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Ragsdale v. Fishler

Ragsdale v. Fishler, 2020 UT 56 (Durrant, C.J.)

Civil Stalking Injunction; First Amendment

Petitioner sought a civil stalking injunction against Neighbor. Petitioner sought the injunction because Neighbor objected to her running a residential treatment program for young women out of her home, and as a result, had been placing provocative signs in Neighbor’s yard, as well as swearing at and flipping off Petitioner and others entering or exiting the program. Neighbor argued that his conduct targeted the program, not Petitioner, and he claimed his conduct was political speech protected by the First Amendment. The district court denied the injunction. The Utah Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding:

  • The district court misinterpreted the stalking statute when it ruled that Neighbor’s conduct was not directed at Petitioner because Neighbor claimed he intended his conduct to be directed at the program. Regardless of Neighbor’s subjective intent, if Neighbor engages in statutorily proscribed conduct by following, threatening, or communicating with Petitioner for the injunction on two or more occasions, then Neighbor “engages in a course of conduct directed at the petitioner.” 
  • The district court failed to assess the impact of Neighbor’s conduct on a reasonable person in Petitioner’s specific circumstances when it ruled that, in this day and age, pejorative gestures and profanity should not cause the emotional distress contemplated by the stalking statute. The correct inquiry requires the court to consider the entire context surrounding Neighbor’s conduct, including considering the conduct cumulatively.
  • The district court applied an incorrect First Amendment analysis when it determined that the First Amendment protected Neighbor’s conduct. When appropriate, courts may enjoin speech that meets the definition of stalking even if it has a political objective. At a minimum, a court must determine whether each provision of the proposed injunction is content-based or content-neutral and evaluate each provision under the corresponding level of scrutiny.

Read the full court opinion

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