June 17, 2008
No CPO For Website Comments
The North Carolina Court of Appeals today held that a civil protection order was improperly issued in a case involving "cyberstalking." The conduct at issue:
Plaintiffs alleged defendant had “posted information on her website stating that Erin Knox [Linda Ramsey's daughter] harasses other children and accused [Erin Knox] of being the reason kids hate to go to school.” Plaintiffs also alleged that on numerous occasions defendant had referred to Erin Knox on her website as“endangered,” “offspring,” “bully,” and “possum,” which caused Erin Knox to suffer emotional distress. At the hearing, defendant admitted publishing the following message on her website:
With all the bulling [sic] and harassing that goes on in our school system. Then the trouble that went on Friday at Madison Middle. The first student in that age group that came to mind was Linda Knox's daughter. Wasn't this the student that harassed the Cantrell child? And we wonder why some kids hate to go to school.....
Defendant's website also featured: (1) a voice recording of plaintiffs' deceased mother and grandmother and (2) references to Linda Ramsey as being a “crow,” “idiot,” and “wack.”
The court held:
... the record is wholly devoid of any evidence that tends to show the messages published on defendant's website were intended to and in fact caused plaintiffs to suffer “substantial emotional distress” as is required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50C-1(6). We also note the trial court failed to enter any findings of fact orconclusions of law regarding “substantial emotional distress” for either plaintiff. Id.
Without condoning the language used on defendant's website, the statute does not allow parties to implicate and interject our courts into juvenile hurls of gossip and innuendo between feuding parties where no evidence of any statutory ground is shown to justify entry of a no-contact order. Because the trial court's sole finding of fact does not compel a conclusion that defendant “stalked” plaintiffs in accordance with N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50C-1, the order appealed from is vacated.
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