KJK’s Stone & Supler Client Files Defamation Lawsuit Against Former Dartmouth Classmate

October 12, 2022
Susan Stone and Kristina Supler

Former Dartmouth student Jack Cocchiarella files defamation lawsuit against Nate Kim ’25

Cocchiarella, a Democratic social media activist now at Columbia University, claims Kim shared baseless allegations of sexual assault against Cocchiarella, prompting school transfer and other damages.

by Emily Fagell | The Dartmouth

On Sept. 16, former member of Dartmouth’s Class of 2025 Jack Cocchiarella — now a student at Columbia University — filed a lawsuit in New Hampshire against Nate Kim ’25, claiming that Kim defamed Cocchiarella through online allegations of rape and sexual assault. The civil case, filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire, had its first hearing last Thursday.

According to the complaint, Kim posted statements to platforms such as Twitter, Reddit and Librex  accusing the liberal activist — who has nearly 300,000 Twitter followers and is known for confronting Rep.Madison Cawthorne, R-N.C., last October — of “multiple rape allegations” on campus. Cocchiarella and Politically Correct Strategies LLC, a Florida-based political consulting company founded by Cocchiarella, claimed Kim’s statements to be “untrue” and “fabricated.”

The plaintiffs called for a jury trial and preliminary and permanent injunction — including the posting of a permanent retraction of Kim’s statements on social media and an agreement to refrain from further discussion of the allegations — against the defendant. If Cocchiarella wins the case, Kim may have to pay monetary damages to compensate Cocchiarella for “injuries,” according to University of New Hampshire professor of defamation law and litigation Joseph Steinfield.

“The insurmountable damage caused to [Cocchiarella] by the conduct of Kim must further be corrected by Kim’s full retraction of the False Statements and an affirmative statement by Kim that the False Statements are untrue, fabricated, and were falsely made by Kim to damage the reputation of [Cocchiarella],” the motion for the permanent injunction states. “Only with this remedy will [Cocchiarella] finally be able to begin putting the pieces of his life back together that has been shattered directly as a result of Kim.”

The lawsuit states that Kim’s statements, which began last November — shortly after Cocchiarella’s confrontation with Rep. Cawthorne — have provoked others to make death threats and other threats of violence against Cocchiarella. Moreover, the complaint claims that Cocchiarella has “suffered extreme emotional distress and reputational damages” as a result of Kim’s conduct, pointing specifically to Cocchiarella’s inability to connect with peers or advance his professional career.

Susan Stone, the attorney representing Cocchiarella and Politically Correct Strategies, said in Thursday’s hearing that Cocchiarella is “unable” to attend social events, obtain jobs with his political consulting company or get invited to dinners at Columbia.

“[Cocchiarella] is always looking over his shoulder at Columbia,” Stone said. “This is a case of cancel culture.”

The lawsuit claims that Kim posted defamatory statements to various social media platforms, including Twitter, Reddit, Fizz and the “now-defunct” Librex discussion forum. The document also states that Kim posted from two different Twitter accounts — @aplopl3x and @stoprapists101, which he recently renamed to @rxndomstudent.

“[B]ut around [Dartmouth’s] campus [Cocchiarella has] already been kicked out of the [College] [D]emocrats and the frats and is known as a rapist after multiple girls accused him of sexual assault,” Kim tweeted on Nov. 19, 2021, according to the lawsuit.

Specifically, the lawsuit advanced four counts against Kim, including “defamation” — or spreading harmful false statements — “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” “invasion of privacy — false light” — or giving publicity to matters through misrepresentation — and “tortious interference with economic relationships,” meaning interference with Cocchiarella’s business and economic relationships.

The defendant filed an objection to the motion on Oct. 3, arguing that Cocchiarella is “unlikely to succeed” due to the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which “renders Mr. Kim immune from suit,” according to his attorney Benjamin King. The lawsuit, on the other hand, claims that Cocchiarella “has a strong likelihood of success on the merits.”

While the case has yet to be decided, the court referenced narrow case law in support of the mandatory injunction — which specifies that Kim must post a permanent retraction of his statements— and prohibitory injunction — which specifies that Kim must refrain from further discussion of the allegations — in Thursday’s hearing. District Court judge Samantha Elliott, who is presiding over the case, said in the hearing that the New Hampshire Supreme Court has never recognized a “false light invasion of privacy,” leading to that claim being dropped.

Steinfield said that the burden of proof falls on Cocchiarella to prove that the statements are false, are understood to be about him and were intended to damage his reputation “within a respectable segment of the community.” In contrast, he said that Kim does not need to prove that the statements are true in order to dispute the defamation claims.

Steinfield added that Cocchiarella’s chances of success hinge on his status — or non-status — as a public figure, as public figures have a “heavier burden” to prove in a defamation lawsuit.

“If a person is a public figure, then the burden on that person is to show not just that the statements that are made about the person are false, but the speaker — in this case, [Kim] — knew they were false,” Steinfield said. “Not that [Kim] should have known, but that he actually subjectively knew that he was writing or saying something false.”

The lawsuit argues that Cocchiarella “will likely succeed on the merits, even if he is deemed a public figure,” but the judge has not yet declared the plaintiff’s status.

If Cocchiarella is successful, Kim may face various consequences. Principally, the lawsuit urges the Court to restrain Kim from “creating, publishing, commenting on, or discussing any [of] the False Statements” on social media platforms or public or private forums; to mandate that Kim “immediately and permanently post a retraction of the [statements],” including a statement revealing the posts to be untrue; and to require Kim to “immediately delete and destroy all False Statements.”

Steinfield said that Kim also faces the consequences of legal fees and compensation for damages, whether tangible — such as medical expenses, therapy or job loss — or intangible, such as “pain and suffering that is emotional in nature.” Ultimately, a jury has the power to award damages, Steinfield said.

As of now, the court has not yet decided whether the case will go to trial. King said he “cannot predict what the court is going to do,” but Susan Stone — the counsel for both plaintiffs — said in Thursday’s hearing that Cocchiarella may pursue mediation rather than a trial. Moreover, Stone said Cocchiarella may take the stand at a future hearing.

Kim directed requests for comment to his attorney, Benjamin King.

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence and the Dartmouth College Democrats declined requests for comment. Susan Stone and Politically Correct Strategies LLC did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.