Father of girl at center of adoption controversy sues former foster parents, 15 others for defamation

The father of the young girl at the center of an interstate custody battle has filed a lawsuit against the child’s former foster parents and 15 other people seeking unspecified damages for defamation of character. John E. McCaul Jr. of Nebraska filed the suit in Dickson County Circuit Court asking a judge to ban David and Kim Hodgin and others from posting pictures of 9-year-old Sonya McCaul or comments about the custody dispute on Facebook, other social media sites or the Internet and from commenting on the case in the news media. The Hodgins have appealed a Dickson County Juvenile Court order giving McCaul physical custody of his daughter, who remains in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. McCaul’s lawsuit lists not only the Hodgins as defendants, but also a South Carolina psychologist, a Dickson gymnastics school and several other people across the country for having made defamatory comments in the media or on the Internet. A hearing on McCaul’s request for a temporary restraining order is scheduled for July 7 in Charlotte. The lawsuit states that following McCaul’s release from federal prison, custody of Sonya was returned to him “to the great dismay of defendants David Hodgin and Kim Hodgin,” who had been foster parents to the girl for eight years and had their adoption overturned by the court of appeals. The lawsuit claims the Hodgins and their supporters “launched a full-on defamatory attack on the character” of McCaul through many social media outlets. He claims he cannot leave his Nebraska home because of the reporters camped outside and he has been referred to as a “pedophile” and Sonya’s return termed a “kidnapping.” The lawsuit filed by Clarksville attorney Carrie Gasaway seeks compensatory and punitive damages to be determined by the court as well as reasonable attorney fees from the defendants. Several defendants who live in other states have filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed because the Tennessee courts have no jurisdiction over out-of-state-defendants and that defamation claims must be made in the county where the alleged defamatory action originated or in the defendants’ home counties. Jennifer Roberts, the Dickson attorney representing the Hodgins, has subpoenaed McCaul for a June 16 deposition for which he is to bring all the documents relating to his termination from his job. Other than the Hodgins, the only other local defendant named in the lawsuit is Flips Gym in Pomona, owned by Terri Jarman, while Goodlettsville resident Katico Cadwallader, who identifies herself on Facebook as an employee of David Hodgin, also is a defendant. The remaining defendants include Dr. Bonnie Cleavelend, a South Carolina psychologist who authored a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam, a healthcare marketing company in South Carolina, an attorney for the Hodgins and individuals in Maryland, Alabama, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and South Carolina.