UNREPORTED
IN THE COURT OF SPECIAL APPEALS
OF MARYLAND
No. 2281
September Term, 2013

JARROD W. RAMOS
v.
ERIC THOMAS HARTLEY, et al.

Wright,
Graeff,
Moylan, Charles E., Jr.
(Retired, Specially Assigned),
JJ.

Opinion by Moylan, J.

Filed: September 17, 2015

*This is an unreported opinion, and it may not be cited in any paper, brief, motion, or other
document filed in this Court or any other Maryland Court as either precedent within the rule of stare
decisis or as persuasive authority. Md. Rule 1-104.

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The appellant of this pro se appeal is Jarrod W. Ramos. The appellees are 1) Eric
Thomas Hartley, formerly a staff writer and columnist with The Capital; 2) Thomas L.
Marquardt, the editor and publisher of The Capital; and 3) Capital Gazette Communications,
LLC.
The factual background to the defamation action is that on July 26, 2011, the
appellant entered a guilty plea on a charge of criminal harassment in the District Court of
Maryland sitting in Anne Arundel County. Judge Jonas D. Legum initially imposed a 90-day
jail sentence but then suspended the sentence and placed the appellant on supervised
probation for a period of 18 months with the additional requirement that the appellant
continue with his ongoing therapy and that he refrain from any further contact with the
harassment victim or her family.
Five days later, on July 31, 2011, the article in issue by staff writer Eric Thomas
Hartley appeared in the Sunday issue of The Capital under the heading "Anne Arundel
Report." The article was entitled, "Jarrod wants to be your friend." The article, in its entirety,
read:
"If you're on Facebook, you've probably gotten a friend request or message
from an old high school classmate you didn't quite remember.
"For one woman, that experience turned into a yearlong nightmare.
"Out of the blue, Jarrod Ramos wrote and thanked her for being the only
person ever to say hello or be nice to him in school.
"She didn't remember him, so he sent pictures. She Googled him, found a
yearbook picture and realized they apparently did go to Arundel High
together.

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"He was having some problems, so she wrote back and tried to help,
suggesting a counseling center.
"'I just thought I was being friendly,' she said.
"That sparked months of emails in which Ramos alternately asked for help,
called her vulgar names and told her to kill herself. He emailed her company
and tried to get her fired.
"She stopped writing back and told him to stop, but he continued. When she
blocked him from seeing her Facebook page, he found things she wrote on
other people's pages and taunted her with it, attaching screenshots of the
postings to some of his emails.
"She called police, and for months he stopped. But then he started again,
nastier than ever.
"All this without having seen her in person since high school. They never met
until they came to court a couple of months ago.
"Last week, Ramos, a 31-year-old federal employee, pleaded guilty in District
Court to a misdemeanor harassment charge.
"Judge Jonas Legum, who called his behavior 'rather bizarre,' suspended a 90day jail sentence and placed him on probation, ordering him to continue in
therapy and not contact the victim or her family in any way.
"The case is extreme. But it provides a frightening look at the false intimacy
the Internet can offer and the venom that can hide behind a computer screen.
"'I read about this all the time, where Facebook conversations, email
conversations, start out fine and then take a turn where they become nastier
over the course of time,' said Ramos' lawyer, Christopher Drewniak, 'And this
is apparently one of those situations.'
"The victim, who asked that her name not be printed, said she lived in fear for
her safety for months.

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"The emails started in late 2009 or early 2010 a she can't remember exactly,
because it was only a few months later that they grew disturbing and she
started documenting things.
"At first, she felt bad for him, so she shared some personal information and
offered advice.
"'But when it seemed to me that it was turning into something that gave me a
bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, that he seems to think there's some sort
of relationship here that does not exist ... I tried to slowly back away from it,
and he just started getting angry and vulgar to the point I had to tell him to
stop,' she told the judge.
"'And he was not OK with that. He would send me things and basically tell
me, "You're going to need restraining order now." "You can't make me stop.
I know all these things about you." "I'm going to tell everyone about your
life."
"An email in April 2010 said, 'Have another drink and go hang yourself, you
cowardly little lush. Don't contact you again? I don't give a (expletive).
(Expletive) you.'
"Later that month, the woman was suddenly put on probation at the bank
where she worked. She said a supervisor told her it was because of an email
from Ramos and a follow-up phone call in which he advised them to fire her.
"She said she was laid off in September and believes, but can't prove, it was
because of Ramos. She's since gotten another job.
"When she learned what Ramos had done, she called police. He stopped
contacting her for a while and started counseling in November. Still, the
silence was not comforting.
"'That just left me to feel like he was stewing,' she said. 'For all the time he
was silent, he's collecting things about me. And then comes back at me, like,
10 times worse than he had before.'
"The messages resumed in January, referring to friends' Facebook profiles and
postings about her and about Ramos himself.
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"His messages rambled, calling her 'a bipolar drunkard leading a double life'
and saying 'Expletive you, leave me alone' though she hadn't written him in
months. He told her she was afraid to let a man get close to her and discussed
her family, friends, job and Rotary Club involvement a all information
gleaned from the Internet.
"In January, the victim went to court to get a peace order and file charges.
Finally, he stopped for good. Ramos, a tall, thin man with long hair he wears
in a ponytail, did not speak at the hearing and did not return a call for
comment left with his attorney.
"He has a degree in computer engineering and has worked for the U.S. Bureau
of Labor Statistics for six years, Drewniak said. He had no previous criminal
record.
"Detective Rob Cremen, who handles domestic violence cases in the county
police Southern District, said sustained harassment like this is rare.
"Facebook and networks like it offer the chance to reconnect with old friends.
But they also can invite unwanted attention. Many people don't realize how
much information about them is on social networking sites and elsewhere on
the web.
"'It's kind of a double-edged sword,' Cremen said."
On July 23, 2012, just one week before the expiration of the one-year statute of
limitations, the appellant filed his initial complaint, charging the appellees with defamation,
in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County ("the July Complaint"). The appellant failed
to serve a copy of the complaint on the appellees. This July complaint alleged in its entirety:
"1.

On July 31, 2011, Eric Thomas Hartley, Thomas Lee Marquardt,
Capital-Gazettee Communications, Inc., and Capital-Gazette
Communications, LLC (collectively, 'Defendants') published the
newspaper column 'Jarrod wants to be your friend' ('Article').

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"2.

Article contains defamatory statements of and concerning Jarrod W.
Ramos ('Plaintiff'), which were read and recognized to be defamatory
by third persons, injuring Plaintiff's reputation and exposing him to
public scorn, hatred, contempt, and ridicule.

"3.

These defamatory statements were and continue to be false.

"4.

Defendants communicated these defamatory statements with
negligence, reckless disregard for their possible falsity, and actual
knowledge of their falsity.

"5.

As a direct result, Plaintiff has suffered harm and continues to incur
harm."

There was no supporting documentation or affidavit submitted with the complaint.
On October 9, 2012, and over two months after the statute of limitations for a defamation
claim had expired, the appellant filed a fuller complaint ("the October complaint"). Instead
of four bare-bones paragraphs, the October complaint was one of 22 pages. The October
complaint also added the charge of invasion of privacy.
Although we have serious reservations over whether the October complaint can be
found to relate back to the July complaint and is, therefore, even cognizable, it is completely
unnecessary to anguish over this nuance in the filing chronology. But see, Crowe v.
Houseworth, 272 Md. 481, 485-86 (1974); Fischer v. Longest, 99 Md. App. 368 (1994).
Even the fuller October complaint, assuming its viability, palpably fails to state, as the
hearing judge found and ruled, a chargeable offense. One solid reason for affirming the trial
court is enough. Scott v. Jenkins, 345 Md. 21, 28 (1997) ("Plaintiff must allege sufficient

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facts that, if prove true, would support every element of the asserted claim.") (Emphasis
supplied).
On November 26, 2012, the appellees filed a Motion by Defendants to Dismiss with
Prejudice the Complaint and a Request for Hearing. A full hearing was conducted by Judge
Maureen M. Lamasney on March 29, 2013. The appellant's complaint was that he had been
defamed in a newspaper article about his having pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal
harassment. At the motion hearing, Judge Lamasney probed the appellant to point out a
single statement in the article that was actually false or to give a single example of how he
had been harmed by the article. He could not do so. Judge Lamasney's ruling was clear:
"THE COURT: "All right. Mr. Ramos, I'm going to grant the
defendant's motion to dismiss this case. And it will be dismissed with
prejudice. And I'm going to grant it for the following reasons: You are
required in your complaint to state a claim with sufficient specificity.
"MR. RAMOS: Your Honor a
"THE COURT: I'm talking now.
"MR. RAMOS: Yes, I'm sorry.
"THE COURT: And dismissal is proper only if the facts and
inferences, even if proven, would not entitle the plaintiff to relief. And that is
what I am finding in your case, that you do not lay out a prima facie case for
defamation or for invasion of privacy, or being placed in the false light.
"And the reason I'm finding that is that there is absolutely not one piece
of evidence, or an assertion by you that the statement was false.
"The one statement you refer to concerning the rambling and referring
to messages that you answered when there had been no contact comes directly
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from the statement of charges, where she writes, most of his messages are just
pages of ramblings regarding my friends, family, job, Rotary Club
involvement.
"And it goes on to say that you tell her to leave you alone, and you
haven't responded for months. That comes right out of a public document.
"You know, I understand exactly how you feel. I think people who are
the subject of newspaper articles, whoever they may be, feel that there is a
requirement that they be placed in the best light, or they have an opportunity
to have the story reported to their satisfaction, or have the opportunity to have
however much input they believe is appropriate.
"But that's simply not true. There is nothing in those complaints that
prove that anything that was published about you is, in fact, false.
"It all came from a public record. It was of the result of a criminal
conviction. And it cannot give rise to a defamation suit.
"MR. RAMOS: Your Honor, if I may say one more thing?
"THE COURT: Go ahead.
"MR. RAMOS: I would add that the public record from which that
statement came from, was not even identified in the column, there was nothing
to lead a reader to understand where that statement was being taken from.
"THE COURT: I understand that, but that does not make it false.
"MR. RAMOS: But it makes it unfair.
"THE COURT: I'm sorry, but I am going to dismiss your suit with
prejudice.
"MR. RAMOS: And Your Honor, that is only one statement. There are
a number of other statements.

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"THE COURT: Well, I just referred to the one that you referred to, and
I think I put on the record that there is nothing that you have alleged that was
false, so I'm going to grant the motion, sir.
"MR. RAMOS: If I understand correctly, then the basis is that there's
not a showing of falsity?
"THE COURT: Correct.
"MR. RAMOS: And rather that there is an application of privilege.
"THE COURT: Correct, both that the article was simply not
defamatory, that it was based on public record, that you haven't alleged that
it was false, and that the article appears to be substantially accurate, and it
would fall into the privilege which would make any complaint unsustainable,
because they reported a criminal case. They reported a matter of public
interest."
(Emphasis supplied).
A discussion of defamation law would be an exercise in futility, because the appellant
fails to come close to alleging a case of defamation. In his five-page brief, the appellant
devotes two and one-half pages to legal argument. He never alleges that any basic fact
contained in the article about his guilty plea is actually false. He claims only that "Hartley's
column fails the test of fairness because he editorialized on the story's meaning." There is
no allegation of any specific harm that he suffered as a result of the article. He simply
described the harm as "incalculable, unforeseen, and potentially unknowable." That does not
do it.
The appellant is pro se. A lawyer would almost certainly have told him not to proceed
with this case. It reveals a fundamental failure to understand what defamation law is and,
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more particularly, what defamation law is not. The appellant is aggrieved because the
newspaper story about his guilty plea assumed that he was guilty and that the guilty plea
was, therefore, properly accepted. He is aggrieved because the story was sympathetic toward
the harassment victim and was not equally understanding of the harassment perpetrator. The
appellant wanted equal coverage of his side of the story. He wanted a chance to put the
victim in a bad light, in order to justify and explain why he did what he did. That, however,
is not the function of defamation law.
The appellant was charged with a criminal act. The appellant perpetrated a criminal
act. The appellant plead guilty to having perpetrated a criminal act. The appellant was
punished for his criminal act. He is not entitled to equal sympathy with his victim and may
not blithely dismiss her as a "bipolar drunkard." He does not appear to have learned his
lesson.
JUDGMENT AFFIRMED; COSTS
TO BE PAID BY THE APPELLANT.

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