Counselor May Sue for Defamatory Remarks

     (CN) – A California man cannot block a defamation lawsuit filed by a psychologist he accused of “criminal fraud and modern-day slavery” on CNN’s website, a state appeals court ruled.
     The lawsuit stems from a custody dispute between Jayraj Nair and his former wife. Bindu.
     After their divorce, and despite a custody agreement calling for joint custody of their two children, the couple’s older son, Suraj, lived with his father, while their younger son, Suday, lived with his mother.
     The facilitate the custody agreement and deal with Suraj’s estrangement from his mother, the family court ordered reunification therapy and appointed plaintiff Janelle Burill, Ph.D, to serve as the family’s reunification counselor.
     Burrill ultimately reported that Nair was “emotionally and psychologically abusing” Suraj, by inducing the Suraj to believe his mother was “evil and never loved him” and that she kidnapped his brother and was holding him hostage.
     Burill went on to describe Nair as a “credible threat” to the physical safety of his ex-wife and two sons, noting that he said to both boys “Mom is to be killed.”
     In light of this report, Suraj was placed with his mother. Nair was barred by a restraining order from seeing them with the exception of short supervised visits.
     After his son was taken from him, Nair went on the CNN iReport website and accused Burrill of “criminal fraud and modern-day slavery using Parental Alienation SCAM, enslavement of children for $$$$$$ in California.”
     His CNN iReport post also accused Burrill of “financial extortion” and “child abuse.”
     Nair also criticized Burrill on KFBK NewsRadio in Sacramento, stating that she “does not have any license to practice psychology in California. She’s got a diploma from some online mill. And on top of it, she makes DSM(IV) diagnoses; she prescribed Benzodiazepine for my son. A person who is not even a psychologist or psychiatrist prescribing medication in California? That’s illegal.”
     Burrill filed a defamation lawsuit against Nair, who moved to strike it via the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute.
     The trial court denied his motion, and Nair visited the Third District California Court of Appeals for the sixth time since his problems with his wife began.
     In an opinion written by Justice Andrea Lynn Hoch, the appeals court upheld the lower court’s denial of Nair’s anti-SLAPP attempt.
     “Even if Nair was not actually accusing Dr. Burrill of child slavery, he was still accusing her unambiguously of criminal conduct,” she wrote.
     After concluding that Burrill presented sufficient evidence that Nair’s claims against her were false, Hoch also decided that his statements were motivated by “actual malice,” a necessary finding since Burrill conceded that she is a limited purpose public figure.
     “Nair cites no sources for his accusations that Dr. Burrill fabricated domestic violence allegations and accepted money to influence her child custody recommendations. He simply says so. A reasonable jury could conclude these charges were the product of his imagination,” Hoch wrote.

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