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Recent Law Makes It Harder To Obtain Stalking Injunctions

If you’ve been served with a Petition for Injunction for Protection against Stalking, sometimes referred to as a “restraining order”, there’s good news for you.  A recent case from the First District Court of Appeal has made it harder to get a stalking injunction.

In Venn v. Fowlkes, 43 Fla.L.Weekly D2455 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018) Mr. Venn filed a Petition for Protection Against Domestic Violence against Ms. Venn with whom he shared a child from their 15 year relationship.  Mr. Fowlkes’s Petition alleged Ms. Venn stalked and harassed him 24/7 at his work and home, and harassed him by filing a child support case. The allegations included that Ms. Venn called Mr. Fowlkes numerous times without leaving a message; knocked on the door of his house and ran; created problems at the restaurant where he works; claimed to have many pictures of him and his wife; called and bothered Mr. Fowlkes’s brother; claimed to be in fear of Mr. Fowlkes; and told a third-party that she would “get the crackers on [him].”  Claiming to be “tired of [Ms. Venn’s] games, [her] stalking, [and her] harassment through the child support case,” Mr. Fowlkes’s Petition requested the trial court to stop it immediately by granting him an injunction.

At the injunction hearing, Mr. Fowlkes testified the allegations in his petition were true and correct.  He provided no further substantive testimony. Ms. Venn objected to the injunction and testified she had legitimate reasons for visiting Mr. Fowlkes’s workplace and home. For example, Ms. Venn informed the court she had gone to the restaurant several times with the parties’ minor daughter, at the daughter’s request and after Mr. Fowlkes had invited the daughter to eat there. Ms. Venn also acknowledge placing something in Mr. Fowlkes’s mailbox related to her child support case against him. Ms. Venn contended Mr. Fowlkes’s petition was filed in retaliation for her having filed a child support case against him.

The trial court agreed Mr. Fowlkes’s Petition properly proved his claim of stalking.  Accordingly, the trial court entered a permanent injunction against Ms. Venn.  Ms. Venn appealed.  Interestingly, both Ms. Venn and Mr. Fowlkes, who had represented themselves in the trial court, retained some of the best Jacksonville lawyers to represent them on appeal.

The appellate court reversed the final judgment of injunction, meaning Mr. Fowlkes lost his injunction against Ms. Venn.  In doing so, the court first noted “[a] person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking.” The court then stated “[h]arass” 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.”

The court then found that while Mr. Fowlkes alleged numerous acts of harassment, he did not sufficiently establish Ms. Venn’s conduct caused him substantial emotional distress. Rather, the court noted the “substantial emotional distress” that is necessary to support a stalking injunction is greater than just an ordinary feeling of distress. The court further observed under Florida law, a reasonable person does not suffer substantial emotional distress easily.

The court then concluded neither Mr. Fowlkes’s Petition nor Ms. Venn’s testimony supported the trial court’s conclusion Ms. Venn’s alleged conduct would have caused a reasonable person in Mr. Fowlkes’s position to experience substantial emotional distress as required to obtain a permanent stalking injunction. The court concluded by stating “[c]ertainly Mr. Fowlkes’s petition, and its description of the years after his personal relationship ended with Ms. Venn, shows that he is annoyed, frustrated, and feeling harassed in his dealings with Ms. Venn, and with the pending child support issue relating to their daughter. But his petition and these circumstances do not demonstrate that Ms. Venn’s actions would have caused an objective, reasonable person in his situation to suffer substantial emotional distress.”

Stalking and other types of injunctions are serious proceedings that can have a permanent, adverse effect on your life.   If you’ve been served with an injunction for protection against domestic violence, dating violence, repeat violence, sexual violence or stalking it’s important to contact a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney knowledgeable about the exacting legal standards required to obtain injunctions and methods of preventing a temporary injunction from becoming permanent.  That way you’ll have the best chance of avoiding the stress, stigma, inconvenience and potentially  serious collateral consequences on your job or immigration status of having a permanent injunction entered against you.  If you’d like to know more about how I can help you with your injunction or restraining order matter in Duval, Clay, Nassau, Baker or St. Johns Counties call me for a free consultation.