Pepperdine University Files Lawsuit over 'Mr. Malibu' Sewage Videos
• Officials Say False Assertions of Illegal Discharge Damage School's Reputation in the Community and Beyond
BY BILL KOENEKER
Pepperdine University is not amused by the flamboyance of Mr. Malibu's on camera persona—real name Cary ONeal—whose website and Facebook comments about alleged sewage discharge have gotten him in hot water with school officials.
In a legal complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on April 11, attorneys for the university are charging ONeal with libel and "invasion of privacy by placing person in false light in public eye."
"I can confirm we filed a lawsuit. The claims in the videos that were posted are totally false. We filed the lawsuit after making several serious attempts to resolve it," said Jerry Derloshon, the school's senior director of public affairs.
But ONeal's first concern is,"Will you please spell my name correctly? It is Cary ONeal," said ONeal, who indicated Pepperdine's attorneys did not spell his name correctly.
ONeal said he was surprised by Pepperdine's action. "I couldn't believe they wouldn't pick up the phone and talk to me. They could have told me about their side. It is just so confrontational a position."
According to the lawsuit, Pepperdine learned ONeal uploaded a video to his YouTube channel and Facebook page entitled "Sewage Effluent on Malibu Beach" that originally had the subject line: "Pepperdine recklessly dumps sewage on Malibu Beach."
The video stated, according to the lawsuit, "Pepperdine claims there has been no dumping down Marie Canyon for ten years." It then features video footage of the Los Angeles County Malibu Mesa Water Reclamation facility. It then displays the following message, "Pepperdine caught dumping sewage effluent on Malibu Beach March 25, 2012. Dumping recalls third world open ditch sewers."
School officials said they quickly contacted ONeal by email insisting the allegations "were patently false and defamatory," and demanding that they be removed.
Pepperdine pointed out to the court the sewage plant is operated by Los Angeles County's Public Works Department and explained the PWD can legally discharge, "In emergency situations and subject to certain protocol, to discharge disinfected tertiary treated reclaimed water into Marie Canyon, but that no such discharge had occurred since 2005."
"Such infrequent discharges are directly attributable to the partnership between Los Angeles County and Pepperdine, wherein Pepperdine reuses the resulting tertiary treated Title 22 recycled water for irrigation, rather than releasing the resulting effluent in an ocean outflow, which is common practice in the industry," the legal complaint goes on to state.
The lawsuit notes school officials informed the defendant there was no dumping of sewage or reclaimed water on March 25 and later confirmed that LA Public Works did not discharge disinfected tertiary treated reclaimed water or sewage on that date and that there were no sewage flows on that date either.
"More importantly, Pepperdine itself does not discharge disinfected tertiary treated reclaimed water into Marie Canyon or onto any Malibu beaches."
A storm drain shown in the original video is connected to a storm drain and releases precipitation in the form of storm water.
"Thus any 'torrential' outflow from the culvert on March 25 was due to significant amount of rain that day," the brief states.
University officials started their own campaign of posting comments on Mr. Malibu's website and Facebook charging the claims made by him were "patently false." However, school officials maintain ONeal removed those comments.
According to the legal brief, Pepperdine's attempts to respond were met with a second video posted on YouTube entitled "Adam Sandler—Tom Hanks—Pink—David Duchovny—Malibu homes under siege."
The university's lawyers said that video suggested that Pepperdine is dumping sewage effluent into waters near the celebrities' homes.
This video also reportedly contained information about Pepperdine's counter actions and alleges that school officials had Mr. Malibu's Facebook pages removed in retaliation and informed his audience that the university's had sent a cease and desist letter.
Pepperdine's attorneys assert the content of the original video "are demonstrably false and defamatory to Pepperdine," and the defendant's statement about "third world open ditch sewers" is libelous.
"Defendant's statements and representations clearly expose Pepperdine to hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy because they accuse Pepperdine of illegally, immorally, and/or surreptitiously dumping sewage effluent into a Malibu beach and the Pacific Ocean and tend to injure its reputation in the Malibu community and beyond. Similarly, the publicity created by defendant casts Pepperdine in a false light. It falsely reports that Pepperdine operates a sewage treatment plant and dumped sewage effluent from that plant onto a Malibu beach and into the Pacific Ocean, when, in fact none of the foregoing is true. The publicity created by defendant is offensive and objectionable to Pepperdine and to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities in that it tends to make Pepperdine the objection of derision and contempt as a criminal dumper of a regulated substance and/or unconscientious or unscrupulous community member," according to the lawsuit.
The complaint notes that school officials have been contacted by Malibu residents regarding the videos.
The legal brief goes on to state university officials have information that the videos were sent to county officials and federal law enforcement agencies via a tip line where ONeal described Pepperdine's alleged actions as a form of "ecoterrorism."
"Pepperdine became aware of defendant's malicious allegations by a Special Agent of the Drug Enforcement Agency [an agency reportedly contacted by ONeal]. This is especially harmful to the university, as Pepperdine relies on a successful partnership with law enforcement agencies to ensure the health and safety of its community."
Pepperdine is seeking general damages, special damages, exemplary or punitive damages to be determined in court.
The school also wants a preliminary injunction and permanent injunction from publishing, distributing or uploading any of the videos or statements accusing Pepperdine of the allegations.