Forest Stearns, who was found not guilty of animal cruelty after a bench trial in February, has filed a civil complaint against his accusers in that case.
Filed in Teton County District Court on Friday, the complaint seeks damages for defamation, interference with a business contract and civil conspiracy.
Named as defendants in the complaint are Mary Wendell Lampton, Leigh Vogel, Robin Winters, Pia Valar, Liz Hirschland, Barbara Zimmer, Cody Sloan, Kim Harrington and others who have not yet been identified.
Dick Mulligan, attorney for Stearns, estimates his client will seek $1 million in damages, at least.
“I think it might have been a low estimate,” Mulligan told the Jackson Hole Daily.
In the 28-page complaint, Mulligan says the defendants ruined his client’s reputation and caused Stearns to lose his outfitting business.
“The outrageous misconduct of defendants is beyond all bounds of decency and wholly intolerable in a civilized society,” Mulligan wrote.
Stearns is seeking compensatory damages “in amounts to be proven at trial,” punitive damages “for their willful and wanton misconduct,” costs and attorney fees, and other relief as the court deems just and proper.
Stearns was cited for cruelty to animals by the Teton County Sheriff’s Office in August 2017 after a video taken by Lampton was put online. The video showed Stearns with a horse named Buddy tied to a fence post and lying on his side to be shod.
Buddy’s subsequent death was the focus of the criminal investigation.
The civil complaint says Lampton and the other defendants published false statements about Stearns on a widely shared Facebook page originally called, “Justice for Horses of Stearns Outfitters — Wyoming.”
It also says the defendants got Stearns’ permits and licenses taken away by calling Brooks Lake Lodge and the State of Wyoming Board of Outfitters and Professional Guides. The complaint alleges that the page’s administrator posted numerous calls to action, including asking people to contact all businesses that would refer people to Stearns Outfitters.
On Feb. 27, Teton County Circuit Court Judge James Radda found Stearns not guilty.
But even after the acquittal, Mulligan said in the complaint, the defendants continued to post defamatory information about his client online.
The Facebook page “Justice for Horses of Stearns Outfitters — Wyoming,” has since been renamed to “Justice for Buddy — Wilson, Wyoming.” The page had 1,459 “likes” as of Sunday afternoon, with 1,557 people following it.
Read more about the case in Wednesday’s edition of the Jackson Hole News&Guide.