The short-lived lawsuit brought by a Somerville orthodontist and landlord against two Tufts University student journalists over coverage of a renters’ protest outside his office has been dismissed, court records show.
Both parties mutually agreed to the dismissal on Friday, according to filings in Middlesex Superior Court. The case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.
Dr. Mouhab Rizkallah claimed a Tufts Daily story about a Feb. 3 demonstration in front of his business, the Braces Places, defamed him and caused emotional harm by suggesting he had lied.
The 36-page lawsuit, filed March 9, named editor in chief Alex Janoff and deputy news editor Emily Thompson, who wrote the article in question. The suit demanded a jury trial and sought $50,000 for “emotional distress damages.”
Rizkallah’s lawyer, Emilie L. Grossman, could not be immediately reached for comment.
Evan Fray-Witzer, the defense lawyer representing the students through the Student Press Law Center, said: “I think Dr. Rizkallah reconsidered the wisdom of suing two college kids.”
“I’m thrilled that we were able to resolve it and that Emily and Alex can get back to being college students,” Fray-Witzer said.
Janoff, a junior, said he was relieved to put the ordeal behind him.
“I’m just really happy that this is all over, and I’m really proud of everyone at the Daily,” he said. “The community really came together to support us which was incredible.”
Thompson said she is proud to see the accuracy of her work upheld.
“I’m excited to move on from this and continue writing about what really matters,” she said. “My hope is to return my focus to local issues.”
Rizkallah had accused the newspaper of misquoting him when it said he didn’t recognize any of the 15 or 20 protesters as tenants of his LaCourt Realty property, and it contained “several inaccuracies” and “falsely suggested that [he] was lying.” He maintained he recognized one tenant.
The newspaper and its editors said the article contained no errors and required no correction.
Fray-Witzer on Wednesday said the lawsuit was a petty attempt to bully young journalists, and predicted it wouldn’t hold up in court.
Rizkallah, of Winchester, owns and operates six orthodontic practices in Boston, Framingham, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, and Somerville. In January 2021, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit accusing him of defrauding MassHealth, the state Medicaid program, by intentionally leaving children’s braces on for two to three years longer than necessary and for wrongfully charging MassHealth patients for missed or cancelled appointments.
In court documents filed March 3, Rizkallah claims that Healey’s lawsuit is in retaliation for three discrimination lawsuits he has brought against MassHealth in the last decade and the AG’s claims were unproven, false, and defamatory.