Cyberstalking: Husbands, Wives & Girlfriends

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Domestic Violence on Sunday, September 27, 2015.

Florida domestic violence laws are broad. They provide protection against violence between spouses and partners. But can a girlfriend or boyfriend get protection from the threats of a wife or husband for cyberstalking?

Don’t laugh, as I’ve written before, social media and blogging has become a part of family law. And domestic violence issues – such as cyberstalking – come up frequently.

One recent appeal from the Florida appellate district including Tampa, arose out of an eighteen-month affair a woman named Kersey had with a very married Dr. Leach.

After Dr. Lynch’s wife learned of the affair, she started contacting Kersey by phone, by messages and “friend” requests on Facebook, and posted Kersey was a “homewrecker” on a public blog.

Kersey, worried that something was up with the wife of Dr. Leach trying to friend her and contact her, and applied for an injunction. Florida Statutes provides for an injunction against stalking, including cyberstalking, and the statute is reviewed the same as injunctions against repeat violence.

Before seeing how the courts handled Ms. Kersey’s petition for protection, a few definitions:

Stalking occurs when a person “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person.”

“Harass means to engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose.”

Cyberstalking involves a course of conduct through “electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose.”

Substantial emotional distress involves the courts looking to whether a reasonable person in the petitioner’s shoes thinks.

In Kersey’s case, the appellate court found her evidence did not show that the wife’s contacts “serve[d] no legitimate purpose.” The Court thought Dr. Leach’s Wife was contacting her for the legitimate purpose of telling Kersey to stay away from her husband.

In addition, the evidence did not show that messaging and Facebook friend requests would cause a reasonable person in Kersey’s circumstances to suffer substantial emotional distress.

The court thought a reasonable woman – who had an eighteen-month affair with another woman’s husband – would actually “expect to hear the scorn of an angry wife.”

What about posting on a public blog that Kersey was “a Homewrecker?”

The appellate court held that even if Mrs. Leach’s blog posting served no legitimate purpose – and would cause substantial emotional distress to a reasonable person – it only constitutes one incident of stalking, and you need to prove two incidents of stalking.

The opinion can be read here.