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Grenier v. Taylor

California Court of Appeals, Fifth District

February 18, 2015

BOB GRENIER et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
TIM TAYLOR et al., Defendants and Appellants.

APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Tulare County, No. VCU249252. Paul A. Vortmann, Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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COUNSEL

McCormick, Barstow, Sheppard, Wayte & Carruth, Todd W. Baxter and Scott M. Reddie for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

California Anti-SLAPP Project, Mark Goldowitz and Paul Clifford for Defendants and Appellants.

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OPINION

LEVY, Acting P.J.

Defendants and appellants, Tim Taylor and Alex Grenier, challenge the trial court’s denial of their motion to strike the complaint for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress filed by plaintiffs and appellants, Bob Grenier and Gayle Grenier, as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) under Code of Civil Procedure[1] section 425.16. The trial court concluded that the alleged defamatory statements concerned an issue of public interest and therefore were entitled to protection under section 425.16. The court further found that Bob[2] was a limited purpose public figure. Bob and Gayle challenge both of these findings. However, the court also determined that Bob and Gayle had met their burden of demonstrating a probability of prevailing on their claims.

The trial court correctly concluded that the alleged defamatory statements concerned an issue of public interest. However, contrary to the trial court’s finding, Bob is not a limited purpose public figure. Further, Bob and Gayle demonstrated a probability of prevailing on their claims. Accordingly, the trial court’s order denying the motion to strike will be affirmed.

BACKGROUND

Bob is the pastor of the Calvary Chapel Church, a non-denominational church located in Visalia (Church). Bob has held this position for approximately 35 years. In 2006, the Church membership included approximately 800 adults and 200 children. As of January 2013, Church membership had dropped to approximately 400 adults and 150 children.

In connection with his role as a pastor, Bob has undertaken various endeavors. He wrote a book, “A Common Miracle, ” which “details Pastor Bob’s conversion to Christ, and his being called to ministry as a Pastor-Teacher.” Bob also runs the Pastor Bob Grenier website to help teach the Bible. Although Bob claims to have only sold a couple hundred copies of “A Common Miracle, ” this book can be downloaded for free on his website.

Bob hosts a radio show called “Grace for Today, ” on which he teaches “the Word of God in a simple and easy to understand and applicable way.” In addition to California, this program is broadcast on stations in Texas, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee and Hawaii.

On the “Grace for Today” website, Bob offers “Daily online Devotionals, ” counseling and access to his recent sermons. Some of Bob’s sermons are posted to YouTube and his teachings are available on iTunes and Twitter.

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Bob also volunteers as a police chaplain for the Visalia Police Department.

Bob has been married to Gayle since 1977. Bob and Gayle have four children, Alex Grenier, Geoffrey Grenier, Paul Grenier and Robert Grenier. Alex and Geoffrey are Bob’s stepchildren whom Bob raised from the time Alex was three years old and Geoffrey was two years old.

In 2004 and 2005, after Alex had left Bob and Gayle’s home, Alex confronted Bob and Gayle and demanded an apology. Alex accused Bob of emotionally and physically abusing him and his brothers. Bob and Gayle refused to admit that Bob had committed such abuse.

Tim began attending the Church in 2005. Based on what he observed and information provided by other Church members, Tim began a discussion about Bob on an internet forum.

Alex saw Tim’s discussion in 2009 and added his own comments. In 2010, Alex created his own website/blog where he writes about his experiences with Bob, the Church and the Calvary Chapel organization. Tim has added comments in response to Alex’s posts.

Alex and Tim’s internet comments were not flattering to Bob. Rather, Alex and Tim described Bob as abusive and of bad character.

In response to these internet posts, Bob and Gayle filed the underlying action for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Alex and Tim. Bob and Gayle allege that Alex has conducted a “cyber-bully hate campaign.” They claim that both Alex and Tim have repeatedly stated that “Bob is a ‘child molester’ and a ‘corrupt pastor who was stealing money from the church’” and that these allegations are false.

As part of their complaint, Bob and Gayle set forth examples of statements posted by Alex about Bob on various internet forums. These examples include:

“normal human beings don’t tolerate … molestation and corruption by a Pastor/Chaplain but ...


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