No Mutual Restraining Order in Indiana

JOOTB_FinalAn Indiana Appellate Court recently rejected a trial court's effort to imposed informal justice on parties before him.  The judge simply lacked authority to impose a "mutual restraining order."

The case originated when a juvenile identified in the court's opinion as "R.S." created a video of himself "spelling . . . out a racist slur."  R.S. created the video during his sophomore year of high school, but the video surfaced on social media during R.S.'s senior year in high school.

A woman identified as P.S. (no indication if this stands for "Public Shamer") saw the video and began commenting about it and R.S. on her publicly accessible social media page.  According to the court, P.S. "ke[pt] posting and reposting negative things against [R.S.,] . . . and . . . calling him out by his name as well."  And P.S. and other citizens appeared at the local school board meeting to "try[] to get some type of disciplinary" action imposed.  R.S.'s father contacted P.S. and asked her to remove the video from her social media feed so that Father could "take care of [disciplining his son] in-house."  P.S. complied with the father's request but "then [the video] came back numerous times [and] other people started sharing it."

On May 3, 2023, R.S. filed a petition for a protection order against P.S., alleging that P.S. had used social media to stalk R.S., slander him, and disseminate false information.  At the hearing on the protection order, R.S. testified that in making the video, he made a "dumb, stupid mistake" three years ago that had been circulating on social media for the "past seven [] months[,] and [P.S.] has been slandering my name." R.S.'s father told the trial court that the "only thing [Father and R.S.'s mother] have asked for from day one [is to] let us take care of our son, . . . but again, . . . [P.S] seems to keep . . . posting and reposting negative things against him."

P.S. testified that she never contacted R.S. or his family, and that she "[d]idn't know where they lived, didn't know anything."  P.S. further testified that she did not "have any interest in targeting [R.S. on social media]," but that she believed it important to continue to comment on the matter.  (Id. at 12.)  She told the court that in her future social media posts, she would "probably" "comment on" R.S. and any other individuals who had been involved with the video incident.

Based on this evidence, the court denied the protective order, finding "no grounds to grant it."  But the court went on and imposed what it called a "mutual restraining order."  That order prohibited both R.S. and P.S. from—among other activities—"communicating, harassing, or threatening each other directly or indirectly, including on social media."

The Appellate Court vacated the "mutual restraining order," finding that the trial court, having denied R.S.'s sole request for relief—that is, the protection order—abused its discretion when it imposed a mutual restraining order on the parties.  Neither party requested that the trial court enter a restraining order against the other party.  As the Appellate Court noted, there is a procedure for issuing restraining orders, which the court ignored.  Without following those procedures, the trial court had no authority to impose the mutual restraining order.

Because the Appellate Court found the trial court lacked authority to impose the mutual restraining order, it never got to the First Amendment issue.  But had it, the Appellate Court would almost certainly have found the mutual restraining order was a prior restraint on speech and a First Amendment violation.  I'm not a fan of self-righteous public shamers.  But I am a fan of the First Amendment.  And this case came out the right way. 

About The Author

Jack Greiner | Faruki Partner