Social media has become an everyday part of life for many people, including Florida residents. Oftentimes, conflicts between people begin on social media platforms. Other times, issues begin in the “real world”, but are carried out in forums like Facebook and Twitter. Recently, I encountered a situation that falls into the latter category. Most Jacksonville injunction and family lawyers are all too familiar with the story of the old spouse and the new spouse having issues with each other. Petitions for injunctions or restraining orders end up being filed in many cases. Physical violence is not always what prompts the petitions being filed. When the feud manages to stay verbal, rather than become physical, the next best way to elevate the conflict for many is often to turn to social media. Mean and nasty things are said, sometimes even threatening things, with a very large social media audience watching and weighing in themselves.
So what happens when one person harasses, stalks, threatens, or cyberstalks the other on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc…? If both parties live in Florida, the answer is simple: an injunction petition or a petition for a restraining order may be filed. Florida laws allows for the petition for protection against stalking to be filed in the Florida county where the defendant lives or in the county where the action accrues , meaning the place where the acts are committed. Florida Statute 784.0485 creates a cause of action that specifically allows an individual, or an adult on behalf of a child, to file a petition for protection against stalking. The petitioner, through the petition for a protective order, will ask the court to order the violator to have no contact with and stay away from the petitioner. The court will weigh the evidence and make a decision whether to grant the request for an injunction. However, when the conduct that is complained about takes place entirely on social media, like Facebook or Twitter, the court may have more of an issue when determining whether the injunction should or can be issued if the violator is a resident of another state.
When the violator lives in California, for example, what can a Florida court do to protect the petitioner? Does a Florida court even have authority over a California resident? In legal terms, this is a question of “personal jurisdiction”. The answer may not be as easy to find as you would think. Florida’s “long arm” statute (Florida Statute 48.193) and the constitutional principle of “due process” work together to produce the answer. Long arm statutes dictate under what circumstances a state may reach out and touch residents from another state. For example, if a Michigan motor company manufactures a car that malfunctions and causes injuries to Florida residents, this is something that could allow Florida’s long arm statute to reach out and pull the Michigan motor company into a Florida court to defend against a law suit. Due process, on the other hand, deals with fairness and justice. It must be considered whether it is fair for Florida to reach out and pull in someone from outside of Florida. If looks at whether the California resident should expect to be sued in Florida and whether the California resident benefitted in any way from Florida’s protection or privileges.
In the case of our hypothetical California resident who is cyberstalking a Florida resident, it has to be determined whether an act has taken place in Florida. Accessing a computer in California and sending electronic communications to a Florida recipient may be enough. Florida’s highest court has determined that an out of state defendant who posts defamatory statements on a website that was accessed by Florida residents can be sued in Florida, at least in a defamation suit. If you are on the receiving end or if someone out of state is harassing or stalking you, at the Law Office of David M. Goldman, PLLC, we can help. Call us today for a free initial consultation at (904) 685-1200.