Beware: Libel, the Knights of Malta, and Demons

From the Complaint filed Thursday in Avodah Farms v. O’Hara-Rusckowski(D. Colo.):
Avodah was formed in February 2020. It works to restore and reintegrate women survivors of sex trafficking through comprehensive, Christ-centered care provided by Catholic religious sisters. Avodah conducts its non-profit missionary work across the United States….During the relevant times giving rise to this action, Rusckowski was a member of the Board of Councillors for the American Association of Malta, a Delegate and Special Advisor on Human Trafficking to the Ambassador for the Order of Malta at the United Nations…In 2021, Rusckowski connected Avodah and Fitzpatrick to the Oblates, a religious order seeking to sell to Avodah certain real property located at 27 Kirk Street, Lowell, Massachusetts…

Rusckowski and the Malta Defendants initiated a smear campaign against Plaintiffs. Rusckowski, utilized her influential position with the Catholic community to make knowingly false and defamatory statements to third parties that Avodah was “stealing” and “misappropriating” donor funds. Rusckowski further stated to third parties that Avodah was “labor trafficking” religious Sisters. The statements were false and/or made with reckless disregard for their falsity with the intent that they be acted upon, relied upon, and otherwise disseminated…

Defendants’ actions and statements interfered with Avodah’s nonprofit work by causing the Archdiocese of Denver to disavow Avodah as a Catholic organization [and also in other ways discussed in the Complaint -EV], causing Plaintiffs to incur significant and severe injuries, damages and losses…On or about February 19, 2023, Rusckowski sent a group text to a network of potential Avodah donors, along with Fitzpatrick, stating that Rusckowski and Malta had cut ties with Avodah and further stating: “[u]nfortunately, the culprit is still on our “Friends of Deb” List – [Fitzpatrick] is NO friend – more demon than friend!! I will create another list for just TRUE Friends of Deb!” The statement that Fitzpatrick was a demon was false, and made with reckless disregard for its falsity, causing Plaintiffs to incur significant and severe injuries, damages and losses…

I can’t speak to the accuracy of any of these allegations, and thus about whether a defamation case can go forward as to most of them. But I am pretty confident that the claim that a secular court isn’t going to resolve whether “[t]he statement that Fitzpatrick was a demon was false.”