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By Mike Johnson on 2021-01-18 14:00:00

Gabe Sapolsky officially responded to the lawsuit Samantha Tavel (aka pro wrestler Candy Cartwright) brought against him, WWE star Matt Riddle, World Wrestling Entertainment and EVOLVE Wrestling, LLC before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division on 1/8.

As previously covered by, Tavel's lawsuit, filed in October 2020, is seeking $10 million against each of the defendants, stemming from Tavel's allegations (which became public during the Speaking Out movement online) that Riddle allegedly choked and forced her to perform oral sex on her in May 2018.  While the initial allegation referenced that the incident took place inside a van, Cartwright stated in an October 2020 press conference today that the incident took place on a bus that was leaving EVOLVE 104 in Summit, Illinois, hence the lawsuit was being filed before Cook County Court.

Sapolsky filed a motion to dismiss on 1/8 noting several different reasons why the court should dismiss proceedings against him while also responding specifically to Tavel's allegations against him.  

First, the motion argued that the court should dismiss the complaint because the court lacks jurisdiction over Sapolsky as he does not live in Illinois, does not own any property in the State and is only in the State sparingly for work reasons, so there is no reason the court should hold jurisdiction over him and expect him to regularly appear in Court for the legal proceedings.

Secondly, the motion to dismiss argues, "As an initial matter, it is important to point out that Mr. Sapolsky did not hire Ms. Tavel to perform at this event. She came to the event on her volition, insisted on attending the event, and paid her own expenses." 

There are attached pieces of evidence featuring private messages between Sapolsky and Tavel from Twitter DMs where Tavel tells Sapolsky that she has the option of taking a "local" independent booking in the Northeast the same weekend EVOLVE is running Illinois and Michigan.  Sapolsky tells her there are no cars driving from New York to the events that weekend, to feel free to take the other booking over EVOLVE and that they can continue using her on the next EVOLVE events, since they would have only used her in "quick angles" on the shows in question.  In the exchange, Tavel told Sapolsky that she sees EVOLVE and WWN as a "top priority" and later reaches out to him to tell Sapolsky that she has booked her own flight to the events and will be there.

The motion also states that Sapolsky did not hire Tavel to perform at the event and that she was not an employee for EVOLVE; the motion notes that EVOLVE has only ever had two employees, Sapolsky and Sal Hamaoui.  It claimed that Tavel "came to the event on her volition, insisted on attending the event, and paid her own expenses."  It also noted that Matt Riddle was not an employee of EVOLVE and appeared at the show as an independent contractor.

The motion to dismiss also notes:

"Further decreasing the event’s relevance, Ms. Tavel does not allege that Mr. Riddle assaulted her during the event. Instead, she claims Mr. Riddle assaulted her “after the Evolve event . . . while on a bus leaving the event,” a bus that was neither provided by Mr. Sapolsky nor Evolve.   In fact, the bus was not even a bus, but an old van belonging to and driven by Mr. Ranta. Moreover, Mr. Sapolsky was not in Mr. Ranta’s van with Riddle and Tavel, and had no knowledge of the events once the couple left the Evolve 104 show.

Accordingly, any connection between the Evolve event or Mr. Sapolsky and the Complaint’s allegations terminated long before the alleged assault that forms the basis of the Complaint had occurred. Indeed, as the Complaint make clear, the alleged assault did not occur until after Mr. Ranta began driving his personal van and its passengers from the Indiana Denny’s to his Michigan home.

The May 19 event, Mr. Sapolsky’s sole connection to the state of Illinois, is not casually connected to the conduct alleged in support of Count IV. The assault did not occur at the ‘Evolve 104’ event or in Illinois. The assault did not occur in a vehicle provided by Mr. Sapolsky or Evolve. Mr. Sapolsky was not present during the alleged assault, and the Complaint does not allege that he had any advance knowledge of the assault. The alleged assault happened in a private vehicle occupied by individuals that voluntarily decided to travel together. The allegations underlying the Complaint therefore do not arise directly out of any actions by Mr. Sapolsky took or the Evolve event in Summit, IL on May 19, 2018. Consequently, this court cannot exercise specific jurisdiction over Mr. Sapolsky and should dismiss the Count IV of the Complaint."

Sapolsky's motion also incorporates some of Matt Riddle's previous response, that a videographer named Joseph M. Ranta transported numerous performers from the venue to their hotel in Michigan in his van as there was another EVOLVE event in Livonia, Michigan the next day.   Riddle's previous response featured an affidavit filed by Ranta as well as photos of the exterior and interior of his van.   Ranta's affidavit stated that on the evening in question, then-EVOLVE talents Keith Lee, Anthony Henry and JD Drake were also in the van with Drake sitting in the front passenger seat, Henry and Lee in the center seats and Riddle and Tavel in the back seats.     

The records from Ranta's GPS on the evening in question were also filed as evidence, noting they left the Summit Park District in IL on 5/20/18 IL at 12:26 AM,  They stopped for gas and left that gas station at 12:34 AM, then drove 33 miles to a Denny's Restaurant, arriving in Portage, Indiana at 1:22 AM (48 minutes later), stating that they entered Indiana 36 minutes into their drive, around 1:10 AM.   Ranta's affidavit stated that out of all the passengers, only Keith Lee fell asleep during the drive to Denny's and that the other four passengers were awake.   Ranta's affidavit also stated everyone exited the Denny's at 2:35 AM, then drove 2 hours, 37 minutes to Ranta's home in Mason, Michigan.   Ranta stated that Drake, Lee and Henry had all fallen asleep during that drive, with himself, Riddle and Tavel all being awake the entire ride.  Ranta stated he, Tavel and Riddle spent 12 minutes at Ranta's home before he drove everyone to The Comfort Inn Metro Airport near Detroit, Michigan where the wrestlers were staying.  The affidavit does not mention that any alleged assault took place, but also does not deny one happened. 

Riddle's filing featured the following claim, attempting to state that if any incident even happened, it most likely did not transpire in Illinois due to the timeline of the travel under the GPS history compared to Tavel's 6/19/20 Twitter post that first raised the allegations.  Riddle had previously argued, in his own motion for dismissal, that "It is implausible that Mr. Riddle would ask to engage in sexual intercourse “in front of other members of Evolve while on a bus,” immediately after performing at a wrestling event, without any witnesses in a small but full vehicle.   If that did happen, no matter the size of the vehicle, surely, someone would have  noticed the assault and said something."

In his motion to dismiss, Sapolsky also argued that Tavel's lawsuit failed to state a "cognizable claim" under the Illinois Gender Violence Act (IGVA), noting:

"Ms. Tavel pleads, pursuant to the Illinois statute detailed above, that Mr. Sapolsky had a duty of ordinary care to avoid causing injury and/or harmful or offensive contact, including acts of gender violence, and to refrain from encouraging or assisting tortious conduct, including acts of gender violence, committed by Mr. Riddle against her.   As an initial matter, the statute does not set forth liability for common law breaches of duty, as the complaint pleads. Instead, to be liable, i.e. a “perpetrator” under the Act, the defendant must either
“personally commit the gender-related violence, or personally encourage or assist the act or acts of gender-related violence.”

The Complaint does not set forth any facts showing Mr. Sapolsky is a perpetrator under either of the criteria. It does not allege Mr. Sapolsky personally committed an act of gender-related violence against Ms. Tavel. Instead, Ms. Tavel alleges Mr. Sapolsky “by and through its agents and/or employees” violated the act.   Importantly, Mr. Sapolsky is not a corporate entity, and does not have any agents or employees. Even if that were so, the Complaint does not specifically allege who these agents/employees are, how Mr. Sapolsky controlled their actions in such a way that they could be said to be his employees/agents, or how these purported employee/agents specifically “encouraged or assisted” in the commission gender violence acts against Ms. Tavel. The Complaint’s “labels and conclusions” without factual support are insufficient to plead more than speculative relief."

In regard to allegations that Riddle had told Sapolsky about his alleged abuse of Tavel, Sapolsky's motion noted:

"The Complaint does not allege Mr. Riddle ever informed Mr. Sapolsky that Ms. Tavel had rejected his advances before the violence ceased entirely. Even if such knowledge is attributed to Mr. Sapolsky, it cannot infer encouragement or assistance by him of acts of gender-violence by Mr. Riddle to Ms. Tavel because the so-called tacit approval, removing Ms. Tavel from future bookings, occurred after the violence had ended. As federal and Illinois courts uniformly hold, these deficient allegations foreclose a cause of action against Mr. Sapolsky."

The dismissal motion was accompanied by a statement from Sapolsky, noting, in part:

*Sapolsky was not in Illinois in April 2017, a weekend Tavel had accused Riddle of attacking her in her law; there was no EVOLVE event in Illinois that weekend and Riddle has previously stated that he believes Tavel is referring to a consensual encounter the two had in New York that weekend.  Sapolsky stating he was not in Illinois is obviously to point out a factual inaccuracy in the original lawsuit because that error further distances him from Illinois jurisdiction.

*EVOLVE did arrange for transportation for talents working the May 2018 weekend that Tavel alleges Riddle sexually assaulted her, but neither Tavel nor Riddle traveled in the pre-arranged EVOLVE transportation van.  The statement is accompanied by a receipt for a van rented by Brandon Tolle (now an Impact referee) and that can a completely different car than the one that Riddle has previously submitted photos and details of in his denials of Tavel's accusations against him.  So, Sapolsky is arguing that whatever may have happened, it could not have occurred on his/EVOLVE's watch since neither Riddle nor Tavel traveled in any vehicles arranged for by EVOLVE for EVOLVE talents.

*Sapolsky stated that he did not ask Tavel to appear at the weekend in question, did not reimburse her expenses, did not hire her or Riddle as employees for himself or EVOLVE and did not ask Tavel to appear on the Michigan event the day after the alleged assault.

Tavel has until 1/25 to file an official response to Sapolsky's motion to dismiss.  The court will then rule on WWE, Riddle and Sapolsky's motions to dismiss by 2/8.


If you or someone you know needs assistance, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is 800-656-4673


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