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Kayla M. v. Greene

Appellate Court of Connecticut

February 18, 2016


         Argued December 10, 2015

          Applications for civil orders of protection, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Litchfield, where the court, Danaher, J., granted the applications; thereafter, following a hearing, the court continued the orders of protection, and the defendant in each case appealed to this court.


         The plaintiff in each case, who was a waitress in a restaurant, obtained a civil order of protection as to the defendants in each case, E, a man who frequented the restaurant, and his wife, S, who also frequented the restaurant. The trial court found that the defendants had engaged in behavior that met every element of the crime of stalking in the second degree pursuant to statute (§ 53a-181d), and that they would continue to do so. Accordingly, the court issued the order of protection as to each defendant pursuant to statute (§ 46b-16a). The defendants each appealed to this court, which issued one decision resolving both appeals.

          Held :

         1. The defendants could not prevail on their claim that in order to obtain a civil protection order pursuant to § 46b-16a, the plaintiff had to prove that the defendants engaged in stalking as described in all three criminal stalking statutes (§ § 53a-181c, 53a-181d, and 53a-181e) and not any one of them: although § 46b-16a (a) provides that a person who has been the victim of stalking as described in § § 53a-181c, 53a-181d, and 53a-181e can apply for relief from the court and uses the word " and" when listing those statutes, only an interpretation of the word " and" in the disjunctive made the inclusion of all three statutes logically consistent, as stalking in the first degree pursuant to § 53a-181c by its terms requires proof of stalking in the second degree pursuant to § 53a-181d, such that if the plaintiff were required to prove the elements of stalking in the first degree in order to obtain an order of civil protection, it would be superfluous for § 46b-16a (a) to include stalking in the second degree, and such an interpretation of § 46b-16a (a) would lead to absurd and illogical results.

         2. The evidence was sufficient to support the trial court's conclusion that there were reasonable grounds to believe that each element of stalking in the second degree as described in § 53a-181d (b) (1) was proven as to E and S, as they each acted knowingly and engaged in a course of conduct directed at the plaintiff, and such conduct caused the plaintiff to fear for her safety:

         a. The evidence indicated that E had repeatedly sent the plaintiff messages through social media, requested nude photographs of her, sent her harassing and threatening e-mails, came to the restaurant and inquired into her personal life, attempted to discover where she lived, verbally and physically confronted her at the restaurant, and left her a letter and gift of money at the restaurant when she attempted to cut off all contact; moreover, the trial court expressly discredited E's testimony that he had no intention of ever communicating with the plaintiff again and reasonably inferred that he would continue his previous course of conduct.

         b. Contrary to S's claim that a single occasion at the restaurant when she asked the plaintiff to speak to her after the plaintiff had blocked S and E on social media did not constitute a course of conduct, S's conduct was not limited to that single occasion, but rather included behavior conducted indirectly and through E that gave rise to a reasonable ground to believe that S harassed and communicated with the plaintiff, including joint e-mails sent to her as well as the letter and gift of money they left at the restaurant; moreover, S admitted that absent the civil protection order she intended to continue to frequent the restaurant, and she evinced no recognition of the wrongfulness of E's conduct.

         William J. Ward, for the appellants (defendant in each case).

         Kayla M., self-represented, the appellee (plaintiff in each case).

         Beach, Keller and Prescott, Js. PRESCOTT, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.


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          [163 Conn.App. 495] PRESCOTT, J.

          In these appeals, we are called upon for the first time to interpret General Statutes § 46b-16a, which protects victims of stalking through civil protection orders.[1] Section 46b-16a (a) provides in relevant part: " Any person who has been the victim of . . . stalking, as described in sections 53a-181c, 53a-181d and 53a-181e, may make an application to the Superior Court for relief under this section . . . ."

         The defendants, Edward Greene (husband) and Susan Greene (wife), appeal from the judgments of the trial court granting the applications of the plaintiff, Kayla M.,[2] for orders of civil protection

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pursuant to § 46b-16a. The defendants claim that the court improperly granted the plaintiff's applications for the orders because: (1) the court improperly interpreted § 46b-16a (a) to require that there be reasonable grounds to believe that the defendants' conduct constitutes the crime of stalking under one, but not all three, of the criminal stalking statutes, and (2) there was insufficient evidence for the court to determine that there were reasonable grounds to believe that they had stalked the plaintiff and would continue to do so in the absence of an order of civil protection. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

         The following facts, as found by the trial court, and procedural history are relevant to our analysis. On March 9, 2015, the plaintiff filed two applications for orders of civil protection, one for each defendant, who were regular customers at the restaurant at which she [163 Conn.App. 496] was employed. In the applications and the attached affidavits, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants stalked her and that she felt threatened by them.[3] The court issued two ex parte civil protection orders, which prohibited the defendants from contact with the plaintiff, including indirect contact through a third party, and coming within 100 yards of the plaintiff. The ex parte orders were to expire on March 19, 2015, the day on which the hearing on the applications for protection orders was held.

         At the hearing, the court heard testimony from the plaintiff and the defendants. The court credited the plaintiff's testimony, as well as her statements in her affidavit attached to the applications.[4] On the basis of this testimony, the court found the following facts, which the defendants do not challenge:[5] " [The defendants] first came to know the [plaintiff] approximately two to two and one-half years ago, when they patronized the restaurant where the [plaintiff] was employed as a member of the waitstaff. . . .

         " The [plaintiff] is a single mother of two young daughters, and the [defendants] took an interest in the [plaintiff's] well being, on at least one occasion helping her wrap Christmas presents for her daughters. Eventually, the [husband] began communicating with the [plaintiff] [163 Conn.App. 497] through social media. The [defendants] began 'messaging' the [plaintiff] frequently. The [plaintiff] testified that in view of her status as a waitress, and the [defendants'] status as customers at the [plaintiff's] place of employment, the [plaintiff] tried to be polite to the [defendants] without engaging with them any more than she believed she had to.

         " In July, 2014, the [husband's] communications with the [plaintiff] grew increasingly inappropriate, beginning with an electronic message comment he posted about a Facebook picture of the [plaintiff], in which

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she was wearing a bathing suit. The [plaintiff] testified, and the court credits her testimony, that the [husband] asked the [plaintiff] to provide him with nude photographs of her. The [plaintiff] refused to do so. The [husband], when questioned about this issue, testified that he 'may' have requested nude photographs of the [plaintiff] 'as a joke.' The court does not credit the claim that the request for nude photographs was intended as 'a joke.'" The court further found: " The [wife], when questioned about this issue, testified that she became aware of her husband's request for the nude photographs of the [plaintiff], but she expressed indifference to that conduct.

         " The [husband] continued to send messages to the [plaintiff], which she ignored, hoping he would thereby understand that she did not wish to communicate with him. She followed that course of action because she was fully cognizant of the fact that [the defendants were] customers at her place of employment.

         " [The husband] did not cease his interest in the [plaintiff]. He came to her place of employment and inquired of other staff members as to the [plaintiff's] home address, he asked her why her marriage had failed, and whether her children had the same biological father. [163 Conn.App. 498] The [plaintiff], at or about that point, blocked the [defendants] on Facebook. [The husband] persisted in reaching out to the [plaintiff], using e-mail, and asking, in a January 1, 2015 e-mail, why the applicant had taken the latter action. The [husband] indicated, in that e-mail, that both [the husband and the wife] were puzzled and hurt because the [plaintiff] had blocked them on Facebook. The [defendants] thereafter came to the restaurant [where the plaintiff worked] and left a letter expressing their upset at the [plaintiff's] effort to cease communications with them, and leaving money in an envelope for the [plaintiff]. On February 22, 2015, [the husband] sent an e-mail to the [plaintiff] stating that [the defendants] were at the restaurant . . . . The applicant ignored the latter message."

         " On March 7, 2015, the [defendants] again came to the restaurant. [The defendants] walked up behind the [plaintiff], [and] the [husband] grabbed the [plaintiff's] arm 'very hard,' and then continued on to the restaurant bar, where the [defendants] had drinks for about one hour. . . . The [husband] then walked away from the bar and confronted the [plaintiff] in a confined space, telling the [plaintiff] that she 'will speak to [him] one day.' A co-worker . . . witnessed the encounter and described [it] as 'very threatening and uncomfortable to watch.' . . . The [plaintiff] sought the assistance of the manager of the restaurant." As the plaintiff walked past the defendants with the manager, the wife put her arm out and asked the plaintiff to talk to her and the husband, to which the plaintiff responded no. " The [defendants] left the restaurant, and thereafter the [husband] sent the following message to the [plaintiff]: 'You're walking on very thin ice, my dear. . . .'"

         The court also found that the wife had " no recognition of the wrongfulness of her conduct or her husband's conduct, and that she intends to continue to frequent the [plaintiff's] place of employment, absent an order [163 Conn.App. 499] of protection barring her from doing so." Furthermore, the court did not credit the husband's testimony that he had no intention to communicate or interact with the plaintiff again; rather, the court found that he was " unnaturally obsessed with the [plaintiff] and that he has no recognition of the wrongfulness of his conduct."

         The court concluded that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the defendants had ...

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