Fraud Complaint Against ‘Tea’ Author Dismissed

     MISSOULA, Mont. (CN) A federal judge has dismissed a class action filed against humanitarian and author Greg Mortenson that claimed he lied about details in his books “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones Into Schools” in an effort to boost sales.
     Mortenson is the founder of the non-profit Central Asia Institute (CAI), an organization that claims to be devoted to providing community-based education and literacy programs, mainly for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson wrote the books after claiming to have stumbled into an impoverished community in Pakistan in 1993, following a failed attempt to climb K2.
     He said he left with the promise he would return to build a school there. He wrote “Three Cups of Tea” in 2006 and says he has made good on his promise to the people of the tiny village, building not just one school, but 55 schools in two countries.
     Montana House Reps. Michele Reinhart, D-Billings, and Jean Price, D-Great Falls, filed suit May 17, 2011, after author Jon Krakauer brought allegations of misrepresentations in Mortenson’s books to light on the news program “60 Minutes”.
     By the suit’s fourth amended complaint, submitted January 12, 2012, both politicians had dropped as plaintiffs and were replaced by George and Susie Pfau and Dan Donovan. Deborah Netter remained as one of the original plaintiffs – from a separate class action against Mortenson – who added co-author David Relin and Penguin as defendants.
     The suit listed 12 complaints including RICO violations, fraud and unjust enrichment, and called for punitive damages.
     But Mortenson argued the plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the First Amendment and that they couldn’t cite specific examples of fraud or fraud connected to RICO laws. U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon agreed.
     “The RICO claims are fraught with shortcomings, including failure to satisfy causal elements, failure to specify the roles of defendants, not adequately pleading enterprise theories and failure to specify an actionable, identifiable racketeering activity,” he said. “Failure to adequately address the causal elements is the ultimate fatal flaw.”
     Haddon added that it’s not clear what role co-author Reline played in the matter, if any.
     The court also concluded that it “cannot accept as true, and as a matter of sufficiency of pleading, plaintiffs’ conclusory state that ‘by writing, publishing, advertising, marketing and promoting the books as nonfiction and true stories, the characteristics of said books became an implied contractual condition of sale.’ More is necessary if an implied contract is to be found.”
     Haddon dismissed the case with prejudice, stating that the plaintiffs “have been accorded every opportunity to adequately plead a case, if one exists,” he wrote in his decision. “Moreover, the imprecise, in part flimsy, and speculative nature of the claims and theories advanced underscore the necessary conclusion that further amendment would be futile.”
     Three Cups of Tea sold over 4 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 47 languages. The book “Stones into School” was released in 2007.

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