Court update: Calvary Chapel Visalia Pastor Grenier vs Grenier/Taylor

From Calvary Chapel Abuse blog:

Re:     Grenier v. Taylor

Case No.:    249252

Date:   March 5, 2013        Time: 8:30 A.M.

Dept. 7 – The Honorable Paul Vortmann

Motion:   Defendants’ Special Motion To Strike the Complaint as a Meritless SLAPP

Tentative Ruling:   The court finds that Defendants’ Web activities are protected under CCP 425.16(e)(3) and finds that Plaintiff Bob Grenier is a Limited Purpose Public Figure.  The hearing on this motion is continued to April 9, 2013 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 7 on the issue of malice pursuant to the stipulation of the parties submitted on January 15, 2013.

The objections to evidence submitted by the parties will be determined prior to the continued hearing.

Plaintiffs are the pastor of Calvary Chapel Visalia and his wife.  Their Complaint against their son, Alex Grenier and another individual, Tim Taylor, asserts 7 causes of action including three separate counts of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, three separate counts of Defamation (based on libel and slander) and a single count of Conspiracy to Defame.  Plaintiffs assert they have suffered damages because Defendants have since 2005 engaged in an ongoing Internet campaign to disparage Plaintiffs by falsely claiming that Plaintiffs have, among other things, physically abused their children and misused church property. Defendants move to strike the Complaint under CCP 425.16.

“The special motion to strike established in section 425.16 may be used to attack a cause of action if (1) the cause of action arises from ‘any act [by the defendant] in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution,’ and (2) the defendant was exercising his or her right of free speech ‘in connection with a public issue.’ (Id., subd. (b)(1).) If the moving defendant establishes those two elements, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to establish there is a probability he or she will prevail on the cause of action. (Id., subd. (b)(1), (2);Vergos v. McNeal (2007) 146 Cal.App.4th 1387, 1400.)

“The trial court reviews the pleadings and the admissible evidence contained in the declarations to determine if the parties have met their burdens of proof. (§ 425.16, subd. (b)(2); Gilbert v. Sykes (2007) 147 Cal.App.4th 13.) The motion may be granted only if the cause of action arises from protected activity and the plaintiff cannot establish a probability of prevailing on the merits. (Navellier v. Sletten (2002) 29 Cal.4th 82, 89.)”

Chabak v. Monroy (2007) 154 Cal.App.4th 1502, 1509-1510

Defendants assert that their activities are protected as “written statements made in a place open to the public or in a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest.” CCP 425.16(e)(3). (Defendants assertions that their activities are also protected under CCP 425.16(e)(1),(2), and (4) are not supported by the submitted facts.)

Defendants assert that Plaintiff, as the pastor of a church, champions to church members and to the community at large principles of morality and right over wrong.  Defendants further contend that statements alleging misconduct involving moral turpitude by a pastor including claims of child abuse and misuse of church funds are a matter of public interest and protected under the statute.

It cannot be disputed that allegations of child abuse by members of the clergy have been regularly in the news both in this country and around the world.  However, in order for Defendants’ Internet comments to be protected, they must not only refer to a subject of widespread public interest, they must in some way contribute to the public debate.  Wilbanks v. Wolk (2004) 121 Cal.App.4th 883, 898.

Gilbert v. Sykes (2007) 147 Cal.App.4th 13 involved a plastic surgeon who cross-complained based on defamation and other claims against a former patient.  The patient had set up a Web site disparaging the surgeon’s work done on the patient’s face, including photos and other information.  The court found that plastic surgery is a subject of widespread public interest and discussion.  The court also found the surgeon to be widely known, that he published numerous articles, appeared on local television on plastic surgery issues and advertised in local media.  The court went on to state (at p. 23):  “Assertions that a prominent and well-respected plastic surgeon produced ‘nightmare’ results that necessitated extensive revision surgery contributes toward public discussion about the benefits and risks of plastic surgery in general, and particularly among persons contemplating plastic surgery as a means of looking younger or improving their appearance.”  The court also noted that the patient’s Web site was not limited to references to the surgeon but also contained general information about plastic surgery, red flags to look for, and references to other Web sites.  The court stated (at p. 24): “Clearly the Web site was not limited to attacking Sykes, but contributed to the general debate over the pros and cons of undergoing cosmetic surgery.”

Based on these findings, the court concluded that the patient’s Web site concerned a matter of public interest within the meaning of the statute.

In this action, Defendants’ Web blogs and postings are primarily focused on allegations of wrongdoing by Plaintiff Bob Grenier.  Some of Defendants’ statements do, however, include references to churches other than Cavalry Chapel Visalia and include discussion of claims made by other persons against different Cavalry Chapel locations such as Costa Mesa and others.  Defendants include in some of their critical comments statements that they want to ensure that members of all Cavalry Chapel congregations take steps to properly vet their leaders and account for church funds to avoid questions of abuse and financial mismanagement.  Based on the reasoning in Gilbert, the court finds that Defendants’ Web based comments concern a matter of public interest for purposes of the anti-SLAPP statute.

Defendants contend that in order to show that they are likely to prevail, Plaintiffs must establish actual malice.  Defendants assert a showing of malice is required because Plaintiff, as pastor of Calvary Chapel Visalia, has placed himself in the public eye sufficiently to be considered a Limited Purpose Public Figure.  Defendants have submitted evidence showing that Plaintiff has a Web site promoting his church and has video feeds of church services available through the Web site.  Additionally, Plaintiff has published and distributed a book about his activities as a church leader, and has been active in various community events such as the mayor’s annual prayer breakfast and as a volunteer chaplain with the local police department.  Plaintiff has also been active in producing and promoting regional church activities.  In these public activities, Plaintiff claims to adhere to, teach, counsel, and to promote high standards of Christian morality and the teachings of the Bible, topics of substantial public interest.  The evidence submitted supports Defendants’ claims that Plaintiff sought to have not only church members but others in the community see him as a church leader.

“A person becomes a limited purpose public figure by injecting himself into the public debate about a topic that concerns a substantial number of people.  Once he places himself in the spotlight on a topic of public interest, his private words and conduct relating to that topic become fair game.”  Gilbert v. Sykes (2007) 147 Cal.App.4th 13, 25

In finding the plastic surgeon in Gilbert a limited purpose public figure the court noted (at p. 26):  “Here, Sykes’s sought-after prominence as an expert in and advocate for plastic surgery as a means of personal enhancement transformed him into a limited purpose public figure.”

In this action it is not that Plaintiff was part of the debate on the limited issue of abuse by the clergy, but that he does assert that he is a leader of his church.  Allegations of conduct which would violate the trust his church members and members of the public place in him as a church leader are matters of public discussion or controversy.

If no one requests oral argument, under Code of Civil Procedure section 1019.5(a) and California Rules of Court, rule 3.1312(a), no further written order is necessary. The minute order adopting this tentative ruling will become the order of the court and service by the clerk will constitute notice of the order.

JA note:  We’ve been communicating and it sure sounds like this is a WIN for Alex and Tim.  There is a small hurdle in April for “malice.”  But that is a very difficult thing to prove.  In malice, one most prove the intent of the heart.  I think they are going to be smooth sailing!

 

54 comments on “Court update: Calvary Chapel Visalia Pastor Grenier vs Grenier/Taylor

  1. JA note: We’ve been communicating and it sure sounds like this is a WIN for Alex and Tim.

    This makes cry, the good kind of tears, my thoughts and prayers will continue.

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  2. Thank you, Gail. Between Alex’s and my defamation lawsuits brought on by pastors against bloggers, it is sending a very clear and loud message that bloggers absolutely have the right to call out abusive pastors who are limited public figures. Bully pastors, BEWARE! Let the little dogs bark, indeed!

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  3. Score for all of us that have experienced spiritual abuse! It feels like we’re all in this together. By the way, Julie Anne, every time I hear you talk about little dogs barking I think of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” Ever see that one? Let’s hear from the Mighty Chihuahuas! So happy for you, Alex!

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  4. Glad to hear the good news! My eyes kinda glaze over when reading legalese, so maybe you could give us a brief translation in English sometime. 🙂

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  5. Ok, let me take a look at it, Marge. The first few paragraphs talk about Bob Grenier being a figure of limited public interest. We dealt with that in my case. Speech is protected when discussing a person of public interest. So, apparently, Alex’s attorneys proved to the court that Bob Grenier is a person of public interest. They can do this by proving that he has an online presence (website, blog, youtube videos, sermons, twitter – and they mention other areas above – he is an author, speaks, etc.). Those social media vehicles put him in the public spotlight. He also preaches in public settings – again, he has shown himself to be a matter of public interest. There is law that protects free speech about figures of public interest. Because free speech is protected for figures of public interest, it means that Alex is free to speak truthfully (or what he believes to be truthfully) about Bob Grenier even if it does affect his reputation (so long as it does not cross into defamation/malice).

    The malice aspect will be taken up again in April. In my case, the defamation/malice were handled at the same time. Alex mentioned this is common in CA. Because malice is so difficult to prove, Alex’s attorneys seem very confident that there will be no problem.

    If that didn’t help, let me know, Marge. In fact, we have at least a handful of attorneys who read here and I’ll bet one of them can pipe in (and correct me if I am wrong – lol).

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  6. You’re welcome. BTW, my lawsuit was Greek to me for quite a while! After reading each legal document my attorney put out, and hearing her lingo and talk to me, it started making sense.

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  7. Pingback: “Web Based Comments Concern a Matter of Public Interest” «Who Would Jesus Sue? Who Would Jesus Sue?

  8. This is wonderful news. I am so glad for Tim and Alex and for every abuse survivor who has been dealt injustice by churches. Yes, leaders, pastors, church boards, elders, deacons, henchmen – take note. And beware. You are not beyond the law and survivors are joining the our ranks everyday. We will call for justice till it is delivered. God will deliver the final justice to liars and hose who oppress the vulnerable, but we can and will do much to get justice in this world as well.

    Shame on every church leader who thinks he is above the law and can intimidate victims. And let every victim take encouragement from this wonderful outcome. Thank you so much for publicising it, Julie Anne.

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  9. Thanks guys! It’s looking really good at this point. Jezzy B (Julie Anne 🙂 thank you SO MUCH for all you’ve done and are doing to help others! You’re awesome!!!

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  10. To Whom It May Concern

    I do not know Bob or Gayle Grenier nor have I met or talked with them. Nevertheless, in view of what is being touted as a great legally victory for Alex Grenier I thought that the readers of this website might find the following letter from the Grenier attorney very interesting:

    Press Release

    This is a copy of a press release sent to the Fresno Bee today March 5th, 2013, from Bob and Gayle Grenier’s attorney, in Visalia Ca.

    “As you are aware, our office appeared in court this morning for the purpose of providing oral argument to the court concerning the tentative ruling and the status of Bob Grenier as a limited public figure. The court in that regard will make a determination concerning whether or not pastor Bob Grenier is a limited public figure. The court indicated that a ruling on that issue would be forthcoming within the next few days.

    Additionally, the court denied the motion of defendant, Alex Grenier and Tim Taylor as to Gayle Grenier and as such she will be able to proceed with her causes of action against Alex Grenier and Tim Taylor. Trial dates in that regard will be set at the continued Case Management Conference that will be held on April 9, 2013. On that same date the court will consider evidence and hear argument concerning defendants’ motion as it relates to pastor Bob Grenier.

    As you may expect, the plaintiffs were pleased with the court’s ruling in that Gayle will be able to pursue her claims against Alex Grenier and Tim Taylor relating to the severe emotional distress they have caused to her. Both pastor, Bob Grenier and Gayle Grenier are thankful to all of the individuals who have provided support to each of them over the past few years and to those who have assisted them in this matter.”

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  11. Julie Anne,
    I continue to be amzed at the gifts God has given you to perservere and fight for the truth! You go girl!

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  12. Fascinating. Looks like someone is watching all the main survivor blogs related to this case. Spiritual Sounding Board. The Wartburg Watch. Calvary Chapel Abuse. Wonder where else it will turn up and why.

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  13. The press release isn’t in any papers, so unless they have a website we don’t know about, this seems to be made up or direct from camp bob to our sites. The only places we’ll probably ever see it.

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  14. FF – I’m having deja vu. It seems like this kind of thing happened on my case, too. You can’t make up some of this crazy behavior. I couldn’t find the press release on any Google search or searching the Fresno Bee site, either.

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  15. That’s what I’m thinking, Once. My former pastor’s “press release” wasn’t published in the “press.” It was, however, published on the Wartburg Watch Blog for a while. Perhaps the Fresno Bee doesn’t want to publish the foolish thing. Hmm, I wonder if it’s posted on the CCV site. Off to go check now . . . .

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  16. I concur with you Barbara. The best thing to do is call it for what it is: evil, then rebuke it, and move on. There is an underlying need for attention and sadistic satisfaction that is being gained by providing false information. Like Barbara suggested, using smoke and mirrors in order to distract and to get us to speculate over that which is obviously not of the Lord, which means falsely reporting something that a normal intelligent person would not do, simply because it is too easy to verify. It’s serves to distract and to destabilize. Give them a false sense of control, not realizing just how out of control they really are. The fact that they posted on several sites that were similar in its purpose is very telling in who is posting this. At minimum, this person is being used believing he/she is doing something good. What he/she needs to do is to find a good therapist to enable them to get a grip and to develop the capacity to be empathic in order be honest and able to love and to be loved. Either that or a swift firm kick in the behind by the Lord to remove the scales from their heart.

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  17. Must have been computer glitch – both comments are here. Thanks for posting the link, uriahisaliveandwell.

    It appears that Gayle’s part will go to trial because Gayle is not a limited public figure of interest. This is not a big deal – Tim and Alex will provide more documentation and the court will see that it is not libel. Alex has done a fantastic job with keeping records/documentation. Tim and Alex will be fine. Bob and Gayle might need to start collecting a special “love offering” at church or something to prepare to pay for Time and Alex’s attorney fees.

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  18. I don’t know the Grenier family either…but if a father abuses his sons in any form…that ‘should’ be emotionally stressing by default.

    I am sure that a relatively uneducated former drug dealer may not have many career opportunities available if the pastor thing doesn’t work out either. That could also cause emotional distress (money) on the family.

    Again, both outcomes the result of sin, and not the fault of the abused.

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  19. A recap of last night’s timeline of the “press release” postings on blogs (which did not make it to the press):

    SpiritualSoundingBoard blog 8:41 pm Pacific,
    Wartburg Watch at 11:45 East coast/8:45 Pacific,
    CCA time stamp 9:56 Mountain which is 8:56 Pacific,
    9:01PM Phoenix Preacher blog

    I immediately noticed the e-mail address and sent a screenshot of the ISP address to the #WhoWouldJesusSue team who went sleuthing and found it was from Russia. I then posted what we found on the Wartburg Watch blog

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  20. How ironic that it comes down to Gayle suing her own son. If that isn’t the epitomy of brainwashing by her husband I don’t know what is and I can’t believe anyone would not see through this. How could a mother do this? This just solidifies my belief in what Alex says even more.

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  21. Yesterday the whole Bob entourage showed up in court and had to have a bailiff ‘protect’ them because they were ‘afraid’. That is so much BS! I think that is part of the narcissistic personality disorder, paranoia, ya know! Talk about playing the victim!

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  22. I guess Matthew 5:11 doesn’t apply to abusive pastor’s wives. When your children speak all manner of evil against you – and its true- you won’t be blessed but will be emotionally distressed.

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  23. Summer – One of the things I like to do here is notice patterns of abusers. My pastor brought his entourage both times to the courthouse. I suspect he had most of the church present. They stayed in a group, rarely made eye contact with anyone outside of their group and as CON left, they got up and and following him out the door. It’s interesting that CON and BG are sounding more and more alike. I’m making note of this for future lawsuits: behavior to expect from your pastor if he sues you.

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  24. Here is Alex’s response from Phoenix Preacher blog regarding the Fresno Bee article. I think it will help clear things up:

    March 6, 2013 at 11:00 am
    Fresno Bee screwed up big time this morning…causing me emotional distress (I say that to make a point).

    They initially incorrectly reported that my mom could proceed in her libel lawsuit against us and that the judge ruled she had the likelihood to prevail.

    1. She didn’t sue us for libel.

    2. She does not have the likelihood to prevail in a libel lawsuit as she is not suing for libel nor would she have the likelihood to prevail in such a suit

    BIG mistakes. I am feeling “emotional distress” because of those statements today and nothing prevents me from suing because of it, the bar is so very low for bringing such a lawsuit…now I would most likely lose, but I have the right to bring a claim if I wanted to (see the point?)

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  25. I would like to remind readers that my response to Julie Anne’s wondering if BG might have friends in Russia was pure speculation based on some interesting coincidences. There are serveral CC churches planted in Russia. We have no way of knowing 1) if the ISP actually originated in Russia 2)if it was Bryson or any other CC pastor who wrote it.

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  26. Once Upon a Time: I read comments carefully to make sure there’s no defamation here on my blog. Defamation lawsuits are a colossal waste of time and emotional energy. Your comments were fine. You didn’t state anything as fact – this was just ordinary questioning of coincidences.

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  27. Wesley – Welcome to SSB! These are “special” pastors who sue. They don’t think the Bible applies to them the way they apply to normal people. Those are just my :::ahem::: unbiased observations.

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  28. I believe we all should continue standing on the frontlines in complete armor and continue to pray. bob showing up with his entourage is very telling isn’t it? I do at times ponder what life must be like living in their self constructed delusional world.

    IMO, Lew Griswald might want to reconsider his career at the Fresno Bee and perhaps find an opening for a journalist in a elementary school in his area. It was very poor reporting.

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  29. We got one big piece of the final ruling: BG is a limited purpose public figure. This means they have to prove “Actual Malice” which we did not commit any actual malice, we believe our sources and believe what we stated.

    I’ll keep you all posted. So far, so good. We have to wait for the judge to rule on Malice and if the judge rules there is no Actual Malice, then we get the Anti-SLAPP on BG’s side of the case, IMO.

    My mom might get to pursue an emotional distress claim, but I think that we can deal with that pretty quickly as there is nothing there, IMO. It’s sad, IMO, that they might continue on and try to bring such a claim, but it is what it is. We hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

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  30. Thanks for the update, Alex. You guys are going to be fine. BG was not in his right mind when he filed this ridiculous lawsuit. Please set the date for the celebration party in April. I want to come.

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  31. Well, here I entered because I was looking up stuff on Calvary Chapel to find out who might help me there with a problem I am now encountering at another CC seeing they oversee all the others and I have gotten nothing complete silence from the senior pastor and his assistant pastor, who is the subject of my offense. But it is late and I am tired. Just wanted to say “hello” and will be back to hear some of the comments here. I am already encouraged though. Good night.

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  32. Hi Adie:

    I’m glad you found us. Please feel free to jump in on any conversation. The current threads are more active and will yield more response. It doesn’t matter if you change the subject. The primary goal here is to be a support 🙂 Unfortunately these problems are not limited to just Calvary Chapel Visalia, but are systemic across Calvary Chapel churches, likely due to the Moses Model hierarchical structure in which pastors do not have accountability.

    Another site I’d like to recommend is Calvary Chapel Abuse (calvarychapelabuse.com).

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