Hey, there! Log in / Register

Somerville landlord sues Tufts student newspaper for libel

A Somerville landlord says the Tufts Daily wouldn't correct a mistake in a story about a protest outside his office that made him sound like a liar, so now he's suing its two top editors for $50,000 in Middlesex Superior Court to make up for the libel, emotional distress and invasion of privacy he claims he suffered.

At issue is a Feb. 11 article the paper ran about a protest outside Dr. Mouhab Rizkallah's Somerville orthodontics office about issues at one of the apartment buildings he owns - including a lawsuit he filed against one tenant there. The article includes this paragraph:

Rizkallah repeatedly claimed the people protesting were members of the Greater Boston Tenants Union and not LaCourt tenants.

Rizkallah claims he told the Daily in e-mail messages that he did recognize one of the people there as a tenant at his LaCourt property - whom the article quoted right after that paragraph - and that after the article was published, he asked the paper to correct what they claimed he said and it didn't.

By falsely stating that Dr. Rizkallah said none of the protestors were his tenants, and by following that statement immediately with a quote from the LaCourt tenant Dr. Rizkallah acknowledged was present, Thompson deliberately and falsely suggested that Dr. Rizkallah was lying.

And now, he says, he is being mocked "on various websites."

By refusing to make the change, he charges, the Daily showed "actual malice." Also, the two editors "gave unreasonable publicity to Dr. Rizkallah’s private life."

Neighborhoods: 
Topics: 
AttachmentSize
PDF icon Complete complaint479.33 KB

Ad:
Like the job UHub is doing? Consider a contribution. Thanks!

Comments

A quick googling of this guy yields a treasure trove of "unreasonable publicity" into this man's private life and business practices.

"According to Healey, Dr. Rizkallah fraudulently submitted millions of dollars in false claims to MassHealth. In addition to keeping children in braces for too long, Rizkallah is also accused of deceptively billing for mouth guards."

I've never been consistently accused of being a thoughtful person but in the case I do believe that getting into a retraction contest with a student newspaper is probably a bad idea when you're being sued by the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Division.

up
Voting closed 80

I hate siding with the rich guy, but if you're going to speak truth to power, try telling...the truth.

up
Voting closed 10

If you actually read the article they say "Rizkallah repeatedly claimed the people protesting were members of the Greater Boston Tenants Union and not LaCourt tenants."

It's clear he made that claim to the authors repeatedly and then tried to walk it back after publication by saying he recognized one of the tenants and that the above quote has an "all" in it that wasn't printed. They're under no obligation to correct his misinterpretation of how the things he said are reported.

up
Voting closed 37

if you read "Exhibit A" in his complaint, in his email to Tufts Daily he himself says, at the end of the first paragraph and after stating that of the 15 people protesting he recognized only one as a tenant, that "the people at the protest were GBTU members, not LaCourt tenants."

It appears he elided the "all" too. The language in the Tufts Daily article is almost a direct quote.

And he wants 50 grand from the editors of a student newspaper for "defamation", "emotional distress," and "invasion of privacy." This guy is a piece of work.

up
Voting closed 14

Why would you trust the slumlord's word over the reporter?

up
Voting closed 30

4 days before the article appeared, he sent an e-mail noting that only one of the protestors was a tenant. That's a good paper trail.

Look, it's painful to take the side of a guy like this, but on this small point, he's right. The paper should have at least posted a correction when the error was noted. Adam posts corrections or updates all the time. Admittedly, this is a student, but I would hope that the paper has people with journalistic experience overseeing it.

up
Voting closed 13

The original: "Rizkallah repeatedly claimed the people protesting were members of the Greater Boston Tenants Union and not LaCourt tenants."

So the correction should be: "Rizkallah repeatedly claimed the people protesting were members of the GBTU and not LaCourt tenants, except for one person that he recognized"

Our Dumb Litigious Society

up
Voting closed 12

there's other emails or things he said in person that aren't included? We're literally only getting his side in the complaint.

up
Voting closed 16

Let's look at the evidence we have access to before concluding that there is "a good paper trail."

In "Exhibit A" Rizkallah says that, in his first paragraph, he recognized only one of the protesters as a tenant. He ends the paragraph by saying that "the people at the protest were GBTU members, not LaCourt tenants."

Here is the original from Tufts Daily.

Rizkallah repeatedly claimed the people protesting were members of the Greater Boston Tenants Union and not LaCourt tenants.

That's almost verbatim. Is he upset that the Tufts Daily article didn't clarity that, out of the 15 people he counted, he recognized only one? How is he "right"?

up
Voting closed 18

Pete X has it right. Tufts Daily only had to add a silly little point noting that Rizkallah did note that one of the protestors was a tenant of his. It wouldn't change the essence of the story, and to be honest most likely wouldn't change people's opinion of him, but they cannot deny that before the article was released, in what appears to be his only response to the story, he said that one of the protestors was a tenant.

up
Voting closed 7

and so do you when you say that "it's painful to take the side of a guy like this, but on this small point, he's right." He isn't right. The Tufts Daily article quoted him almost verbatim, as his own complaint demonstrates. In the first paragraph of "Exhibit A" in that complaint, he claimed to recognize one person at the protest as a tenant. In that very paragraph he also stated that "the people at the protest were GBTU members, not LaCourt tenants." The article cited his words correctly. The clarification wouldn't have made sense even with the evidence he provides (he also claimed there were 15 people at the protest, while Tufts Daily reported 20).

You claim "[the Tufts Daily] cannot deny that before the article was released, in what appears to be his only response to the story, he said that one of the protestors was a tenant." So what? They clearly weren't trying to libel him. He is wrong.

up
Voting closed 15

I've read the e-mail. He begins it by noting only one of the protestors was a tenant. That he misspoke later when he was trying to say that the protestors were by and large a bunch of outsiders is bad, but his first statement was that there was only one LaCourt tenant at the protest.

Look, the odds of me being on the jury, assuming this even goes to trial, is slim to none, but my point is that this is not a clear cut case as you make it out to be.

up
Voting closed 6

They weren't trying to libel him. Take a look at their response:

https://tuftsdaily.com/news/2022/03/30/somerville-landlord-sues-students...

If you look at the email exchange on page 3 of "Exhibit D," you'll see that the editors agreed to make his desired correction, but they also wanted to add that they in fact spoke with two tenants at the protest. Rizkallah refused, claiming that they really wanted to "smear" him.

This guy is a bully and a goon.

up
Voting closed 9

A group of 20 tenants, organizers and local supporters holding signs reading “Somervillain” and “LaCourt Lies” marched from the Davis Square T stop to the office of Mouhab Rizkallah, owner of LaCourt Realty and The Braces Place in Somerville, on Feb. 3. The protesters, organized by the LaCourt Tenants Union, demanded Rizkallah withdraw his lawsuit against former LaCourt tenant Alona Brosh, whom he has sued for $28,875 of “unpaid rent,” according to a demand letter to LaCourt Realty. Brosh was not present at the protest and did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

In their demand letter, the tenants union claimed that Brosh was pressured to sign an “intent to renew” letter under the threat that her residence would be placed on the market immediately if she refused. After Brosh’s roommates moved out in August 2020, she also moved out of the apartment because she was unable to find replacement roommates, according to the organizers.

“Despite her only having signed the letter indicating her intention to renew, since the term of her sublease ended LaCourt has claimed she is obligated not only to pay rent for a place where she no longer lives, but also to pay the rent of her two former roommates,” the demand letter from the LaCourt Tenants Union reads.

What is the "unreasonable publicity to his private life" he is talking about? Is it, as the Tufts article mentions, the lawsuit (against him) that he left children's braces on longer than is necessary so he could collect more money? Between that and his having sued a former tenant after pressuring her to sign an intent to renew (presumably under threat that the rent would be raised if she didn't), I think he deserves mockery on all the websites, various and sundry.

What a ridiculous lawsuit against the editors of Tufts Daily.

up
Voting closed 48

Boomers and for several generations now we all have a diminishing relationship to the truth. Who knows how these kids will turn out but if they have no truck with details now it's a bad sign. This is when they were supposed to be idealistic which must include strong notions of truth and fairness. I guess they like those notions not much

up
Voting closed 6

Per the Tufts Daily article, Rizkallah owns laCourt Realty. Rizkallah claims that "LaCourt has approximately 3,000 tenants in the Boston area". Rizkallah also owns an active orthodontic practice and he is getting all personally involved with chasing a long gone tenant for $28k and with this pathetic defamation lawsuit? Something doesn't add up.

The LaCourt website -mostly dedicated to rent collection- features a unique mission statement: "While LaCourt is a for-profit real estate company at its surface, LaCourt is designed to be a multi-generational legacy-giving benevolence company at its core."

www.lacourtrealty.com/mission-statement

up
Voting closed 24

1. What is the legal authority of "intent to renew" letter? Sounds like a non-lawyer pretending to be a lawyer.

2. Emotional distress. From experience I've learned that Mass does not make suits for emotional distress easy. There has to be a physical element associated with that distress.

3. How can a sub-letting tenant be responsible for the lease of the primary tenant unless the sublessor signed a contract stating they will accept responsibility?

Sounds like a lot of blubbery and fluster. A fine example of Trumpism? Use whatever verbosity and flummery possible to scare people into doing what you want them to do.

Gee golly geea, this sounds like Shiva.

Not everyone gets to control the narrative. Sometimes folks who think of themselves as masters of the little or large universe receive a reminder that they are not the "massa." That sometimes seems to be the most important piece of libel and slander suits and conflicts all around. Not that the issue is about facts or truth. But that the issue is about who is the master and who are the servants..

up
Voting closed 24

I'm excited to see what positive changes will happen in this city as more and more tenants unionize. Fuck this guy (go ahead and try to sue me too, asshole.)

up
Voting closed 24

I've been a tenant many a time. A landlord for only a few years. A tenants' union sounds good to me. It could give a good landlord more leverage against a lousy tenant. I'm especially thinking about landlords who own just a few units and so don't have either the profit or the legal machinery to deal with tenants who refuse to hold up to their end of the lease/contract.

I've had lousy tenants. One that boarded dogs when that was prohibited. Another that smoked when that was prohibited. Owning only one unit it was not feasible for me to start eviction for either issue given the costs. But a tenants' union might be just the thing to help separate the majority of tenants (i.e., folks who pay on time, don't damage and actually treat the rental as their home, not a sty) versus people who, for whatever reason, don't understand that a rental is still a contact and a promise to on both sides to uphold the contract.

up
Voting closed 10

I got called for jury duty, and empaneled for a case brought by a landlord against a tenant who broke their lease. We listened to the arguments from both sides for about a day, then retired to the jury room to deliberate for an hour or so--there was one holdout among us, and though you don't need a unanimous verdict for civil cases, we did want to hear him out in case he saw something the rest of us didn't. Mostly none of us could figure out why such a ridiculous case had made it all the way to a courtroom--the amount in question was four figures, and even if it had been a slam-dunk case for the plaintiff (it wasn't), I still couldn't figure out how he was hoping to come out ahead after paying his lawyers. We eventually found in favor of the defendants, which may or may not mean they could recover their legal expenses from the landlord who brought suit--I'm not a lawyer, and it was never mentioned either way in the courtroom.

I'm trying to picture how that deliberation would have played out if the landlord was the kind of dickbag who sues student newspapers for libel when they report on his slumlording. Probably we could have made it home in time for lunch.

In conclusion, please go ahead and press this case to an actual trial, Mr. Rizkallah. You'll totally show those meddling kids who's the boss around here. I'm sure it will in no way blow up spectacularly in your face and end up with your name becoming a household term for sleazy landlords, or leave you on the hook for the newspaper's legal bills.

up
Voting closed 13

This isn't about the money. He uses these lawsuits to threaten people into backing away and not speaking up. He's hoping that other small papers become fearful of covering him, least they too need to deal with the headache of hiring an attorney and defending themselves.

He has the money to "weaponize" the legal system against individuals and small organizations.

up
Voting closed 15

is clearly his goal, especially against, as you say, individuals and small organizations. Even the one-sided evidence he provides in his complaint doesn't make sense on its own terms; he doesn't care about winning this case as such. He is trying to send a warning.

up
Voting closed 16

It took two whole days for this to get into the Globe, with an article that starts by referring to him as having a "litigious past" and paraphrases the student journalists' lawyer as saying it was "a petty lawsuit designed to bully young journalists."

The Globe article includes a paragraph explaining the accusations of defrauding MassHealth.

Is he now going to sue the Globe for reporting on the fact that he sued the Tufts journalists for reporting on the fact that Healey's office has taken him to court?

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/03/30/metro/somerville-orthodontist-lan...

up
Voting closed 9

it's pretty clear this lawsuit was intended to control the narrative about him by trying to intimidate the editors of a student newspaper (who, as they affirm, did nothing wrong, and clearly had no intentions of defaming him). I'm glad to see the Globe pick this up. As the editors' lawyer says in the article,

I don’t like bullies, and I don’t like people who think suing students who are writing for their school paper is a good idea,” Fray-Witzer said.

I really hope his propensity to sue everyone he dislikes for petty reasons ends up damaging his reputation for good. In view of the evidence, Rizkallah is likely a manipulative liar, a bad landlord, and possibly an orthodontist who defrauded MassHealth and didn't ethically care for children as patients.

He is clearly a bully, and anyone defending this lawsuit is carrying water for a bully.

up
Voting closed 11

by joint agreement of the parties involved.

Read all about it here

up
Voting closed 8