We’ve all occasionally wished for a little space from others, but when does another’s conduct qualify as “harassment” in Minnesota? What actions can give a person the right to obtain a harassment restraining order?
“Harassing” conduct under the statute has seven different definitions. This article will focus on one: the most commonly used of the group by victims, which is also the most confusing. Before we go there, here is a list of the other six:
- A single incident of physical assault;
- A single incident of sexual assault;
- A single incident of stalking;
- A single incident of nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images;
- Targeted residential picketing; and
- A pattern of attending public events after being notified that the actor’s presence at the event is harassing to another.
Why are these six more rarely used than the other (which, I know, still hasn’t been defined in this article; you’ll understand why in a couple sentences)? Probably because the first four are criminal offenses, and the victim might easily be able to obtain a no-contact order as a part of the criminal case, making a restraining order somewhat redundant. The last two seem rare by their definitions; e.g. who engages in ‘targeted residential picketing’? It can’t be a long list.
The most frequently used ground for obtaining a restraining order is defined as:
“Repeated incidents of intrusive or unwanted acts, words, or gestures that have a substantial adverse effect or are intended to have a substantial adverse effect on the safety, security, or privacy of another, regardless of the relationship between the actor and the intended target.”
That’s a long, complicated sentence. A little ‘unpacking’ is in order.
For this prong of the restraining order statute, a victim must show multiple instances of the culprit’s conduct to succeed. You’ll notice that four of the other six definitions for “harassment” don’t include this requirement. The rationale seems straightforward: we want to limit harassment cases to those of a more serious level, and since this prong of the rule allows a wide stream of conduct (any intrusive or unwanted act, etc.), it’s probably wise to have a limiting valve of “repeated incidents.”
The primary question here is whether multiple acts in the same confrontation count as “repeated incidents.” The answer is ‘no.’ “[T]here must be repeated incidents of unwanted or intrusive conduct, not merely repeated acts within a single incident.” Schultz v. Ryan.
The Context Of The Incident
First, (and surprisingly), it doesn’t matter which party initiated the contact, which led to the harassment. Kush v. Mathison. If Bob harasses Sally, and then Sally harasses Bob in return, Bob can still obtain a harassment restraining order. If Sally was also harassed, she can seek her own restraining order against Bob, but it doesn’t forgive her own harassing conduct.
Second, the events surrounding the conduct don’t excuse the harassing activity. Kush v. Mathison. It doesn’t matter that your harassing actions were perhaps justified by the context of the situation. For instance, imagine your home is burning to the ground while you stand outside watching. Your neighbor wanders over and laughs in your face at your misfortune. You react by shoving your neighbor while yelling insults at him. Your action may be understandable, in light of the context, but it will not excuse harassment, and a restraining order may be granted for your conduct.
Harassing From Whose Perspective?
The Court will consider the conduct of both a subjective and objective standard. First, the actor must engage in conduct or intend to engage in conduct, which is objectively or subjectively unreasonable. Dunham v. Roer; Kush. Either the conduct must be obviously harassing, or it must be intended to be so; either will qualify.
The same is true from the victim’s perspective. There can be objectively harassing conduct, but which does not actually bother the victim. And there can be conduct which an ordinary person would not deem ‘harassing,’ but which bothers the actual, fragile victim.
A Few Examples
Harassment restraining order cases are common but are not appealed often. In the cases that have been appealed in Minnesota, the following behaviors were sufficient to support the entry of a restraining order. However, in some cases, the Court considered the below behaviors independently, and in others, considered them in conjunction with other acts.
- Telephone threats of physical violence.
- Use of crude and profane language.
- Blocking or restricting access to another’s property.
- Constantly telling another that he will “regret” doing a certain thing, and he’ll be taken to court, which will be an expensive and a losing proposition.
- Blocking another’s path for 3-4 minutes while threatening a physical interaction.
And a short list of behaviors found not harassing (although results may differ in your own case with the addition or removal or other facts):
- Looking once (from outside of vehicle into the vehicle’s interior) to see if a car seat is installed (although multiple attempts to peer into a person’s vehicle might be enough).
- Peering into a place, vehicle, or structure where another person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy (again, unless numerous times).
- Reporting another to the police, when there is no evidence that the report was falsely made, or when there is no evidence the reporter made the report with the intention to harass.
- Inappropriate or argumentative statements alone are not considered harassment.
Call An Attorney
Hopefully, this article has been helpful to you. But the definition of harassment is heavily nuanced, and legal representation is a must; both to diagnose and to present the case. Failing to offer a seemingly unimportant piece of evidence might be the difference between winning and losing your restraining order matter. An experienced attorney will make sure you have the best chance at success.
If you have questions regarding the topic of this article or need assistance with a harassment restraining order or an order for protection (OFP), please call our family law team at 701-297-2890 or email us below.
The information contained in this article and on this website is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to your particular set of facts.