e-Journal Summary

e-Journal Number : 57134
Opinion Date : 05/20/2014
e-Journal Date : 06/11/2014
Court : Michigan Court of Appeals
Case Name : Lantagne v. Sabin
Practice Area(s) : Corrections, Personal Protection Orders
Judge(s) : Per Curiam – Murphy, O’Connell, and K.F. Kelly
Full Text Opinion
Issues:

Docket Nos. 312269 & 312270 - Whether the conduct that formed the basis for the trial court's decision to issue and continue the 2012 PPOs was constitutionally protected and served a legitimate purpose; Pickering v. Pickering; Hayford v. Hayford; Statutory interpretation; Midland Cogeneration Venture Ltd. P'ship v. Naftaly; MCL 600.2950a; Nastal v. Henderson & Assoc. Investigations, Inc.; "Stalking" defined; MCL 750.411h(1)(d); "Harassment" defined; MCL 750.411h(1)(c); Regard given to the trial court's special opportunity to judge the witnesses' credibility; MCR 2.613(C); Docket Nos. 315532 & 315533 - Denial of respondent's motion to terminate the 2013 PPOs; The Heritage Bible Fellowship (HBF)

Summary

The court held in Docket Nos. 312269 and 312270 that the trial court did not err in issuing the 2012 PPOs and in denying respondent's motion to terminate those PPOs. In Docket Nos. 315532 and 315533, it found no abuse of discretion by the trial court in denying respondent's motion to terminate the 2013 PPOs. The trial court found that respondent's letters to prisoners (which petitioners-prison mail room clerks were required to review) "were harassing and reasonably caused petitioners to suffer emotional distress." It found that respondent's "actual intent or purpose relative to including certain information and statements in the various communications was to harass petitioners and not to legitimately conduct HBF affairs, legitimately seek redress of grievances, or to legitimately pursue the enforcement of policies." It "effectively concluded that the particular statements and information" contained in respondent's "communications or attempted communications to prisoners, and particularly the high-escape-risk prisoner who is serving multiple life sentences, were not employed to serve a legitimate purpose." The court found that whether respondent's inclusion of the relevant statements and information in the communications or attempted communications to prisoners "could be viewed as constitutionally protected activity that served a legitimate purpose hinged upon, given some ambiguities and respondent's cryptic writing style, a determination of the meaning or purpose behind" his chosen words. This analysis required consideration of the circumstances and his credibility in testifying that "there was a valid and legitimate purpose in the language that he employed, absent a nuanced or subtle effort to frighten, harass, and intimidate petitioners." This was not a "case in which one can simply examine the language in the communications and contemplate the circumstances and then easily conclude that respondent's conduct contributed to a valid purpose." Giving the trial court the required deference on its assessment of credibility, the court held that "the trial court did not err in determining that the conduct at issue did not constitute constitutionally protected conduct that served a legitimate purpose." The record sufficiently supported a conclusion that "the purpose of respondent's communications, at least in part, was to frighten, harass, and intimidate petitioners." The court stated that it was "not ruling that the act of generally communicating and corresponding with prisoners and prison officials does not or cannot serve a legitimate purpose. Rather, it was respondent's use of particular language in the communications, as viewed in the context of the prison setting," which led it to hold that the trial court did not err in finding that a legitimate purpose was not being served.

Full Text Opinion