In a three-page order, a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, First Judicial Department, upheld the March 2022 ruling by Justice Paul A. Goetz of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, which dismissed nearly all claims and counterclaims between former Hughes Hubbard partner Steven Hammond and his accuser, Michael Alexander, who worked at Equinox at the time. The panel then went one step further and dismissed the remnants of Hammond’s defamation claim, which had been hanging by a thread.
On appeal, Hammond had sought to continue pursuing that defamation claim, and to reinstate a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Alexander, meanwhile, fought to undo dismissal of his counterclaim for abuse of process and his request for sanctions.
On Thursday, both requests were denied.
“The defamation claim should have been dismissed in its entirety,” the panel said, because Hammond “did not adequately allege malice.”
The panel also concluded that Justice Goetz “correctly dismissed defendant’s counterclaim for abuse of process,” because Alexander’s allegation that Hammond “commenced this action with a malicious motive” was “insufficient” to sustain an abuse-of-process claim.
In an emailed statement, Alexander’s attorney, Marc Held of Held & Hines LLP, told Law360 Pulse he was pleased with Thursday’s ruling.
“We are pleased that the appellate court has dismissed Steven Hammond’s case,” Held said. “Mr. Hammond’s lawsuit was an attempt to further victimize and retaliate against my client, Michael Alexander.”
Alexander claims he caught Hammond masturbating in a steam room at the upscale Equinox gym on Wall Street in Manhattan in May 2018.
Hammond has denied those accusations, and he claims Alexander told one story about the incident to his Equinox co-workers, another story to the police and, later, yet another story to the New York Post, a pattern Hammond says puts the lie to Alexander’s veracity.
Hammond was initially charged with two misdemeanor counts of public lewdness and exposing himself, but those charges were soon dropped and the case sealed, according to court documents. At the end of the year, Hammond retired from Hughes Hubbard to launch an alternative dispute resolution practice.
Alexander then filed a civil suit against Hammond in May 2019 accusing him of sexual assault, battery and false imprisonment. That suit is also now sealed, for reasons that weren’t immediately clear. Just days after Alexander’s complaint was filed, Hammond filed his own against Equinox and Alexander, seeking $10 million in damages on claims of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Justice Goetz dismissed most of Hammond’s defamation claim, because it failed to pin down specific statements Alexander allegedly made that were defamatory, instead referring broadly to the outcome of those statements, which Hammond said led to his name being dragged through the mud in the New York tabloids. Judge Goetz let the defamation claim survive dismissal, but only insofar as it was premised on two paragraphs in the complaint that laid out specific comments Alexander allegedly made to his Equinox co-workers.
“With regard to the defamation cause of action, the cause of action must be dismissed to the extent it is based on the publications alleged,” Judge Goetz said. “These allegations are deficient because they fail to allege” the particular defamatory words used by defendant.
In Thursday’s ruling, the appellate panel also chided Hammond for not providing more specificity about the statements that underlie his defamation claim.
“The claim, to the extent based on alleged statements made by defendant to the police and the New York Post, was correctly dismissed because the particular words complained of were not set forth in the complaint,” the panel wrote. “Plaintiff’s contention that the statements that were published in the New York Post had been incorporated into the complaint is unavailing, since the article was not annexed to the pleading.”
The panel also said Alexander’s comments to his co-workers didn’t rise to the level of defamation, either.
Hammond’s attorneys did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.
Justices Cynthia S. Kern, David Friedman, Ellen Gesmer, Peter H. Moulton and Julio Rodriguez III sat on the panel for the Appellate Division, First Judicial Department.
Hammond is represented by Neal Brickman and Ethan Leonard of the Law Offices of Neal Brickman PC.
Alexander is represented by Marc J. Held and Uri Nazryan of Held & Hines LLP.
Alexander’s case is Michael Alexander v. Steven Hammond, case number 511090/2019, in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.
The appeal is Hammond v. Equinox et al., case number 2022-04325, in the Appellate Division of New York State Supreme Court, First Judicial Department.
–Additional reporting by Sam Reisman and Andrew Strickler. Editing by Karin Roberts.