Expressing desire to break somebody's knees not enough for a court order if you don't say it to his face, court rules

The Supreme Judicial Court yesterday tossed a harassment prevention order against an assistant Little League coach who complained about a parent in e-mail and over the phone to her team's coach about interactions between their kids, both on the team at the time.

In its ruling, the state's highest court ruled Dawn Morhy's e-mail and phone call didn't constitute the sort of harassment a judge could issue an order about because it wasn't directed to the person feeling harassed - even though, in this case, Morhy told the coach that she wanted to "punch [the plaintiff] in the face" and "break both of [his] knees."

Although Morhy was not quite as innocent as she claimed - the parent said she also ranted at him at a team practice - the SJC said the parent did not provide the proof of three examples of harassment required by state law:

"The record here does not support a finding that an "entire course of harassment" caused "fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property." ...

The defendant's April 15, 2011, electronic mail message to the head coach of the baseball team, in which she described the plaintiff in unflattering terms, was not an act of harassment within the meaning of the statute because, at the very least, it was not directed at him and was not motivated by cruelty, hostility, or revenge. The record contains little information about the defendant's behavior towards the plaintiff during the altercation on April 17, 2009, other than his statements that the defendant "verbally attacked and threatened to have [him] thrown off the team in front of numerous other parents" and that she "attacked [his] personal being in front of every single parent." Therefore, the defendant's actions on that date are also insufficient to constitute an act of harassment. Thus, even if we were to accept the judge's implicit findings that the defendant, in the telephone conversation with the head coach, wilfully and maliciously threatened to "punch [the plaintiff] in the face and break [his] knees" if he acted in a certain way toward her son, and that she intended to cause, and did cause, fear, abuse, intimidation, or damage to property, there were not three requisite acts forming a pattern of harassment.

In addition to setting guidelines for what constitutes harassment, the court also ordered a lower-court judge to vacate the order against Morhy, even though it expired nearly two years ago.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court had rejected Morhy's request because of the mootness, but the SJC said that because leaving the order in court files could cause problems for Morhy in the future, it was appropriate to vacate it - and destroy the records related to it - if the underlying reason for it was invalid.

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