Have you or a loved one been the target of abusive or harassing conduct? Is there someone that you wish would just leave you alone? This year the S.J.C. clarified what is needed to obtain a “harassment prevention order” in Massachusetts.
“Harassment prevention orders” are available to protect victims of harassment, stalking, and sexual assault. See G.L. c. 258E. One way that a harassment prevention order can be issued is if a plaintiff shows three or more willful and malicious acts directed at a specific person with the intent to cause fear, and fear actually results from the defendant’s acts. (See additional eligible forms of harassment at G.L. c. 258E, § 1.)
In Seney v. Morhy the court emphasized that harassing acts must be directed at the plaintiff. 467 Mass. 58 (2014). The harassing acts alleged by the plaintiff, an assistant Little League baseball coach, included an email from the defendant (a parent) to the head coach, expressing concern about the plaintiff’s coaching. The court found that this email failed to meet c. 258E, § 1’s definition of harassment, because “it was not directed at him and was not motivated by cruelty, hostility, or revenge.” Without the email, the plaintiff lacked the three acts of harassment required for a prevention order.
In Smith v. Mastalerz, the S.J.C. emphasized that the harassing acts must be three distinct acts, and that they must be willful and malicious. See SJC-11039, slip op. (January 28, 2014). The plaintiff alleged that three acts of harassment occurred when “the defendant drove past her while she unpacked her vehicle at the front of her home, stopped a few houses away on that street, turned around, drove past her again, and a few seconds later drove by the home again.” The S.J.C. found that this was “one continuous act,” given the very short period of time involved. Furthermore, the court held that there was insufficient evidence that these drive-bys were willful or malicious, since the defendant lived down the street from the plaintiff.
In both Smith and Seney, the plaintiffs failed to allege the required three qualifying acts. It is wise for plaintiffs seeking harassment prevention orders to include more than the required three acts in their complaints, in case one of the alleged acts is founded insufficient.
Harassment prevention orders are just one legal tool that can be used against alleged harassment and abuse. The courts are eager to protect victims of harassment, but sometimes these orders are misunderstood and misused. If you have questions about how to protect yourself or a loved one, call the attorneys at Hutchins Law, P.C.