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Gimlen v. Rivero

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

November 29, 2016

TRACY LYNNE GIMLEN, Petitioner-Respondent,
RUBEN D. RIVERO, Respondent-Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF TANEY COUNTY Honorable Eric D. Eighmy, Associate Circuit Judge


          Nancy Steffen Rahmeyer, J. - Opinion Author

         Ruben D. Rivero ("Respondent") appeals from the trial court's grant of a full order of protection against him in favor of Tracy Lynne Gimlen ("Petitioner"). In a single point, Respondent claims that the trial court erred because there was not "substantial evidence" to support a finding that Petitioner was subjectively alarmed by Respondent's conduct or that a reasonable person in the same situation would be alarmed by Respondent's conduct. We disagree and affirm.[1]

         Standard of Review

         In a court-tried case, we will affirm:

the trial court's judgment as long as it is supported by substantial evidence, it is not against the weight of the evidence, and it does not erroneously declare or apply the law. [Schwalm v. Schwalm, 217 S.W.3d 335, 336 (Mo.App. E.D. 2007)]. "Substantial evidence has been defined as competent evidence from which the trier of fact could reasonably decide the case." Towell v. Steger, 154 S.W.3d 471, 474 (Mo.App. S.D. 2005). In reviewing the trial court's judgment, we view all facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the judgment and defer to the trial court's determination of credibility. Id.; Binggeli v. Hammond, 300 S.W.3d 621, 623 (Mo.App.W.D.2010).

Fowler v. Minehart, 412 S.W.3d 917, 920 (Mo.App. S.D. 2013). "[W]e presume the trial court's judgment is correct, and [the appellant] bears the burden of proving it erroneous." Skovira v. Talley, 369 S.W.3d 780, 781 (Mo.App. S.D. 2012). Further, the Adult Abuse Act "is not, nor was it intended to be, 'a solution for minor arguments between adults, '" and, "'[b]ecause there is real harm that can result in abusing the . . . Act and its provisions, including the stigma that may attach to a respondent who is ultimately labeled a 'stalker, ' trial courts must exercise great care to ensure that sufficient evidence exists to support all elements of the statute before entering a full order of protection.'" Id. (citations omitted); see also Fowler, 412 S.W.3d at 920 & n.5 (same with an expanded explanation of the potential harms).

         Facts and Procedural Background

         On September 21, 2015, Petitioner filed a verified petition in which she appears to have sought an ex parte order of protection and a full order of protection from Respondent.[2]In the petition, it appears Petitioner's request for the orders is based on her allegation that Respondent was stalking her - i.e., Petitioner marked the relationship box labeled "Stalking, " and marked boxes that stated "Respondent has knowingly and intentionally" "coerced me, " "stalked me, " "harassed me, " and "followed me from place to place."[3]Petitioner also alleged Respondent "started back to work today in my office." Petitioner did not mark available boxes to allege that Respondent "caused or attempted to cause me physical harm, " or "placed or attempted to place me in apprehension of immediate physical harm, " or "sexually assaulted me, " or "threatened to do any of the above." In support of her request for an ex parte order, Petitioner alleged that "I am afraid of Respondent, " and also that Respondent "has continuously harassed me for 2 yr at my work, " and "I'm in fear for my safety, my life." The trial court denied the requested ex parte order of protection on September 22, 2015, and scheduled a hearing on the request for a full order of protection on December 16, 2015.

         Although counsel for Respondent indicated at the outset of the hearing that Respondent would testify, Petitioner was the only witness at the hearing. Petitioner testified that Respondent was "married, " and that Petitioner and Respondent "work together in the post office, " but "don't have any [other] kind of relationship." Respondent also was Petitioner's "union steward." Beginning in February 2012 and continuing into January 2013 and then again on January 11, 2014, Respondent made unwanted contact with Petitioner when she was out on her mail route on "eight to ten" occasions. On the first occasion, Respondent told Petitioner that flowers she had received were "from him." On subsequent occasions, Respondent told Petitioner "how good [she] looked when [she] was wet" from the rain. On other occasions, including on January 11, 2014, Respondent would find and follow Petitioner for a short time on her mail route. Respondent's conduct "was reviewed administratively by the post office." In January 2013, the "postal service" prohibited Respondent from talking to Petitioner. And, "for a time, " Respondent "was not allowed to work in the same building" as Petitioner. At the time of the hearing, Petitioner and Respondent again were working in the "same building." Petitioner filed a report with the police after Respondent followed her on January 11, 2014. In July 2014, unsolicited "magazine subscriptions" and bills for those subscriptions began showing up at Petitioner's home. The unsolicited subscriptions and bills continued until Respondent was arrested in December 2014 and charged with "six felony charges for forgery."

         Petitioner testified that:

I've tried and tried to protect myself through the postal service. Now, he's harassed me at home by sending this stuff and the bills. I want to know --make sure that I am protected because we do not have a court date till May ...

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