IDAHO FALLS, Idaho, (CN) - A "ThetaHealing" guru whose business was disparaged in a self-published book suffered a blow from the Idaho Supreme Court.
Vianna Stibal is the founder of the ThetaHealing Institute of Knowledge Inc., an "alternative health modality" that uses meditation to access "theta" brainwaves and prayer to help heal physical, spiritual and emotional issues, according to the company's website.
She accused April Fano and Right Way Publishing LLC of defamation, libel and slander in a 2010 complaint but reached a settlement before the case went to trial. The deal required both parties to stop making negative and disparaging remarks about the other.
Meanwhile, Stibal's former daughter-in-law, Lindsay Stock, was busy writing a book about the business, using, in part, information Fano provided to her from the previous lawsuit. The book, called "Shady Healing," was self-published under Right Way. Ultimately, 500 copies were printed and released.
Stibal followed with another lawsuit in March 2011, this time against Fano and Right Way for breach of contract under the settlement.
In a September 2012 bench trial, Fano admitted that she knew about the contents of "Shady Healings" when she signed the release agreement. She said she intended for the book to be released after she signed the agreement.
Judge Jon Shindurling with Idaho's 7th Judicial District in Bonneville County ruled for Stibal, finding Fano had breached the provisions of the settlement agreement because the book contained negative and disparaging comments about Stibal. The court ordered her and the publisher to pay Stibal more than $56,000 in damages and more than $28,000 in attorneys' fees.
The Idaho Supreme Court reversed the judgment against Fano on Oct. 29, however, based on its finding that Fano's pre-settlement communications were allowed. The deal does not cover information Fano provided toward writing the book before she signed the settlement, the court found.
"Fano argues that the district court erred when it ruled that Fano breached the release agreement because all of the activity complained of occurred before the release agreement was executed," Justice Warren Jones wrote for the court. "Fano relies on the plain language of the released agreement, which contemplates indemnity for any and all activity, either known or unknown, which might have occurred before its execution. We conclude that Fano is correct."
Fano's only post-agreement activity was her continued management of Right Way, to which she owed a fiduciary duty, according to the ruling.
"Stibal did not demonstrate that Fano possessed any actual authority as a member-manager of Right Way Publishing LLC to stop the distribution of 'Shady Healing,'" Jones said.
Right Way does, however owe Stibal attorneys' fees, however, because it did not timely appeal the district court's judgment. Fano meanwhile is entitled to attorneys' fees, as well.
The district court must determine those awards of attorneys' fees and costs on remand.
Chief Justice Roger Burdick concurred with Justices Daniel Eismann and Joel Horton.
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