Recently the Utah Court of Appeals issued a ruling in an appeal concerning a Utah civil stalking injunction. The case is Roper v. Shovan, 2013 UT App 124. In that case the court addressed whether the district court erred in issuing the injunction. An appellate court will overturn a district court’s decision in a civil stalking case only if there was “clear error” or the court has a firm conviction that a mistake was made.
In this case, Roper and Shovan were spouses going through a divorce proceeding and they also had children together. The wife alleged that husband acted in a confrontational and harassing manner when he picked up the kids on a couple of occasions at wife’s neighborhood and at the kids’ school. Wife argued that these two incidents constituted a “course of conduct” as required by the statute and that such course of conduct placed her to fear for her safety and suffer emotional distress. The district court agreed and found that husband’s showing up to pick up the kids and acting in a confrontational manner on those two occasions was enough to satisfy the statute and issued the stalking injunction.
On appeal, husband’s main contention was that the district court incorrectly considered how wife “felt” in ruling on the injunction. The appellate court, however, found that the district court properly considered wife’s feelings because the statute requires that a “reasonable person” would suffer fear or emotional distress and so wife’s reaction to husband was considered in the reasonable person analysis.
Lessons from Roper
There are two lessons that one may take from this case. First, the appellate court reaffirmed the relatively low burden of the statute. A person bringing a civil stalking injunction need only show two or more instances when the respondent acted in a way that would cause the petition fear for his physical safety OR emotional distress. Emotional distress is so arbitrary and capricious that a judge can technically make a finding of emotional distress based on any facts.
Second, it is extremely difficult to overturn a district court’s ruling on a civil stalking injunction, so you better win at the district court level.
Give us a call if you are involved in a stalking case and need legal representation. 801.413.1753.