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164 Mulberry Street Corp. v. Columbia University

Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division
771 N.Y.S.2d 16 (2004)


Francis Flynn (defendant), a professor at Columbia University (Columbia) (defendant), conducted a study whereby he sent letters to various restaurants in New York City falsely claiming to have contracted severe food poisoning after eating at the restaurant. Flynn’s study was intended to compare how restaurants responded to such accusations. Columbia was unaware of the study and had no policies or procedures in place regarding empirical research like Flynn’s. Various restaurants, their owners, managers, and employees (plaintiffs) sued Flynn and Columbia in two separate actions, alleging intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, libel and libel per se, and misrepresentation. One of the lawsuits involved a restaurant called Da Nico, owned by plaintiff 164 Mulberry Street Corp. The other suit involved two restaurants, Chez Josephine and Two Two Two, which were respectively owned by plaintiffs Jean Claude Baker and Frank Valenza. Plaintiffs described the competitive nature of the New York City restaurant scene and how allegations of food poisoning could do irremediable damage. Baker and Valenza submitted personal affidavits documenting physical and psychological ailments resulting from the stress caused by Flynn’s accusations. They provided further details about discarding food at great cost and undertaking difficult dealings with vendors and employees to locate the cause of the alleged contamination. Defendants moved to dismiss both complaints for failing to state a viable cause of action. The trial court dismissed some but not all of the claims. In the Chez Josephine action, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ libel claims but allowed Baker and Valenza to pursue their claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendants appealed that decision.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Tom, J.)

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