The Appellate Group

Koehler v. Allen

Koehler v. Allen, 2020 UT App 73 (Hagen, J.)

Civil Stalking

A woman sought a civil stalking injunction against a man in 2016. The injunction stated that it lasted three years and could only be changed by the court. The man’s attorney erroneously told him that the injunction had been dismissed, but the man never received any official paperwork from the court. The man also entered a plea in abeyance for violating the injunction in 2017; although the criminal case was dismissed in 2018, the court said nothing about dismissing the injunction. In December 2018—while the injunction was still in force—the man emailed the woman. He claimed that he was on medication at the time he sent the email. The district court determined that the man knew the injunction was in place, had the ability to comply, and intentionally violated the injunction or was voluntarily intoxicated when he sent the email. The court, then, held him in contempt for violating the civil stalking injunction. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, holding:

  • Viewed in the light most favorable to the district court’s ruling, the finding that the man knew what was required of him by the injunction was not against the clear weight of the evidence. The man was served the injunction, which informed him that the injunction was in place for three years and could only be changed by the court. And although he received misinformation from his attorney about the injunction being dismissed, he entered a plea in abeyance to violating the injunction in 2017, admitting that he knew the injunction was still in place. And the record in the plea in abeyance case did not include any information that that injunction was modified. 
  • The district court did not make a finding about one element of contempt—that the man intentionally violated the stalking injunction. The court instead found that the man “acted intentionally, or . . . was voluntarily intoxicated.” This alternative ruling fails to account for the potential of voluntary intoxication to negate a person’s ability to form the intent required for a finding of contempt. The Court of Appeals remands for the district court to determine whether the man intentionally violated the injunction. 

Read the full court opinion