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17 Apr 2009


Website ordered to pay $125,000 over ‘haunted’ mill claim


By Nancy Bowman

Staff Writer

BETHEL TWP., Miami County — Staley Mill’s owner, who claimed false tales about the historic property being haunted turned her life into a nightmare, has received a judgment for more than $125,000 against a Columbus website operator.

Melissa Duer also was granted her request for a court order against Columbus-resident Andrew Henderson’s use of the Staley tale on the forgottenohio.com web site or any other site. The findings were made by Judge Robert Lindeman in Miami County Common Pleas Court.

Duer filed suit individually and for family trusts against those behind the book “Weird Ohio” and the Web site.

She is a descendant of Eli Staley, who built the Staley Mill, the oldest standing grist mill in the state. Duer claimed stories published about the mill, the Staley family and their history dating to the 1820s have attracted countless ghost hunters and the curious.

That activity forced her and her husband to spend thousands of dollars on security measures at the mill including $35,000 for an estate dog, Duer testified at a March hearing.

Just before that hearing, Lindeman ruled for “Weird Ohio,” saying those responsible for the book did not place the Duers in a false light, had no intent of emotional distress and had not trespassed or caused anyone else to trespass on the property. He issued a default judgment for Duer in the claim against Henderson and the web site after Henderson failed to respond to the legal challenge.

Duer’s lawyer, Jeremy Tomb of Troy, said the ruling in favor of the “Weird Ohio” authors will be appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeals.

“We think they share some of the blame,” he said. The Staley story was removed from a second printing of the “Weird Ohio” book, he said.

If the information on the Staley property is not removed from the web site, he will file for contempt, Tomb said. The Duers are obviously happy” with the judge’s ruling on damages and the order to remove the information from the web, he said.

Lindeman said evidence in the court record did not show actual malice on the part of Henderson. Because Henderson did not respond to the suit, it was appropriate legally to grant Duer’s request for damages, he said.

The damages claimed included: $1,921 for an invisible fence; $1,710 for private security; $27,606 for diminished value to the property from rumors it is haunted; $57,217 in legal fees; $6,340 in litigation expenses; and $35,000 for the dog.

Duer testified extra money was spent on the dog specially trained to be under command.

“We didn’t want just any pet or regular dog that could possibly bite people,” she said in court.

The dog was seen as more affordable thanpaying off-duty sheriff’s deputies to provide security around-the-clock.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2292 or nbowman@DaytonDailyNews.com.

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