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Moreno v. Hanford Sentinel

April 2, 2009

CYNTHIA MORENO ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
HANFORD SENTINEL, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Fresno County. Adolfo M. Corona, Judge. (Super. Ct. No. 06CECG04125AMC).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Levy, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION*fn1

OPINION

The issue presented by this appeal is whether an author who posts an article on myspace.com can state a cause of action for invasion of privacy and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress against a person who submits that article to a newspaper for republication. The trial court concluded not and sustained the demurrer to appellants‟ complaint without leave to amend.

Appellants contend the republication constituted a public disclosure of private facts that were not of legitimate public concern and thus was an invasion of privacy. Appellants note that the republication included the author‟s last name whereas the myspace.com posting did not. Appellants further argue that the person who submitted the article to the newspaper did so with the intent of punishing appellants and thus they have a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

As discussed in the published portion of this opinion, the trial court properly sustained the demurrer without leave to amend to appellants‟ invasion of privacy cause of action. The facts contained in the article were not private. Rather, once posted on myspace.com, this article was available to anyone with internet access. As discussed in the nonpublished portion, the trial court should have overruled the demurrer to the intentional infliction of emotional distress cause of action. Under the circumstances here, a jury should determine whether the alleged conduct was outrageous. Accordingly, the judgment will be affirmed in part and reversed in part.

BACKGROUND

Since the appeal is from the sustaining of a demurrer without leave to amend, the facts are derived from the complaint. This court must give the complaint a reasonable interpretation and assume the truth of all material facts properly pleaded. (Aubry v. Tri-City Hospital Dist. (1992) 2 Cal.4th 962, 966-967.) However, contentions, deductions or conclusions of law will not be accepted as true. (Id. at p. 967.)

Following a visit to her hometown of Coalinga, appellant, Cynthia Moreno, wrote "An ode to Coalinga" (Ode) and posted it in her online journal on myspace.com. The Ode opens with "the older I get, the more I realize how much I despise Coalinga" and then proceeds to make a number of extremely negative comments about Coalinga and its inhabitants. Six days later, Cynthia*fn2 removed the Ode from her journal. At the time, Cynthia was attending the University of California at Berkeley. However, Cynthia‟s parents, appellants David and Maria Moreno, and Cynthia‟s sister, appellant Araceli Moreno, were living in Coalinga.

Respondent, Roger Campbell, was the principal of Coalinga High School and an employee of respondent, Coalinga-Huron Unified School District.*fn3 The day after Cynthia removed the Ode from her online journal, appellants learned that Campbell had submitted the Ode to the local newspaper, the Coalinga Record, by giving the Ode to his friend, Pamela Pond. Pond was the editor of the Coalinga Record.

The Ode was published in the Letters to the Editor section of the Coalinga Record. The Ode was attributed to Cynthia, using her full name. Cynthia had not stated her last name in her online journal.

The community reacted violently to the publication of the Ode. Appellants received death threats and a shot was fired at the family home, forcing the family to move out of Coalinga. Due to severe losses, David closed the 20-year-old family business.

Based on the publication of the Ode, appellants filed the underlying complaint alleging causes of action for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In addition to respondents, appellants named Lee Enterprises, Inc., Lee Enterprises Newspapers, Inc., and Hanford Sentinel, Inc., the publishers of the Coalinga Record, as defendants. However, these publisher defendants were dismissed following their motion to strike the complaint as a SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuits against ...


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