The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently held that a plaintiff’s harassment order was wrongfully extended because there was insufficient evidence of harassment. Specifically, there was no evidence that the defendant acted with intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse, or damage to property.Defendant Kinzy Reason and plaintiff Elizabeth Gassman lived in the same apartment in Brighton, Massachusetts. Reason lived in an apartment unit directly below Gassman, who played the piano frequently–a source of continued annoyance and distress for Reason.
In June 2013, Gassman moved for an ex parte harassment prevention order pursuant to Massachusetts law against Reason. During a hearing, the judge asked Gassman whether she feared for her safety, and Gassman responded that she did. After the hearing, the judge issued an ex parte stay away order. At a second hearing, the same judge extended the order for a year.
At the end of this period, Gassman again moved to extend the order before a different judge. Gassman offered police reports to demonstrate a violation of the existing harassment prevention order. She also requested that Reason be evicted for “six years of unrelenting harassment.” Gassman told the judge that Reason had called the police to her door four times for playing the piano. She complained that Reason had violated the order by standing directly in front of the elevator door and forcing Gassman to squeeze past her to get by.
Reason’s counsel asked to have the order vacated. Counsel argued that Reason also had been harassed by Gassman but did not seek a harassment prevention order for herself because she did not want to escalate the altercation. Reason then testified that the perpetual noise distressed her immensely and that she had tried unsuccessfully to obtain emergency housing elsewhere.
The judge extended the order for six months. Reason timely appealed. In the interim, another judge extended the order until June 2015.
The appeals court first considered whether the appeal that expired in June 2015 was moot. The court concluded that the order was not moot. Instead, it simply expired at the end of the extension period. Reason did not obtain a judicial termination of the order or an order that law enforcement should destroy all copies of it (which are required by precedent to render it moot).
The court next reviewed the legitimacy of the harassment order. Gassman testified multiple times that Reason caused her to fear for her personal safety. The judges credited that testimony, and the question was only whether Gassman in fact was afraid, not whether the fear was reasonable. However, the court explained, a plaintiff also must prove that the defendant acted with intent to cause fear, abuse, intimidation, or property damage.
The appeals court held that there was was no evidence that Reason intended to cause harm to Gassman. There was no evidence of a true threat. Numerous noise complaints cannot, the court explained, reasonably be construed as intimidation, intending to cause fear of physical harm or property damage.
A single application for a complaint against the plaintiff, alleging an assault and battery, the court reasoned, cannot credibly be described as an act of harassment under Massachusetts law under the circumstances of this case. Even considering the entire interaction between the parties over several years, the court concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the extended protection order.
The court vacated the order extending the harassment order and remanded.
If you have been harmed by another party’s harassment, you may need the assistance of an injury lawyer to seek compensation. At the Neumann Law Group, our Massachusetts personal injury attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to accident victims all over the state. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.
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