OLSON v. LaBRIE No. A11-558.
Aaron Olson, petitioner, Appellant, v. Randall LaBrie, Respondent.
Court of Appeals of Minnesota.
Filed February 13, 2012.
Aaron Olson, Chisago City, Minnesota, (pro se appellant).
Beverly K. Dodge, William D. Siegel, Barna, Guzy & Steffen, Ltd., Minneapolis, Minnesota, (for respondent).
Considered and decided by Connolly, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Ross, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court's dismissal of his petition for a harassment restraining order, asserting that respondent violated appellant's privacy by posting photos that included appellant and related comments on Facebook. Appellant also argues that he did not receive a fair hearing. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing appellant's petition and appellant received a fair hearing, we affirm.
In October 2010, pro se appellant Aaron Olson petitioned for a harassment restraining order (HRO) against his uncle, respondent Randall LaBrie. Appellant claimed that family photos and accompanying text, posted by respondent to the social-networking web site Facebook, constituted harassment under Minn. Stat. § 609.748 (2010). The district court denied appellant's petition for an HRO.
From March to June 2010, respondent posted multiple photos of various family members on his Facebook page. The photos include portraits and group shots, such as several family members when they were children, including appellant, posing in front of a Christmas tree. When appellant learned these photos had been posted, he e-mailed respondent and requested the photos that included him either be removed or altered to erase appellant. In reply, respondent stated in an e-mail that he would not alter the photos and that appellant should stay off Facebook if he disliked the photos. Ultimately, respondent removed the "tags" that identify people in photos on Facebook and later took down the photos.
Respondent testified that appellant was not his "friend" on Facebook and that he intended his Facebook page to be viewed only by friends and not by appellant. Respondent claims that appellant had "unauthorized" access to his Facebook page, but respondent also testified that any member of the public could have accessed his page via a simple name search. Appellant, who lives with his mother, A.O., testified that he initially accessed respondent's Facebook page via his mother's Facebook account when he used her computer and she had left her Facebook page open. But appellant stated in his appellate brief that he later obtained copies of respondent's Facebook page for the HRO hearing by conducting a search on Facebook that any member of the public could have done.
In his HRO petition, appellant claimed that statements from respondent included "a series of comments that could reasonably be interpreted as veiled threats against the Petitioner's life and safety." Appellant also claimed that respondent frightened appellant with threatening behavior that included "a hostile tirade against Petitioner online, posting childhood images of Petitioner accompanied by obscene language." Appellant further stated in the petition that respondent "has acquired private childhood pictures of Petitioner and has posted the pictures online together with vulgar and coercive statements." Finally, appellant stated that respondent's harassment of him had restricted his movement "and caused reasonable alarm." Appellant requested a two-year order requiring respondent to not harass appellant or his minor child, to stay away from his home, and to remain 100 yards away from him and his children.
The district court held an evidentiary hearing and, after appellant submitted his evidence, granted respondent's motion to dismiss appellant's petition. The district court determined that appellant had not proved harassment and instead provided evidence only of "mean, disrespectful comments." In addition, the district court stated that the photos provided as evidence of harassment were "innocuous family photographs and could not possibly serve as a basis for harassment."
This appeal follows.
A district court's decision to grant or deny a petition for an HRO is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Peterson v. Johnson,
Appellant argues that photos depicting him and comments regarding him that respondent posted on Facebook violated his privacy under Minn. Stat. § 609.748, subd. 1(1)
Id. at subd. 1(a)(1).
Though privacy concerns are the thrust of appellant's arguments on appeal, it does not appear from the record that he raised the issue of privacy below. In appellant's HRO petition, when asked to describe the effect of the alleged harassment on his safety, security, or privacy, appellant simply states that "[t]he harassment has restricted movement and caused reasonable harm." Claims related to the restriction of movement and harm apply to the statutory requirements of safety or security, not privacy. The district court also did not address any privacy concerns in its dismissal of appellant's petition. The court of appeals generally does not review issues not raised below and issues not decided by the district court. Thiele v. Stich,
Even if this court reached the merits of appellant's argument, the argument would fail. Appellant appears to argue that satisfaction of the HRO statute should be determined using the tort privacy principles recognized in Lake v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.,
Additionally, appellant contends that the district court erred by not fully crediting the testimony of A.O., appellant's mother, who testified that respondent's conduct was "offensive." In determining that appellant had not proved harassment, the district court stated that it had heard all of the testimony and reviewed the exhibits containing the Facebook photos and comments. Additionally, the district court specifically referenced A.O.'s testimony and her assessment of the comments posted by respondent to Facebook. The district court stated that A.O. provided an adequate description of the comments as "mean, disrespectful comments," which did not rise to the level of harassment. Including "offensive" in the assessment of A.O.'s testimony would not have changed the district court's assessment of the comments as mean and disrespectful but not harassing. The district court also found that the family Christmas pictures were innocuous photos that "could not possibly serve as a basis for harassment," a finding that appellant does not contest. To constitute harassment, words must have a substantial adverse effect on the safety, security, or privacy of another. Minn. Stat. § 609.748, subd. 1(a)(1). Comments that are mean and disrespectful, coupled with innocuous family photos, do not affect a person's safety, security, or privacy—and certainly not substantially so. The district court did not err by determining that the evidence submitted by appellant did not satisfy the statutory definition of harassment. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing appellant's petition for an HRO.
Appellant also argues that he did not receive a fair hearing because of district court bias due to appellant's socioeconomic status and religious beliefs. Review of an allegation of judicial bias begins with "the presumption that a judge has discharged his or her judicial duties properly." McKenzie v. State,
Appellant raises multiple accusations of bias against the district court and opposing counsel that span six pages of his brief without one citation to a statute or caselaw. Appellate courts decline to reach an issue in the absence of adequate briefing, including allegations unsupported by legal analysis and citation. State, Dep't of Labor & Indus. v. Wintz Parcel Drivers, Inc.,
In any event, the district court is afforded broad discretion in controlling the courtroom as part of its duty to proceed efficiently. Rice Park Props. v. Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi,
Finally, appellant requests that the record on appeal be sealed. "Every party to an appeal must take reasonable steps to prevent the disclosure of confidential information, both in oral argument and written submissions filed with the court." Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 112.03. Confidential evidentiary materials should be submitted to the court of appeals in a bound confidential appendix under seal, and a party need not seek leave of court to do so. See Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 112.02; see also In re Jarvis,
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