Court Refuses to Dismiss Tort and Defamation Claims Against Authors and Publisher of Book About Cryonics Organization

On October 29, 2010, Justice James A. Yates refused to dismiss tort and defamation claims, among other claims, against the authors and the publisher of a book about Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Inc. (“Alcor”). Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Inc. v. Larry Johnson, Vanguard Press, Inc. and Scott Baldyga, Index No. 113938/2009 (Sup. Ct., NY County, Nov. 3, 2010). Alcor is a not-for-profit organization in the field of cryonics, which is the practice of keeping a clinically dead human body or brain frozen in the hope of later restoring it to life with the help of future technologies. The book, called Frozen, was written by Larry Johnson (“Johnson”), a former employee of Alcor, and co-author Scott Baldyga (“Baldyga”) and published by Vanguard Press, Inc. (“Vanguard”). Alcor alleged in its Complaint that Frozen disclosed confidential and proprietary information about Alcor and its members, including information regarding baseball legend, and alleged Alcor member, Ted Williams.

Johnson was employed by Alcor for about seven months and, during his time at Alcor, he was promoted to the position of Chief Operating Officer (“COO”). Alcor alleged that, as the COO, Johnson had access to “patient records, case files, medical procedures, membership information, scientific research, developing technologies, methodologies and operations procedures of Alcor.” Alcor further alleged that, the day after his employment at Alcor ended, Johnson launched a website called www.FreeTed.com where the public could pay to view private and confidential information of Alcor, including alleged photographs of deceased baseball player Ted Williams.

After taking efforts to prevent Johnson from disclosing confidential information, including prior actions against Johnson and a default judgment barring Johnson from publishing or communicating any information about Alcor, Alcor learned in September 2009 that Johnson and Baldyga were planning to publish a book about Alcor through Vanguard. Despite Alcor's efforts to prevent publication, Frozen was released to the public on October 4, 2009. In the Complaint, Alcor claims that Frozen disclosed confidential and proprietary information, member information and patient information, including information regarding Ted Williams. The Complaint asserted claims against Johnson for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and conversion. The Court denied the motion to dismiss with regard to certain of the claims against Johnson, finding that Alcor had sufficiently plead claims for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty against Johnson.

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