United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
BENNETT J. VONDERHEIDE aka DADDY JUSTICE, Plaintiff,
THE HARRISBURG AREA COMMUNITY COLLEGE, JOHN J. SYGIELSKI, VICTOR E. RAMOS, IVAN A. QUINONES, WILLIAM C. RIVERA, SARA CRILL, and MATTHEW CRILL, Defendants.
G. SMITH EDWARD G. SMITH, J.
pro se plaintiff originally commenced this action
claiming that the defendants violated his First Amendment
rights when they purportedly retaliated against him after he
entered the campus of the defendant community college and
contacted four of its employees. Although the complaint does
not discuss the substance of the plaintiff's
conversations with the four employees, two of the defendants,
who are married parents and adjunct professors at the
community college, believe that the plaintiff was discussing
the welfare of their children with the employees. The married
professors have now filed a counterclaim against the
plaintiff where they assert that he has created two websites
pertaining to them which, inter alia, accuse the
mother of child abuse and indicate that their children may be
in extreme danger due to abuse. The professors also allege
that the plaintiff has sent e-mails to administrators at the
community college with links to these websites. They raise
concerns that the websites are (1) defamatory, (2) interfere
with their contractual relations with the community college,
(3) a false light invasion of privacy, and (4) established to
intentionally cause them severe emotional distress. The
professors are concerned with their well-being and the
well-being of their three minor children, whose names were
posted online along with various allegations about their
physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
professors have now moved for a preliminary injunction
against the plaintiff to, inter alia, have him
remove the two websites from the internet. In resolving this
motion, the court must navigate the intricate balance between
the professors' privacy, reputation, and contractual
relationship rights versus the plaintiff's First
Amendment freedom of speech rights.
court has thoroughly reviewed all evidence in the record and
has considered the parties' arguments in support of their
respective positions. After reviewing the entire record, the
court finds that the professors are entitled to preliminary
injunctive relief because they have shown that they are
likely to succeed on the merits of several of their causes of
action and they have also demonstrated irreparable harm. In
addition, balancing the non-moving party's interest and
the public interest supports granting the motion.
Accordingly, the court will grant the motion for a
preliminary injunction and will direct the plaintiff to
temporarily remove the websites from the internet pending
resolution of this matter.
16, 2019, the pro se plaintiff, Bennett J.
Vonderheide, also known as “Daddy Justice”
(“Mr. Vonderheide”), filed a civil complaint
against Matthew Crill (“Mr. Crill”) and Sara
Crill (“Mrs. Crill”) (collectively, “the
Crills”), The Harrisburg Area Community College
(“HACC”), and against various other members of
the HACC administration. Doc. No. 1. In the complaint, Mr.
Vonderheide appears to allege that the defendants defamed him
and violated his rights under the First Amendment to the
United States Constitution in connection with an April 11,
2019 visit that he made to the Lancaster Campus of the
Harrisburg Area Community College (“HACC”).
See generally Compl. at 3-13.
filed an answer to the complaint on August 12, 2019, and then
filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on August 26,
2019. Doc. Nos. 3, 5. The Crills filed their own answer and a
counterclaim against Mr. Vonderheide on September 10, 2019.
Doc. No. 7.
counterclaim, the Crills allege that they have contracted
with HACC to serve as adjunct professors. Answer, Affirmative
Defenses, and Countercl. of Defs. Sara Crill and Matthew
Crill to Pl.'s Compl. at 17, Doc. No. 7. They believe
that Mr. Vonderheide operates and maintains two websites,
saracrill.com and saracrillhacc.com (collectively, the
“Website” as both addresses redirect to the same
website), with the Website publishing false and defamatory
statements regarding the Crills. For example, they assert
that (1) the Website accuses Mrs. Crill of child abuse; (2)
the Website's heading reads “EXTREME DANGER
ALERT” in all capital letters and bold font; and (3)
the Website has a page alleging the “rage exhibited by
Sara” and asks the reader to be “exceptionally
alert and aware. We have seen to [sic] many cases where
distraught mothers hurt and in many cases actually murder
their own children and then commit suicide.”
Id. at 18. The Website also identifies the
Crills' minor children by name. Id.
Crills allege that Mr. Vonderheide also emailed links to the
Website to HACC administrators and encouraged them to visit
the Website. Id. at 18, 19. Mr. Vonderheide also
visited the HACC campus on September 6, 2019, and during this
visit he posted signs on and around the campus for the
saracrill.com website. Id. at 19. Apparently, Mr.
Vonderheide and others acting on his behalf also posted these
signs at other places in Lancaster City and East Lampeter
on these allegations, the Crills assert causes of action for
(1) defamation, (2) intentional interference with contractual
relations, (3) invasion of privacy, and (4) intentional
infliction of emotional distress. Id. at 20-24. They
seek monetary damages and injunctive relief. Id. at
days after filing the counterclaim, the Crills filed a motion
for a preliminary injunction and for a temporary restraining
order. Doc. No. 9. Mr. Vonderheide submitted a response to
the motion for judgment on the pleadings on September 20,
2019. Doc. No. 13 The court held an evidentiary hearing on
the motion for a preliminary injunction on September 25,
2019. On the day of the hearing, the Crills submitted their
proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Doc. No.
14. Mr. Vonderheide represented himself during the hearing
and requested that the court grant him electronic filing
September 26, 2019, the court issued an order which,
inter alia, (1) granted Mr. Vonderheide's oral
request for electronic filing privileges, (2) directed the
Crills to supplement their proposed findings of fact and
conclusions of law by September 27, 2019, and (3) required
Mr. Vonderheide to submit his response to the motion for a
preliminary injunction or his own proposed findings of fact
and conclusions of law by October 3, 2019. Sept. 26, 2019
Order at 1- 2, Doc. No. 16. The Crills filed their
supplemental proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law
on September 27, 2019. Doc. No. 17. Mr. Vonderheide filed his
answer to the Crills' counterclaim on September 30, 2019,
and he filed his proposed findings of fact and conclusions of
law on October 3, 2019. Doc. Nos. 18, 19.
matter then became ripe for review, but on October 7, 2019,
the Crills filed an amendment with the court revising and
narrowing the relief requested in the motion for a
preliminary injunction. Doc. No. 20. The Crills requested a
court order directing Mr. Vonderheide to remove the Website,
or in the alternative, an order prohibiting Mr. Vonderheide
from directly or indirectly communicating the website
addresses or their contents to the Crills' employer or
potential employers and ordering the removal of the
Crills' minor children's names or statements or
opinions regarding their purported mental or physical health
or condition from the websites. Id.
October 9, 2019, Mr. Vonderheide, in response to the
Crills' amendment with the court, sent a letter to the
court asking for this court to find that the Crills'
injunctive action was frivolous. Doc. No. 21. Mr. Vonderheide
asked the court to find the injunction to be moot, as he has
redacted and removed the three minor children's names,
and he has removed certain statements from the Website that
alleged concerns about excessive computer time impacting the
6 year old's brain, and statements implying that Mrs.
Crill might murder her own children and commit suicide. Mr.
Vonderheide asked this court not to consider the Crills'
amendment to this court, as it was after the timeframe that
the court gave the Crills to file their proposed findings of
fact and conclusions of law. In the interest of justice, this
court has considered both the Crills' amendment to the
court and Mr. Vonderheide's response letter to the court
in ruling on the Crills' motion for a preliminary
FINDINGS OF FACT
carefully considering all the evidence presented during the
evidentiary hearings on September 25, 2019, and after
assigning such weight to the evidence as the court deemed
proper and disregarding the testimony that the court found to
lack credibility, the pertinent facts are as follows:
Crill and Mrs. Crill are a married couple residing in
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Crills have three minor
children ages 6, 11, and 16.
Crills are employed as adjunct professors for the Lancaster
Campus of HACC. The Crills have had a contractual
relationship with HACC and had one in the spring of 2018.
Crills and Mr. Crill's parents do not get along. The
Crills have significant issues with Mr. Crill's father,
David Crill (“paternal grandfather”), and his
wife about the way paternal grandfather was involved in the
Crills' children's lives.
Crills were upset that paternal grandfather would let their
youngest son have unmonitored access to an iPad, on which he
played violent video games.
Crills were also concerned after their youngest son mentioned
that their daughter slept naked in the same bed as paternal
grandfather, although the Crills acknowledge that they have
no evidence that anything inappropriate took place.
Crills also wanted to limit their children's contact with
paternal grandfather after he informed them that he would
never consider their oldest son, who is Mr. Crill's
stepson and Mrs. Crill's son, as part of Mr. Crill's
Crills attempted to set boundaries with paternal grandfather,
which eventually led to the Crills severing their
relationship with him.
Crills know Mr. Vonderheide as paternal grandfather's
good friend, and as a result, they have been acquaintances
with Mr. Vonderheide for several years.
the past, the Crills have paid Mr. Vonderheide to watch their
house and pets while they were away in the past.
May 2019, Mr. Vonderheide established the Website. Crill Aff.
at ¶ 1.
Vonderheide acknowledged on the record during the court's
teleconference on September 19, 2019, that he was responsible
for creating and maintaining the Website.
Website implies that Mrs. Crill abuses her three children and
that the three children suffer from various mental and
emotional conditions. The Website identified the Crills'