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Juan L., A Minor, Etc v. E. W. Scripps Co. et al

May 17, 2013

JUAN L., A MINOR, ETC., PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
E. W. SCRIPPS CO. ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



(Super. Ct. No. 170462)

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

Juan L. v. E.W. Scripps Co.

CA3

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

Juan L. (the minor) was the victim of terrible acts of violence when he was seven years old. In reporting about the incident, which was of intense local interest, defendants (collectively "the media defendants") published the minor's full name. The minor, by and through his guardian ad litem, sued the media defendants for invasion of privacy and gross negligence for printing his name.*fn1 The trial court granted the media defendants' motion to strike the complaint pursuant to the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16.*fn2 The trial court found that the media defendants' publications about the newsworthy incident were protected by the First Amendment and the privilege set forth in Civil Code section 47, subdivision (d).

The minor contends (1) the media defendants failed to meet their threshold burden to show that they acted in furtherance of the right of free speech, because they did not establish that the minor's name was newsworthy; and (2) the trial court erred in ruling that the burden then shifted to the minor and that the minor failed to show a probability of prevailing on the merits.

We conclude the trial court did not err in granting the media defendants' anti-SLAPP motion. The minor's lawsuit arose from acts by the media defendants in furtherance of the right of free speech in connection with a public issue, and the minor failed to prove a probability of prevailing on the merits.

We will affirm the judgment/order.

BACKGROUND

Based on an anonymous tip regarding a severely beaten child, Shasta County sheriff's deputies and a child protective services worker went to a Redding residence and contacted Rachel Limon and her brother Gregory Limon.*fn3 Gregory initially attempted to keep everyone out of the residence and denied the presence of any children. Gregory relented when told he would be detained, whereupon the minor was discovered lying on a mattress, having difficulty breathing. The minor was taken into the custody of child protective services and, due to the severity of his injuries, was flown to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. He had multiple broken ribs, two broken vertebra, a lacerated spleen and liver, and numerous bruises, scratches and gouges. The minor was placed in foster care when he was released from the hospital.

Rachel, who had a child with the minor's father and was the minor's guardian, eventually admitted assaulting the minor and that she did so as a form of revenge against the minor's mother. Rachel was charged with attempted murder, torture, aggravated mayhem and child abuse, with related enhancement allegations. Gregory was charged with child abuse, being an accessory, and obstructing or delaying a peace officer.

The community of Redding rallied behind the minor with an outpouring of support. The media defendant's newspaper, the Record Searchlight, published a number of articles regarding the minor's condition and the charges brought against his attackers, and the articles were republished in the Anderson Valley Post, a sister newspaper. The articles included the minor's name.

The minor, by and through his guardian ad litem, sued the media defendants for invasion of privacy and gross negligence based on six articles in which the media defendants revealed the minor's name and the fact he was in foster care. The minor asserted his name was confidential and privileged because he was a dependent minor. The minor alleged that after three of the articles were published, his guardian ad litem Richard Bay contacted the media defendants' attorney, Walter McNeil, and advised him that litigation would ensue if the media defendants did not cease and desist publishing the minor's full name. According to Bay, McNeil agreed that printing the name was wrong and assured Bay it would not happen again. The media defendants subsequently referred to the minor as "Christmas Boy" for a while, but then used the minor's full name again on more than one occasion. The minor asserted that as a consequence of the media defendants' conduct, he suffered severe emotional distress and humiliation causing him permanent injury and rendering it likely that he would change his name.

The media defendants filed a section 425.16 anti-SLAPP motion to strike the minor's complaint. The media defendants argued that they met their threshold burden to show that the complaint was based on acts by the media defendants in furtherance of their right of free speech in connection with a public issue (§ 425.16, subds. (b)(1), (e)(2), (3) & (4)). The media defendants then argued that the burden shifted to the minor to prove a probability of success on his claims, but the minor could not meet his burden because the media defendants' actions were privileged under the First Amendment and Civil Code section 47, subdivision (d).

The media defendants' motion included declarations concerning the manner in which they lawfully obtained the minor's name and why they chose to use the name. According to Mike Chapman, the breaking news editor for the Record Searchlight, one of the minor's relatives telephoned Chapman the day after deputies found the minor and arrested the Limons. The relative talked with Chapman about the facts surrounding the matter, the people involved, and the minor's condition. The relative stated that he wanted custody and "was interested in 'getting out his side of the story.' " Chapman asked for, and was told, the minor's full name so that Chapman could check with the hospital regarding the minor's medical condition. Chapman told the relative that the newspaper would probably refer to the minor as "Junior," but it was possible the newspaper would decide to publish the minor's name. Chapman attested that his inquiries "were standard procedure for gathering information for a news story. I know of nothing improper, unlawful, or even unusual in the manner in which I obtained the pertinent information which included the name and identity of the [minor]." Chapman did not refer ...


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