Tuesday, November 20, 2018
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The First District Court of Appeal has declined to reinstate a former acupuncturist’s lawsuit against the owners of a website that accuses him of running a cult that exploits young women for sex and money, holding that dismissal of the action was proper under the anti-SLAPP statute.
Acting Presiding Justice Mark B. Simons of Div. Five wrote the unpublished opinion, filed Friday.
Erstwhile acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner Michael Guen sued Jula Pereira and her boyfriend Joerg Hilger for defamation, economic interference and related causes of action, based on their website cultrescue.com, which contains several posts describing Guen as a cult leader.
Guen and his co-plaintiff and business associate Patricia Bernard claimed that after the website had been started, their team of business consultants dissolved and they were unable to meet their financial obligations.
Simons rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that the “website is not a public forum because others cannot post their own views on the site.” He cited a 2004 opinion from Div. One of his district, Wilbanks v. Wolk, which had framed the Internet, itself—not a single website—as a “public forum,” envisioned by the anti-SLAPP statute.
There, then-Justice William D. Stein (now a private judge) noted that while the defendant in that case “controls her Web site, she does not control the Web, adding:
“Others can create their own Web sites or publish letters or articles through the same medium, making their information and beliefs accessible to anyone interested in the topics discussed….”
Simons pointed out that, as the defendants argued, claims of an acupuncturist’s sexual misconduct and brainwashing of young women is firmly within the ambit of the matters of public interest protected by the anti-SLAPP laws.
Prospect of Success
Addressing the second prong of the anti-SLAPP statute—whether the plaintiff can show a probability of success on the claim—the jurist noted the lower court’s finding—unchallenged on appeal—that the defamation action could not succeed as it was untimely.
Turning to the economic interference and similar causes of action, he wrote:
“Given that appellants have failed to identify any clients lost due to respondents’ website, we are skeptical appellants have shown any causation between the website and the alleged loss of revenue that led to dissolution of the team of consultants. In any event, we agree with the trial court’s finding that appellants have failed to present evidence respondents knew of the relationship between appellants and the consultants….Furthermore, appellants failed to show a ‘probability of future economic benefit’…from the relationships with the consultants, because the only economic benefit to appellants would have come from the success of their teen empowerment website….”
“Appellants…argue they ‘had an existing business together consisting of acupuncture, healing, and empowerment’ and ‘they were poised to expand that existing business with the website and a new offering of online courses.’…However, appellants’ expectation of profit from their website was not the kind of ‘probability of future economic benefit’…that could support their economic interference claims.”
The case is Guen v. Pereira, A151569.
In a post on cultrescue.com dated Oct. 16, 2013, Pereira (using the alias “Ruth”), wrote:
“For ten years, I was under his spell. He convinced me that I was investing in my personal and spiritual growth. I gave him a monthly tuition of $350 per month plus $90 per week for personal acupuncture sessions. Over ten years, I spent $55,000.…Later on, I was to learn that all that time, he had been manipulating my thoughts, feelings and emotions.”
The latest post on the website is dated March 2015.
Pereira has a fraud suit against Guen pending in Sonoma Superior Court—where Guen’s case against her was brought—which is currently set for jury trial in March 2019.
Guen denies being anything but an acupuncturist. In a July 2016 one-star Yelp review of Pereira’s social media marketing company On Time Social, Guen wrote:
“This March, Jula Pereira lost a trial that she had initiated to strip me of my professional license. She made up a seven-year long sexual relationship with me that never happened as well as told other lies, and the judge did not find her made-up story credible. When asked many questions about her actions and professional and personal relationship with me, the only answer Jula Pereira repeated was that she had been ‘indoctrinated’ (mind controlled), making her appear very foolish. To the judge under oath, Jula Pereira justified her criminal embezzlement of money from my start up company of which she was a principal cohort.”
The California Acupuncture Board issued an order of decision in March 2016 revoking Guen’s license but staying the revocation for a five-year probationary period for what the document describes as “allegedly consensual sexual relations” with someone referred to as “Patient P.”
In 2017, Guen defaulted to a petition by the board to revoke his license for failing to undergo a psychological evaluation, ordered as a result of a sexual misconduct finding. His license was revoked.
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