In March, Somerville landlord Mouhab Rizkallah sued the publishers of The tufts daily, the university’s independent student newspaper, for defamation. Rizkallah claimed the newspaper refused to correct part of a story about him which he says implies he lied.
The parties have now settled and dismissed the case, but the lawsuit has brought Rizkallah and his companies closer scrutiny. The case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.
Tufts students Alexander Janoff and Emily Thompson have been sued for $50,000 to compensate for defamation, emotional distress and invasion of privacy that Rizkallah claims to have suffered.
The problem stems from an article Thompson wrote that was published on February 11th.
The article is about attorneys and tenants from LaCourt Realty, Rizkallah’s real estate company, who are protesting Rizkallah’s decision to sue a tenant for nearly $29,000 in unpaid rent, his alleged decision to increase the rent and people during the drive away the pandemic.
The paragraph in question reads: “Rizkallah repeatedly claimed that the protesters were members of the Greater Boston Tenants Union and not LaCourt tenants.”
In the lawsuit, Rizkallah says he told Thompson in email messages that he recognized one of the people there as one of his tenants. This person was quoted in the next paragraph of the article.
After the article was published, Rizkallah said he asked the newspaper to change the article and they refused. He also says in the lawsuit that Janoff admitted to him that he knew Rizkallah had said he recognized a tenant and that the article was inaccurate.
“By falsely claiming that Dr. Rizkallah said none of the protesters were his tenants and immediately followed that statement with a quote from the LaCourt tenant that Dr. Rizkallah confirmed that he was present, deliberately and incorrectly insinuating that Dr. is the complaint.
In the lawsuit, Rizkallah says the article could damage his reputation in the community and caused him emotional distress.
On April 1, the parties reached an agreement and dismissed the case.
Evan Fray-Witzer, the defense attorney representing students through the Student Press Law Center, said The Boston Globe last week that he thought the lawsuit was a petty attempt to harass young journalists and didn’t think it would stand up in court.
“I think dr. Rizkallah has reconsidered the wisdom of suing two college kids,” he told the globe in response to the termination.
Janoff told that globe He was relieved that the lawsuit was settled.
“I’m really glad this is all over and I’m really proud of everyone at the Daily. The community really came together to support us, which was incredible,” he said.
Thompson said that globe She was glad that her work was confirmed.
“I look forward to continuing here and continuing to write about what really matters. I hope to be able to focus on local issues again,” she said.
Rizkallah commented on the lawsuit in a statement to Boston.com. “It’s a shame it came to this. Unfortunately, the 2 people in question wrote a misleading article that caused harm to me and my dedicated staff. Whether they are students or journalists in a paid position, they have a responsibility to report the truth and I held them accountable for a short time. The parties agreed today to drop the lawsuit. I really wish them every success.”
Last year, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued Rizkallah for two separate counts of fraud related to his practice as an orthodontist.
First, she filed a lawsuit in February 2021 alleging that Rizkallah left children with MassHealth coverage with braces years longer than medically necessary to make more money from their health care.
Second, in June 2021, Healey filed a lawsuit alleging that Rizkallah illegally billed MassHealth patients for missed and canceled appointments.
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https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2022/04/03/somerville-landlord-lawsuit-tufts-student-journalists/ The Somerville landlord sued the editors of the Tufts student newspaper for defamation