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I.L.L v. T.L.R.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

December 19, 2017

I.L.L, Respondent,
v.
T.L.R., Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JACKSON COUNTY, MISSOURI THE HONORABLE GREGORY B. GILLIS, JUDGE

          Before: Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge, Lisa White Hardwick, Judge and Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Judge

          EDWARD R. ARDINI, JR., JUDGE

         T.L.R. ("Appellant") appeals the Circuit Court's entry of a full order of protection in favor of I.L.L. ("Petitioner"). Appellant argues that the trial court's decision was not supported by substantial evidence and is against the weight of the evidence. We reverse.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Petitioner filed a Petition for Order of Protection on January 13, 2017. The Petition alleged that Appellant had stalked and harassed Petitioner through the sending of threatening emails and by contacting her employer in an effort to get her fired. A hearing on the Petition was held at which both parties testified. The transcript for the hearing shows that it was relatively informal. Both sides were questioned by the trial court and allowed to establish their respective characterizations of the pertinent events. First, the trial court questioned Petitioner, who explained that she and

          Appellant had previously been co-workers, though she admitted that she had not known Appellant personally while they were working together. Petitioner indicated that she had only recently become acquainted with Appellant after Appellant began dating the father of her son. She further testified that she filed the Petition on the advice of her employer's human resources department after Appellant contacted her employer with "false accusations" in an attempt to get her fired[1] and sent her several emails that were described in the Petition as "threatening."[2] At the close of her initial testimony, the trial court asked Petitioner directly if she felt that she was being harassed to which she replied, "Uh-huh. Because -- Yes. Due to I guess my son's father lying to her about the relationship, which I don't feel like she has anything to do with."

         The trial court then directed its inquiry to Appellant. Appellant claimed that she had first contacted Petitioner over a year earlier in an attempt to determine if Appellant's boyfriend was the father of Petitioner's child. She further stated that when she first posed this question, Petitioner flatly denied any previous relationship with Appellant's boyfriend at which point Appellant considered the matter closed. However, Appellant informed the trial court that, approximately a month before the filing of this action, Petitioner contacted her by email in order to recant her previous denial and admit that Appellant's boyfriend was the father of her child. According to Appellant, this led to a series of email exchanges between her and Petitioner regarding why Petitioner had suddenly changed her position. Appellant described this exchange as mostly cordial and further stated that she believed that the matter had been resolved via these emails. When specifically asked by the trial court whether she had any interest in continuing her dialogue with Petitioner, Appellant replied that she had not spoken to her in several weeks and had no interest in contacting her in the future.[3]

         At the close of the evidence, the trial court indicated that it intended to sustain the Petition and enter the requested Order of Protection. Counsel for Appellant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support such a conclusion as there was no evidence that Petitioner had been placed in fear of physical harm. In response, the trial court asked Petitioner if she was "concerned for [her] safety as a result of these circumstances." Petitioner responded:

I personally was because I have a son, and I work late and I think I saw her vehicle near my job. And then when she contacted me -- I have a baby I have to protect, and she keeps mentioning my son in these emails and the paternity of him. That's none of her business. And so, yes, I do not want her to contact me anymore. And being that she tried to say I was harassing her at my job and make false accusations and try to get me fired, no, I don't -- I want that in place.

         The court thereafter entered its judgment granting a full order of protection. Appellant now appeals.

         Discussion

         Appellant's first point on appeal argues that the trial court's entry of an Order of Protection was not supported by substantial evidence and was against the weight of the evidence.[4]Specifically, she argues that there was no evidence adduced at the hearing to show that she purposely engaged in a course of conduct that caused alarm to Petitioner. Her second point on appeal argues that the provision of the Order of Protection prohibiting her from possessing, shipping, transporting, and/or receiving any firearms for the duration of the order in particular is not supported by substantial evidence and is against the weight of the evidence because there was no evidence adduced at the hearing establishing that Appellant is a spouse, former spouse, present or former cohabitant, or has a child in common with Petitioner as required by statute.

         "Our review of a trial court's decision in an Adult Abuse Act case is governed by Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30 (Mo. banc 1976)." Smith v. McAdams, 454 S.W.3d 418, 420-21 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015). "We will affirm the trial court's judgment unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law." Id. (quoting McAlister v. Strohmeyer, 395 S.W.3d 546, 549-50 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013)). "[W]e consider the evidence in a light most favorable to the judgment and ...


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