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Caracio v. Doe

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

January 3, 2020

LAURA CARACIO, Appellant
v.
JOHN DOE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NEXT FRIEND OF JOHN DOE, JR., A MINOR AND JANE DOE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NEXT FRIEND OF JOHN DOE, JR., A MINOR, Appellees

          On Appeal from the 68th Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. DC-17-16679

          Before Justices Myers, Osborne, and Nowell

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ERIN A. NOWELL, JUSTICE

         This is an interlocutory appeal from an order denying a motion to dismiss pursuant to the Texas Citizens Participation Act ("TCPA").[1] John Doe, individually and as next friend of John Doe, Jr., a minor, and Jane Doe, individually and as next friend of John Doe, Jr., a minor, sued Laura Caracio for defamation after she contacted Good Shepherd Episcopal School ("Good Shepherd" or "GSES")[2] and allegedly accused John Doe, Jr. of criminal and sexual misconduct. Caracio filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to the TCPA; the trial court denied the motion. We reverse the trial court's order. We remand this cause to the trial court for entry of a judgment of dismissal as to the Does' claim against Caracio and for a determination of reasonable attorney's fees, sanctions, and expenses.

         Background

         In May 2017, the Does sought admission to Good Shepherd for Doe, Jr. who would be in sixth grade during the 2017-2018 school year. The application materials included Doe, Jr.'s educational records from two schools he previously attended, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School and St. John's Episcopal School. On June 21, 2017, Good Shepherd sent a written offer to the Does for Doe, Jr. to attend Good Shepherd for the 2017-2018 school year. The Does accepted the enrollment offer.

         1. Statements to Good Shepherd about Doe, Jr.

         On July 10, 2017, a Good Shepherd parent, Heather Holmes, [3] emailed the GSES's Head of School, Julie McLeod. The email states in part:

I just got a disturbing email stating that a new student is coming to our sixth grade and his name is [redacted]. He has been expelled from St. John in fourth grade and then expelled in fifth grade from St. Thomas Aquinas. . . . Please explain to me why this child has been admitted to our school. I'm already hesitant to have [redacted] return and now you are accepting children that have a clear resume of bad behavior and expulsion from two other private schools in the area.

         Also in the summer of 2017, Laura Caracio, whose daughters attended GSES, contacted the school. Caracio called David Dodd, GSES's Head of Middle School, and told him she heard about a new boy who would be attending Good Shepherd. She told Dodd she heard that, at a prior school, the boy was escorted off of the school premises after bringing a knife to a school carnival and he looked up the skirt of a female student or touched a female student inappropriately.

         In her deposition, Caracio testified she was driving her daughter, a rising sixth grade student at GSES, and other girls to soccer practice. The girls were talking amongst themselves about a boy who they previously attended school with; the boy, who they did not identify by name, was going to attend Good Shepherd. Caracio testified the girls said the boy "had gotten into some trouble at school." Caracio stated: "I don't recall their exact words. I recall an incident of he had a knife at the school carnival and something about sexual harassment and looking at girls' skirts." Caracio did not discuss what she overheard with the girls or their parents. She had not heard the girls talk about this boy on previous occasions and did not hear them discuss the boy again.

         Caracio testified she called Dodd and "told Good Shepherd that I overheard a conversation in my daughter's soccer carpool about a boy who was coming to Good Shepherd who they had said brought a knife to the school carnival and looked up some girls' skirts with sexual harassment. I do not remember the exact words. I remember the two incidents." She also testified: "I told David Dodd of a conversation I overheard that included the boy brought a knife to a school carnival." Caracio did not recall stating the boy was expelled from a previous school.

         The following exchanges occurred during Caracio's deposition:

Q. Do you consider reporting information about a boy who has applied to Good Shepherd, where you volunteer for Admissions, [4] who brought a knife to a school carnival and who has engaged in sexual harassment, looked up girls' skirts-Do you think that that's significant information?
[Attorney]: Object to form, but you can answer the question. A. I think it is something that they need to know and do - - do their due diligence on researching. . . . Well, if there was a boy coming to our school, I think they needed to check the situation out; correct. . . .
Q. Is it your testimony that what you told Good Shepherd about this boy only came from one communication?
A. Yes.
Q. What did David Dodd say in response?
A. I don't recall his exact words. He would look into it.
Q. Did he look in to it?
A. I never heard - - never communicated with him about it ...

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