women against their will;
• December 23 or 24, 2009: Attorney Baez told WKMG Channel 6 news that “the defense team is not backing off . . . from their position that Kronk was the killer” or from any statements made in the motion in limine;
• June 11, 2011: Attorney Lyon appeared on the television program 20/20 calling Kronk's behavior “very suspicious” and calling Kronk “a morally bankrupt individual.”

(Id. at ¶ 12(a)-(g)).

         Anthony answered the amended complaint, denying the material allegations and raising numerous affirmative defenses. (Doc. # 5-7). Anthony also moved for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that she did not make the statements in question. (Doc. # 5-8). Kronk responded in opposition, attaching discovery responses from Anthony and the affidavit of Dominic Casey in support. (Doc. ## 5-9 through 5-12).

         The Casey Affidavit is key to this case, and provides in relevant part:

In August[] 2008, I was a detective hired to work with the Defense team for the murder trial wherein Casey Anthony was accused of killing her daughter, Caylee Marie Anthony.
During the publicity involved in the missing child case, Casey Anthony became aware of the telephone calls made to police by Roy Kronk in August of 2008 indicating he may have located the remains of Caylee Anthony. She (Casey Anthony) told me at that time, “Caylee is not coming home, they need to get used to that.”
She (Casey Anthony) asked me in September 2008 if, “the guy found anything?”
In October 2008, just prior to the remains being found, Casey Anthony told me that when Caylee came up missing, the back gate was left ajar. Since Roy Kronk was a meter reader for the house, maybe “we could say Roy Kronk kidnapped Caylee.”
I told her then I would not do that because we both know he had nothing to do with Caylee's disappearance, but she was insistent that he (Roy Kronk) be implicated or blamed in some way.
On December 11, 2008, it was confirmed that Roy Kronk had discovered Caylee's remains.
During a meeting at the hotel that evening, Jose Baez came to meet with George and Cindy Anthony. She asked him what was found. Attorney Baez said, “let's go to the room to talk, Roy Kronk is very, very suspicious.”
I have never met with, spoken with, corresponded with or in any manner communicated with Roy Kronk at any time up to and including the date of signing this Affidavit.
Based on my personal knowledge of the events and statements I personally heard from Casey Anthony[, ] she authorized and permitted her attorneys including, Jose Baez, to make false statements about Roy Kronk to portray him as a murderer and or kidnapper of Caylee Anthony.

(Doc. # 5-10). The Casey Affidavit is dated December 28, 2015. (Id. at 3).

         Because Kronk had introduced evidence beyond the pleadings, the Bankruptcy Court instructed the parties to frame the issues on motions for summary judgment. (Doc. # 5-14).

         C. Anthony's Summary Judgment Motion and Evidence

         In December 2017, Anthony moved for summary judgment. (Doc. # 5-46). In support of her motion, Anthony submitted an affidavit and her own deposition, along with the exhibits thereto. (Doc. ## 5-19 through 5-32; Doc. ## 5-41 through 5-43).

         In her affidavit, Anthony averred that:

I never authorized or directed my defense attorney, Jose Baez, Esq., or other members on the defense team representing me in the murder charges, including Linda Kenney Baden, Esq. and Andrea Lyon, Esq. to say anything about the Plaintiff, Roy Kronk.
Prior to making this affidavit, I did not know and had never communicated with the Plaintiff, Roy Kronk.
I was incarcerated for the murder charge from October 14, 2008 to July 5, 2011 when I was found not guilty of the murder of my daughter Caylee Marie Anthony.
What Jose Baez, Esq., Linda Kenney Baden, Esq. and/or Andrea Lyon, Esq. said to the public and the media while I was incarcerated was unknown to me until I was served with this lawsuit in 2013.
While incarcerated, I never asked my defense attorneys including Jose Baez, Esq., Linda Kenney Baden, Esq. and Andrea Lyon, Esq., or anyone else, to say or publish anything about the Plaintiff, Roy Kronk.

(Doc. # 5-41).

         In her deposition, Anthony stated that, while she was incarcerated and awaiting trial, she did not have access to a computer, newspapers, or other periodicals. (Doc. # 5-19 at 5-6). Anthony admitted that, while she was incarcerated, she was aware that she was getting an abundance of bad press and was also aware that her lawyers were speaking to the press. (Id. at 20-21). She knew that her attorneys were “sometimes” speaking to the press, but most of the time she found out about these statements after the fact. (Id. at 23). She testified, however, that she “never knew the content of what was said. All I knew is that they may or may not have talked to this show or to this paper.” (Id. at 24).

         Anthony testified that she never knew, at any time, that her lawyers were accusing Kronk of the murder. (Id.). She claims that the first time she was made aware of this was when Kronk filed the defamation suit. (Id. at 24-25). As for the motion in limine filed by her attorneys that implicated Kronk, Anthony testified that this strategy was never discussed with her, she did not read the motion beforehand, and could not even recall if she attended the hearing on that motion. (Id. at 25; Doc. # 5-20 at 26-27). Anthony further testified that she had no idea that her attorneys went on a “media blitz” following the filing of that motion in limine. (Doc. # 5-20 at 29-30). Anthony denied thinking, at any time, that Kronk killed her daughter, and admitted that accusing someone of killing a child could hurt that person's reputation. (Id. at 30).

         As part of her deposition, counsel showed Anthony various media reports involving her attorneys' statements allegedly implicating Kronk in Caylee's murder. (Id. at 34, 39, 41, 48). Anthony stated that she had no knowledge of any of these reports and did not authorize any of the statements. (Id. at 35, 36, 40, 41-42, 48).

         Anthony also filed the deposition of Dominic Casey, and the exhibits thereto, in support of her summary judgment motion. (Doc. ## 5-35 through 5-40). During his deposition, Anthony's ...

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