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By Mike Johnson on 2020-12-08 13:03:00

WWE Raw star Matt Riddle filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought against him by Samantha Tavel (who wrestles as Candy Cartwright) before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division on 12/3.

Tavel filed a lawsuit in October against Riddle, World Wrestling Entertainment, the now-defunct EVOLVE promotion and Gabe Sapolsky, seeking $10 million from each defendant, stemming from Tavel's allegations, which initially became public during the Speaking Out movement online during the summer of 2020, claiming Riddle allegedly choked and forced her to perform oral sex on him in May 2018.    Tavel's lawsuit stated 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.   It also alleges that Riddle effectively prevented her from being able to be booked for WWE dates.

In the filing, Riddle stated that he and Tavel entered into an extra-marital affair in April 2017 after meeting while performing for EVOLVE at an event in New York City.  They continued to maintain that relationship until Riddle's wife learned of it, at which point, Riddle claims he ended his relationship with Tavel.  In his filing Riddle alleges, "Ms. Tavel had a hard time accepting the end of the relationship, and Mr. Riddle changed his telephone number more than once to avoid her calls. Mr. Riddle had no control over any employment relationship Ms. Tavel had with Evolve or WWE."

Tavel remained working for EVOLVE in some fashion until the promotion shut down in the wake of financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the cancellation of their Tampa, Florida events Wrestlemania 36 weekend.  WWE purchased the assets of EVOLVE, Inc., including its tape library.

In regard to Tavel's accusations, Riddle's filing, as you might imagine, denied any wrongdoing on his part, stating, "Mr. Riddle emphatically denies Ms. Tavel’s torrid tale. He and Ms. Tavel had a nearly three-year affair during which they engaged only in consensual sexual activity. In July 2019, Mr. Riddle ended the affair after his wife learned of the relationship. In June 2020, Ms. Tavel tweeted an accusation that he sexually assaulted her in a van while other wrestlers were asleep."

Riddle's motion claims that Tavel's lawsuit should be dismissed because it fails to establish that the Circuit Court of Cook Count has jurisdiction over Riddle to begin with and that Tavel's specific allegations also fail to meet federal pleading requirements that bring them beyond speculation.  Riddle's attorneys argue that the lawsuit fails to claim that Riddle's, "allegedly tortious activities were purposefully directed at residents of the forum" as Tavel is not and has never been a resident of Illinois.  Riddle's attorneys also argued that since he does not live or own property in Illinois, he cannot fall under their jurisdiction. 

The motion to dismiss also argues that while Riddle was in Illinois performing for EVOLVE and that the alleged incident happened "on a bus leaving" the venue, therefore those duties would have been completed by the time he was alleged to have assaulted Tavel, so any professional connection to the State of Illinois had been completed.  It also claimed that Tavel cannnot claim any connection to her "alleged injuries" (from Riddle's alleged sexual assault against her) and the State of Illinois.   For all those reasons, Riddle's attorneys are claiming the lawsuit against him should be thrown out, as they are not strong enough under Illinois law to move forward and that neither party should fall under Illinois jurisdiction in court.

The filing makes mention of two different alleged incidents:

"Ms. Tavel pleads two specific alleged assaults – one in April 2017 and one on May 19, 2018 – but no facts that tie these alleged injuries to Illinois."

The April 2017 alleged incident is referenced in Riddle's motion, noting, "Mr. Riddle believe t[The April 2017] allegation refers to a consensual sexual encounter the couple had in a car on or about April 23, 2017 in New York City after an Evolve event. Mr. Riddle was not in Illinois in April 2017 and did not purposefully direct his activities at any Illinois residents in April 2017."

Riddle also specifically responds to Tavel's allegations that he assaulted her on 5/19/18 in Illinois following the EVOLVE 104 event.  In response, Riddle stated that he did perform that evening at EVOLVE 104 in Illinois and that Tavel was at the event as well.  Riddle stated that a videographer named Joseph M. Ranta transported numerous performers from the venue to their hotel in Michigan in his van (Tavel's claims have made reference to a bus, but her initial Tweet referred to a van with sleeping EVOLVE wrestlers), as there was another EVOLVE event in Livonia, Michigan the next day. 

Riddle's 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 then states everyone exited the Denny's at 2:35 AM, driving 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 inicident even happened, it most likely did not transpire in Illinois:

Based on Mr. Ranta’s GPS and Ms. Tavel’s June 19, 2020 Twitter post, the earliest time the assault could have occurred was during the 2.5-hour drive between the Denny’s in Portage, Indiana, and Mr. Ranta’s residence in Mason, Michigan. Therefore, it is impossible to state a claim under the IGVA for violence that did not arise in Illinois between nonresidents of Illinois.

Riddle's filing also claimed:

Even drawing the facts in a light most favorable to Ms. Tavel, the May 19, 2018 assault is inherently implausible and her right to relief is speculative at best. Mohammed v. Sidecar Technologies, Inc., No. 16 C 2538, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 156090, at *20 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 10, 2016) (dismissing claim where court could not draw reasonable inference that defendant violated the statute based on conclusory and speculative allegations). 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. Count I does not plausibly state a claim, and it should be dismissed.

Riddle is seeking a dismissal of the case.

While Tavel's lawsuit was initially filed before Cook County in Illinois, World Wrestling Entertainment successfully moved to have the lawsuit removed to the Northern District of Illinois.  WWE has argued that Matt Riddle was not under contract to them at the time (he signed in July 2018 after New Japan Pro Wrestling showed interest in booking him) and that they had no overview or involvement in the EVOLVE events that weekend.

It does not appear that Sapolsky or EVOLVE have responded to the lawsuit before the court as of this writing.


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


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