Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the "Description" section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Date: 

02/22/2012

Status: 

Concluded

Location: 

Oregon

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

N/A
On February 22, 2012, O'Neal and the Beaverton Grace Bible Church filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for Washington County against Julie Anne Smith, her daughter, and two other blog commentators (the Stephens), alleging... read full description
Parties

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Julie Anne Smith; Hannah Smith; Kathy Stevens; Jason Stephens; Meaghan Varela

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual

Location of Party: 

  • Oregon

Location of Party: 

  • Washington
  • Oregon

Legal Counsel: 

Linda K. Williams; Herbert G. Grey
Description

On February 22, 2012, O'Neal and the Beaverton Grace Bible Church filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for Washington County against Julie Anne Smith, her daughter, and two other blog commentators (the Stephens), alleging defamation and requesting $500,000 in damages arising out of critical comments on the Church's Google reviews page and Smith's blog.

According to the complaint and news sources, Julie Anne Smith and her family were congregants at Beaverton Grace Bible Church for several years when one of the church's employees was dismissed in late 2008. The Smiths met with Pastor O'Neal to express their concerns about this situation and were later allegedly instructed to recant these concerns. The Smiths did not do so and stopped attending church services.

Later, after Oregon police began investigated allegations of child molestation against the Pastor and church, Pastor O'Neal "excommunicated" the Smiths. In response, starting in early 2009, Julie Anne Smith posted her concerns on the Google review page for Beaverton Grace Bible Church, and when these were taken down, she began a blog called Beaverton Grace Bible Church Survivors. Her comments and blog expressed opinion that the church was a "creepy" and unsafe environment and condemned O'Neal for his "extra-biblical legalistic teaching[s]" and allowing a known sex offender into the church. This blog received many similar comments, such as those by the Stephens.

In response, O'Neal and the Beaverton Grace Bible Church filed the complaint in this action. On April 26, 2012, the defendants filed a special motion to strike the defamation claim under Oregon's anti-SLAPP statute. This motion also asserted as defenses that: the speech was comprised of protected opinion; the church and Pastor O'Neal are public figures and there is no evidence of actual malice; and the church autonomy doctrine applies.

On the same day, Beaverton Grace Bible Church and O'Neal filed an amended complaint. An additional defendant, Meaghan Varela, was added for her comments on Smith's blog, and more allegedly defamatory speech on the blog was identified. Accordingly, on May 1, 2012, the defendants filed a second special motion to strike in response to the additional allegations of the amended complaint, as a supplement to their first motion. On May 14, Beaverton Grace Bible Curch and O'Neal opposed the motions to strike and filed a declaration by a congregant to demonstrate that the allegation of allowing a known sex offender access to the church was a false statement.

Update:

On July 23, 2012, the court granted the defendants' special motion to strike. The court found that the statements made were on "issues of public interest," that several of the statements were not provable assertions of fact, and that the balance were pure opinion. The court awarded $16,750 in attorney's fees to defendants  Kathy Stephens and Jason Stephens, and invited defendants Julie Ann Smith, Hannah Smith, and Meaghan Varela to submit statements for fees.

Details

Content Type: 

  • Text

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Subject Area: 

  • Defamation
  • SLAPP
  • Blogs
  • User Comments or Submissions
Court Information & Documents
CMLP Information (Private)

CMLP Notes: 

KMB created

AFS edited to include motion to dismiss 7/27 AFS

Originally submitted by OMLN attorney Linda Williams, who represents some of the parties.