Thursday, February 19, 2015
C.A. Allows Pastor’s Defamation Case Against Stepson to Continue
Reverend Accused of Molestation Not a Limited Purpose Public Figure, Panel Says
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A Visalia pastor and his wife presented sufficient evidence in support of their defamation claims against two men, including the stepson whom the pastor raised from the age of three, to survive an anti-SLAPP motion, the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Bob Grenier, pastor at Calvary Chapel Church and a volunteer Visalia police chaplain, and his wife Gayle Grenier claim that Timothy Taylor and Alex Grenier defamed and caused them severe emotional distress them by posting comments on the Internet accusing the pastor of being a child molester and of stealing money from the church. Taylor is a former member of the church, and Alex Grenier is one of two children of Gaye Grenier that the pastor raised from early childhood.
The Greniers, who also have two children together, accuse the defendants of running a “cyber-bully hate campaign,” in the course of which they have called the pastor—who has written a book about his conversion to Christianity and hosted a radio show heard in six states, and maintains a religious website—a “vile disgusting monster,” a “Liar and self-confessed Felony Child Abuser” and a “sick child molesting evil man,” among other things.
They have also accused him of “crimes against his sons, staff and congregation,” of having “molested his own son,” and of committing “child abuse (confirmed in testimony by 24 year CCV Board Member Glen C.).”
The Court of Appeal affirmed Tulare Superior Court Judge Paul A. Vortmann’s order denying the defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion. While the justices agreed with the defendants that Bob Grenier’s position as moral and spiritual leader of what was once a 1,000-member congregation supported a finding that the defamatory statements were made in connection with a public issue, they also held that Bob Grenier was not a public figure and that the Greniers showed a likelihood of prevailing in the suit.
Justice Herbert Levy explained that Bob Grenier is not—contrary to the trial judge’s finding—a limited purpose public figure for First Amendment purposes. He can thus prevail on his claims by showing that the defamatory statements were false, and that the defendants were at least negligent in making them, and need not prove what the courts have described as “actual” or “constitutional” malice.
“Although Bob [Greiner] thrust himself into the public eye as an expert on the Bible and its teachings, that alone did not cause him to become a limited purpose public figure in the context of this case. [His] self-promotion as a spiritual leader guiding others on Christian morals did not open him up to public comment on private conduct that could be generally characterized as the antithesis of the morals he espouses, such as child abuse and theft. To hold that a member of the clergy can become a limited purpose public figure on any issue relating to morality simply because of his or her profession would be equivalent to holding that being a member of the clergy makes one an all-purpose public figure. Such an interpretation of the limited purpose public figure doctrine is too broad.”
Greiner, the justice continued, “did not thrust himself into a public controversy or dispute regarding child abuse, child molestation, tax evasion or theft.”
Levy went on to say that the Greiners satisfied the “minimal merit” standard of presenting evidence sufficient to withstand an anti-SLAPP motion.
“Alex and Tim’s statements are not mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions or other trivialities. Rather, they accuse Bob of criminal conduct that includes vile and depraved activities, i.e., child molestation. Further, there is a sufficient prima facie showing that these statements were directed at Bob and were calculated to cause Bob, and by her association with Bob, Gayle, severe emotional distress. Moreover, one of the alleged defamatory statements was specifically directed at Gayle. Finally, Bob and Gayle declared that their reputations are ruined, they do not want to leave their residence, they have considered moving away to establish a life of anonymity, and they fear for their physical safety. Therefore, Bob and Gayle made a sufficient prima facie showing that Alex and Tim’s conduct was extreme and outrageous, was directed at them and that they suffered extreme emotional distress.”
The case is Grenier v. Taylor, 15 S.O.S. 933.
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