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Crews v. Galvan

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

October 10, 2019


          On appeal from the 445th District Court of Cameron County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Longoria and Perkes



         In this interlocutory appeal, appellants Blaine Crews and Hannah Crews (the Crewses) appeal the trial court's denial of their motion to dismiss a defamation per se claim brought by appellees Richard Galvan and Sonia Galvan (the Galvans). By four issues, which we treat as two, the Crewses argue that: (1) the trial court erred when it denied their motion to dismiss, and (2) they are entitled to attorney's fees. We reverse the trial court's denial of the Crewses' motion to dismiss and remand for the trial court to enter an order dismissing the Galvans' defamation per se claim and for further proceedings consistent with this memorandum opinion.

         I. Background[1]

         According to the Crewses, when Hannah was seventeen years old, she attended the Northway Bible Church in Harlingen, Texas, where Richard was a youth minister and pastor. Hannah had been active in the church's youth group and had known Richard and his wife Sonia since she was twelve years old. During the summer between her junior and senior year of high school, Hannah and her high school boyfriend broke up. Hannah was heartbroken, and Richard offered her a job at his business and to counsel her through her emotional grief. While Hannah was working at his business, Richard would call her into his office "almost daily" to discuss her feelings and to pray over her. During these conversations, Richard repeatedly brought up the extent of Hannah's physical relationship with her ex-boyfriend. Richard told Hannah that the reason she was heartbroken was because of the physical attachment she had developed with her ex-boyfriend and "that the physical aspect of it caused [her] to be spiritually connected to [her] ex-boyfriend's soul." Richard explained to Hannah that the way to heal from her break up was through intimacy. According to Hannah:

[Richard] would then bait me with his questions, asking, 'so what do you think you need to do to move on from this pain?' Richard made me think I needed to respond with 'having sex,' since he had just explained that sex brought healing. He then shook his head yes and told me that he would 'help me out with this.' Richard again told me that completing this physical act of sex would heal me spiritually, since the two (physical intimacy and spirituality) were tied together. He also convinced me that since I trusted him as my mentor, it was safest to go about it this way (having sex with him instead of someone else).
Nothing happened that day physically between us. It still took many more conversations to convince me that having sex with him (Richard) would help me heal. I even asked him during a later conversation, "But that means you would be taking my virginity," of which he got angry with me, stepped close to my face, and said sternly, "No, I am not taking your virginity, you are giving it to me, because you are entrusting me to help you heal." Since I had deep love and admiration for his wife Sonia, I would also ask him how it was okay to do this since he was married. He convinced me, over and over, that this act was a strictly physical action for a spiritual healing for me and me alone. But he also told me that she would never know about this, so I didn't have to worry about this hurting her.
. . . .
Finally, after weeks and weeks of conversation and manipulation and coercion and convincing in Mr. Galvan's office, at the beginning of volleyball season before school started in August of 2007, I agreed to meet Richard at the La Quinta hotel in Mercedes, TX. Richard was fearful of being discovered that day, and even thought a car across the street was a hired investigator that was possibly watching us. We went upstairs, I agreed to sexual acts, and lost my virginity that day. Afterwards, I had to go to school and travel with my team to play in the first volleyball tournament of the preseason. I was still 17 years old. And that was the first and last time I agreed to do anything physical with Richard Galvan for the rest of my life.

         Shortly after, Hannah's mother found out that Richard had sex with Hannah. Richard came to Hannah's house, confessed to Hannah's mother about it, and Hannah's mother told Richard to tell his wife. Hannah subsequently had a phone conversation with Sonia about it. Hannah insisted she did not want to press criminal charges because "Richard told me if I ever spoke about this with anyone, that no one would believe my story." In December 2007, shortly after Hannah's phone conversation with Sonia, Richard and Sonia quit as youth pastors and left the church completely. According to Hannah, she later learned that Richard had also been inappropriate with other girls she knew and that the other girls were also teenagers at the time of their interactions with Richard.

         Years later, Hannah married Blaine, and she shared with him that she had been taken advantage of by her youth pastor but did not disclose the identity of the individual. In October 2018, Hannah told Blaine for the first time that the pastor was Richard. After learning of Richard's identity, Blaine became very upset and obtained Sonia's cell phone number and texted her.[2] Richard called him back almost immediately. Blaine was concerned that Richard may "still be associating himself with youth and placing himself in a position to take advantage of other young women under his authority." According to Blaine, during his conversation with Richard, Richard acknowledged that the events Blaine recounted about Richard's sexual relationship with Hannah were true. Blaine told Richard and Sonia that he was concerned about Richard being around young women and that people needed the information about his interactions with Hannah to determine whether Richard should be around their daughters. According to Richard, "Blaine Crews . . . expressed that since Hannah Crews' father never did anything in 2007, that Blaine Crews would do something about the alleged seduction and manipulation and would have used a bullet to do it." Blaine also informed Richard that he intended to contact Richard's church and the school of Richard's children, where Blaine believed he associated with young women. Blaine subsequently called Richard's church and the school of Richard's children and informed them of Richard's history and past conduct towards Hannah.

         The Galvans filed suit against the Crewses. In their first amended original petition, Richard and Sonia pleaded causes of action for assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation per se, and public disclosure of private facts. In their amended petition, the Galvans stated that "Blaine Crews text[ed] Plaintiff Sonia Galvan and claimed that Plaintiff Richard Galvan, seduced and manipulated Hannah Crews in 2007. These allegations are false." The Galvans further alleged that Blaine told Richard that: "he would have put a bullet" in Richard's head "if Defendant Blaine Crews knew Defendant Hannah Crews in 2007"; the "phone call would not be the end"; Richard's children "would learn as well"; and that Richard will find out what Blaine "is going to do to him."

         The Crewses filed a motion to dismiss the Galvans' defamation per se claim pursuant to the Texas Citizen Participation Act (TCPA), and the Galvans filed a response in opposition. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 27.001 et seq. Both parties submitted affidavits in support of their motions. The Galvans submitted an affidavit by Richard that stated: "I called Blaine Crews in response to Blaine Crews' repeated contacts with my wife, Sonia Galvan. During the conversation, Blaine Crews claimed in 2007 that I manipulated and seduced Hannah Crews. This is false." The Crews objected to Richard's affidavit on the ground that it was conclusory, but the trial court overruled the objection and denied the Crewses' motion to dismiss. This interlocutory appeal followed. See id. § 51.014(12).

         II. The ...

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