The fine line between enthusiastic parent and stalker!

Goudy v. Duquette, 38 Fla.L.Weekly D1009, 2013 WL 1891323, — So.3d –, (Fla. 2nd DCA 2013) defines the fine line between stalking and an enthusiastic dance team dad in a fact intensive analysis.

The Petitioner was the Director of the high school dance team. The Respondent was the father of a participant. The Petitioner received a phone call from the Respondent who was upset his 15 year old daughter was not selected for the National team. The Petitioner testified the telephone conversation lasted thirty minutes and the Respondent told her “she was selfish” and “didn’t know what she was doing”. The Petitioner eventually terminated the call because she was so upset.

After a dress rehearsal involving the Respondent’s daughter, the Respondent drove up to the Petitioner after she closed up the school. It was dark out. The Respondent, who had his daughter in the car, blocked the Petitioner’s car so she could not leave, and started yelling : “You selfish bitch”, “You ruined my life”, “you ruined my daughter’s life” and left when he saw another coach with the Petitioner.

The Respondent transported his daughter to watch the national competition. All members of the team who were not selected for the national competition were invited to attend and support the team. The Respondent was there, three feet away from the Petitioner. He did not say anything to her, he just “stared her down”. The Petitioner testified that the Respondent followed her into a restaurant later in the evening.

At the conclusion of the Petitioner’s testimony, the Respondent’s attorney, Gregg Horowitz, moved to dismiss the injunction as the Petitioner failed to prove two acts of violence let alone one act. The Respondent’s request was denied.

On cross examination, the Petitioner conceded the Respondent’s daughter was selected for the National dance team the previous year by a different coach. The Petitioner conceded she told the Respondent there was a limit to how many girls could be selected, but the rules had no such
limit. The Petitioner admitted the Respondent never threatened to hurt her.

The Respondent testified he was a single father who has never been charged with a crime and has had custody of his daughter for ten years. After his daughter tried out for nationals, she was rejected and unusually upset. He called the Petitioner and asked why his daughter couldn’t go since they had more positions available. The Respondent did admit to calling the Petitioner a “self centered bitch” after the rehearsal “in a fit of emotion”.

The trial court entered a permanent injunction against repeat violence based on the fact the “Petitioner had a reasonable belief she would be a victim of stalking or domestic violence”

On appeal, the Second District Court of Appeal concluded while there may have been one incident of stalking (after the rehearsal), the Respondent had a legitimate purpose for going to team events due to his daughter’s participation. The fact that Respondent stared the Petitioner down and “made his presence known” is not sufficient to cause a reasonable person emotional distress. As a result, the injunction was reversed.

Repeat violence is defined as “two incidents of violence or stalking committed by the respondent, one of which must have been within 6 months of the filing of the petition, which are directed against the petitioner or petitioner’s immediate family member.” This did not occur in
this case.

A person is guilty of “stalking” if he willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person. “Harass” is defined as engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress in such person and serves no legitimate purpose. A “course of conduct” is a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose. In determining if an incident causes substantial emotional distress, courts use a reasonable person standard, not a subjective standard.

In the instant case, the trial court decided that the father/Respondent’s actions met this criteria. The appellate court disagreed. The social commentary on parents “over-participating” in their children’s events is well documented – thinking of the number of Little League parents who have either been kicked out or banned from attending games and the adult educational programs that resulted – and while the father/Defendant may not have been appropriate with the teacher, the appellate court did not believe that his actions met the legal standards for repeat violence or stalking.

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