Redmond v. Heller

Decision Date28 May 2020
Docket NumberNo. 347505, No. 347558,347505
Parties Martha REDMOND, Arthur McNabb, and Redmond Funeral Home, Plaintiffs/Counterdefendants-Appellees, v. Theresa HELLER, Defendant-Appellant, and Paul Heller, Defendant, and Dennis Lewis Wolf, Defendant-Counterplaintiff. Martha Redmond, Arthur McNabb, and Redmond Funeral Home, Plaintiffs/Counterdefendants-Appellees, v. Theresa Heller and Paul Heller, Defendants, and Dennis Lewis Wolf, Defendant/Counterplaintiff-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Lewis, Reed & Allen, PC, Kalamazoo (by Ronald W. Ryan ) for Martha Redmond, Arthur McNabb, and Redmond Funeral Home.

Varnum LLP, Kalamazoo (by John W. Allen ) for Theresa Heller.

Dennis L. Wolf in propria persona.

Before: Murray, C.J., and Meter and K. F. Kelly, JJ.

Murray, C.J.


In these consolidated appeals involving allegedly defamatory publications, defendants Theresa Heller and Dennis Lewis Wolf separately appeal by right the trial court's judgment in favor of plaintiffs, Martha Redmond, Arthur McNabb, and Redmond Funeral Home. Specifically, after it granted plaintiffsmotion for partial summary disposition, the trial court entered orders enjoining Theresa and Dennis from publishing certain defamatory statements about plaintiffs. We affirm in part and reverse in part the order granting plaintiffsmotion for partial summary disposition, vacate the permanent injunctions, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


The origins of this case arose from the death of Theresa and Dennis's 12-year-old son, Charles Wolf, in July 2015. The medical examiner's office released Charles's body to McNabb of Redmond Funeral Home on July 28, 2015. McNabb testified that he picked up Charles's body with another staffer from Redmond Funeral Home, Shawn Winfield, and transported it to the funeral home. Redmond, the owner of Redmond Funeral Home, was arranging Charles's funeral with Theresa's parents when Charles's body arrived. Craig Daily embalmed and washed the body, and then McNabb and Winfield dressed and prepared the body for viewing. The visitation and funeral occurred on July 31, 2015. It is undisputed that McNabb was not present for Charles's visitation or funeral because he was working at a funeral at another location.

After Theresa discovered what she considered to be the "outright lies" involved with the investigation into her son's death, she decided to investigate every name associated with the handling of her son's body. She obtained documents from the coroner's office, discovered that McNabb signed for her son's remains, and subsequently discovered that McNabb was a convicted sex offender. Theresa called Redmond in the fall of 2015 to warn her about McNabb, and according to Theresa, Redmond lied and said that she did not know that McNabb was a sex offender.

Police reports associated with McNabb's conviction show that McNabb met a 15-year-old high school student at a computer game store. McNabb admitted that he purchased items for the teen, and the teen told an investigating officer that McNabb performed oral sex on him. The reports also suggest that McNabb engaged in grooming behavior; specifically, a witness described McNabb as repeatedly hanging out at an Arby's restaurant and interacting with a teen. In 2006, McNabb was convicted of two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, MCL 750.520d, and was sentenced to prison.

After his conviction, the Board of Examiners in Mortuary Science (BEMS) revoked McNabb's license in November 2007, but the BEMS reinstated his license in October 2015. At a meeting held in November 2015, Redmond Funeral Home's board of directors appointed McNabb as the funeral director for one of its branch locations.

In June 2016, Theresa e-mailed Redmond, and asked for information about her son's funeral. After receiving a response, she asked for information about the specific time that her son's body arrived at the funeral home, but according to Redmond, she did not keep records of arrival times. In that same month, Paul Heller—Theresa's brother—posted an Internet blog entry discussing McNabb, implying that there was a conspiracy of sex predators involved with his nephew's body. He wrote that McNabb was a "pedophile" and "child rapist who had kiddie porn on his computer as well, all of which got him sent to prison for six and a half years." He further wrote: "Who is to say that anything untoward happened? Who is to say anything didn't? Where does the benefit of the doubt lie? You decide." He then wrote that McNabb was not one of "WMed's pedophiles," but that he picked up the body, and it was a "strange coincidence" that another man from "WMed" had been accused of sexual misconduct, and his name also appeared on documents associated with Charles's body.

In November 2016, Redmond Funeral Home's lawyer sent Theresa a letter, noting that Theresa had contacted the Paw Paw State Police Post no fewer than 37 times, had been seen driving by the funeral home on several occasions, and had been posting false claims on the Internet. He demanded that she cease and desist all contact with or regarding Redmond Funeral Home. The following month Theresa was again in contact with the Michigan State Police. She wrote to an officer that she had spoken with another local funeral director, who told her that McNabb was the "worst of the worst." That same month she also filed a complaint against Redmond Funeral Home with the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).

Theresa also posted messages on Facebook in December 2016, describing McNabb as a "sick pedophile" who owned "violent child porn." She wrote that Redmond's lawyers were trying to intimidate her and prevent her from exercising her First Amendment rights, and she noted that the funeral home had two locations, one in Kalamazoo and one in Parchment. Theresa also noted that the funeral home catered to Catholic churches, and that she was trying to get the word out "about the pedophile that my poor son's body was alone with for three days at REDMOND FUNERAL HOME IN KALAMAZOO." She also wrote that the "perv is Arthur McNabb who raped a boy in Paw Paw and served six years in prison," and that Redmond had helped McNabb get his license back. Theresa further wrote that it was her "mission" to make sure that no other child's body passed "through this monster's hands." She then posted a link to McNabb's sex offender registry page and asked everyone to get the word out about the funeral home and McNabb. Theresa also identified Redmond's law firm and opined that they did not have any problem "covering up for pedophiles."

Theresa made additional statements against Redmond and McNabb in another post:

It is Arthur McNabb. This is a danger because he had moved from one small town to another all over [southwest] Michigan before he was caught in Paw Paw at the age of 38. He hunts at fast food places, video gaming stores, and funeral homes. This is thanks to MARTHA REDMOND, who ruined her family name by hiring this pedophile on the cheap. She lied to me, and not only my son but his cousins and all his friends were exposed to this pervert at Charlie's funeral. When Charlie's father and I objected, she lied to us, assaulted Charlie's father, and sicced her brother's law firm, LEWIS REED AND ALLEN, on me. This, after losing my precious little boy.

In March 2017, Theresa filed a complaint against Redmond Funeral Home with the Better Business Bureau.

Throughout the spring and summer of 2017, Theresa continued to post statements about defendants on the Internet. For example, in an April 2017 post to Facebook, Theresa wrote that McNabb "served six years in prison for raping boys he picked from grieving families." In a July 2017 Facebook post, she identified McNabb's home address and stated that his "preferred victims"—present tense—were "young teenage boys." In another post, Theresa stated that the BEMS reinstated McNabb's license because, in its view, his inappropriate relationship had nothing to do with his status as a funeral director. She further commented, "What? He didn't sodomize his customers[’] children? Some of your kids were there at Charlie's Funeral. How does that make you feel?" In an August 2017 post, Theresa again warned that McNabb "targets teenage boys who like video games and nice shirts."

By August 2017, plaintiffs had seen enough and sued Theresa, Dennis, and Paul. They alleged that Theresa had engaged in threatening and intimidating behavior, which included driving past the funeral home slowly and posting false messages to social media. McNabb alleged under Count I that each defendant violated MCL 28.730 by using the sex offender registry to injure, harass, or commit a crime against an individual named in the registry. Plaintiffs alleged under Count II that each defendant engaged in business defamation, which harmed their business interests, while under Count III plaintiffs alleged that each defendant invaded each plaintiff's privacy by disseminating information that put them in a false light. Under Count IV, plaintiffs alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress, harassment, stalking, and unconsented contact, which they claimed violated MCL 600.2954 and MCL 750.411h. For Count V, Redmond and McNabb alleged that each defendant posted false and defamatory statements that amounted to defamation per se and harmed them. In their final claim, Count VI, plaintiffs alleged that each defendant had intentionally caused them emotional distress. Plaintiffs asked the trial court to award damages and equitable relief in the form of an injunction against further defamatory postings.

Plaintiffs also asked the trial court to enter a temporary restraining order and to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not be entered to prohibit defendants from continuing to post false statements. The trial court entered the temporary restraining order on...

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