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Johnson v. Arlotta

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Citation Edit

Johnson v. Arlotta, 2011 WL 6141651 (Minn. App. Ct. Dec. 12, 2011) (full-text).

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

Appellant Andrew John Arlotta brought this appeal in response to the issuance of a 51-year harassment restraining order (HRO) granted against him in connection with his blogging and electronic communications concerning Respondent Ann Marie Johnson. Following the termination of a romantic relationship between the parties, Appellant launched a blog entitled “Help Ann Johnson,” which focused on the alleged physical and mental trauma that had befallen the Respondent during her life. Appellant also proceeded to contact Respondent’s friends, family, and employer, both directly, and through online alter egos, to further voice his “concerns.”

The district court had granted Respondent a 51-year HRO. Appellant appealed, arguing (1) that his speech was not harassment as a matter of law, (2) that the HRO is unconstitutional as a prior restraint, (3) that the HRO is unconstitutionally vague, (4) that alternative remedies were available, and (5) that the district court erred in granting an HRO longer than 50 years. The appellate court rejected all of Appellant’s arguments but the last, agreeing that a 51-year HRO was likely a clerical error.

A district court may grant an HRO if "the court finds at the hearing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent has engaged in harassment."[1] The statute defines "harassment" to include

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.

The district court found that Appellant had sent repeated email communications to the father of Respondent’s child, her friends, family, and employer, and that he had posted message on public websites.

Appellant argued that his communications to third parties were not actually directed at the Respondent and were therefore not harassing under the definition of the applicable statute. This argument was rejected by the appellate court that ruled that the district court’s record clearly supported a determination that Appellant intended his communications to not only reach the Respondent, but to cause her humiliation and embarrassment as well. Also unpersuasive, was Appellant’s thinly veiled attempt at categorizing his communications and postings as concern for the Respondent.

With regard to the Appellant's constitutional arguments, the appellate court held that the HRO was not a prior restraint and that the order was not vague. While the HRO would tend to limit Appellant’s speech, it is well settled that the U.S. Constitution does not protect all forms of speech, including harassing words, "fighting words," and threats. The content of Appellant's speech did not implicate matters of public concern — it was harassing to the Respondent. Because the HRO prohibits unprotected speech, it is not an impermissible prior restraint.

The HRO ordered Appellant to remove the "Help Ann Johnson" blog from the internet and prohibited: (1) any repeated, intrusive, or unwanted acts, words, or gestures that are intended to adversely affect the safety, security, or privacy of Respondent; (2) any contact, direct or indirect, with Respondent in person, by telephone, by email or by other means or persons; and (3) any email or other electronic message contact with third-parties that contains any material concerning Respondent that affects or intends to affect the safety, security, or privacy of the Respondent.

Appellant argued that this order was vague because it did not define the subject matters he could appropriately discuss and did not adequately explain the prohibition against emailing third parties. In rejected Appellant’s argument, the appellate court noted that the only speech that was prohibited was that which would harass, directly or indirectly, the Respondent. As such, the order was clear on the subject matter, and channels of communication, that were available to the Appellant.

References Edit

  1. Minn. Stat. § 609.748, subd. 5(a)(3) (2010).

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