Clinton Giles, by counsel James M. Cagle, appeals the January
17, 2017, order of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County that
dismissed his claims of false light invasion of privacy and
defamation against Respondents Kanawha County Board of
Education ("Board") and Pete Thaw, individually and
in his capacity as a Board member. The Board, by counsel M.
Andrew Brison, and Mr. Thaw, by counsel Johnnie E. Brown and
Megan Goodall, filed responses in support of the circuit
court's order. Petitioner submitted a reply.
Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record
on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately
presented, and the decisional process would not be
significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of
the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented,
the Court finds no substantial question of law and no
prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision
affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under
Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.
a thirty-four year employee of the Board, became principal of
Capital High School in 2002. On February 3, 2015, he was
charged by criminal information with the misdemeanor offense
of failing to timely report an alleged sexual assault that
occurred on the school's premises. Also on that
date, petitioner was suspended without pay and then, on
February 9, 2015, he voluntarily resigned his position.
undisputed that Respondent Thaw made the following statements
to local news media on February 9, 2015, at a press
conference following the Board meeting at which
petitioner's resignation was accepted: (1) "I voted
to make Clinton Giles principal at Capital High School. It
was the second worst mistake I ever made but I did it and I
want to apologize but I did and I've had nothing but
complaints[;]" (2) "I do regret that we're
letting him call the tune when he quits[;]" and (3)
"Let's face it, when this sort of crime occurs most
people would report it immediately, apparently we have to say
so." The local news media widely reported the events
giving rise to the criminal charge and, later,
petitioner's resignation and Thaw's statements.
March 13, 2015, the criminal case against petitioner was
dismissed, with prejudice.
16, 2016, petitioner filed an amended complaint against
respondents alleging claims of defamation and false light
invasion of privacy. The Board filed a motion to dismiss
under West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), while
Respondent Thaw filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss or,
alternatively, a motion for summary judgment. Petitioner
filed responses thereto. By order entered January 17, 2016,
the circuit court granted respondents'
motions. This appeal followed.
Court has held that "'[a]ppellate review of a
circuit court's order granting a motion to dismiss a
complaint is de novo.' Syl. Pt. 2, State ex rel.
McGraw v. Scott Runyan Pontiac- Buick, Inc., 194 W.Va.
770, 461 S.E.2d 516 (1995)." Syl. Pt. 1, Roth v.
DeFeliceCare, Inc., 226 W.Va. 214, 700 S.E.2d 183
(2010). Further, we review the appropriateness of a Rule
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss as follows:
"The trial court, in appraising the sufficiency of a
complaint on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, should not dismiss the
complaint unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff
can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would
entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355
U.S. 41, 45-46 [78 S.Ct. 99');">78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80, 84] (1957).
Syl. Pt. 3, Chapman v. Kane Transfer Co., 160 W.Va.
530, 236 S.E.2d 207 (1977). See also Long v. Egnor,
176 W.Va. 628, 632, 346 S.E.2d 778, 782 (1986). However, we
have stated that, although this rule is generally applicable
in the ordinary case,
[t]he First Amendment to the United States Constitution and
Article III, Section 7 of the West Virginia Constitution
require that trial courts apply a stricter standard in
appraising defamation actions filed by public officials or
public figures under a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure.
Unless the complaint demonstrates on its face sufficient
facts to support the elements of a defamation action, the
complaint should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6).
Long at 630, 346 S.E.2d at 780, syl. pt. 3.
first assignment of error, petitioner argues that the circuit
court erred in dismissing his defamation claim against
respondents. The appropriate test for determining defamation
was set forth in syllabus point four of Long, in
which we held:
"[A] public official . . . can sustain an action for
libel only if he can prove that: (1) the alleged libelous
statements were false or misleading; (2) the statements
tended to defame the plaintiff and reflect shame, contumely,
and disgrace upon him; (3) the statements were published with
knowledge at the time of publication that they were false or
misleading or were published with a reckless and willful
disregard of truth; and, (4) the publisher intended to injure
the plaintiff through the knowing or reckless publication of
the alleged libelous material." Syllabus Point 1, in
part, Sprouse v. ...