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Adam KLEIN, Appellant, v. Alayna Marie MANVILLE, Appellee.
Two appeals have been consolidated for purposes of this opinion.1 Adam Klein, also known as Amit Klein, appeals the trial court's issuance of a permanent stalking injunction against him and in favor of Alayna Marie Manville. He also challenges its directive to complete a batterer's intervention program (“BIP”). We have jurisdiction. See Fla. R. App. P. 9.030(b)(1)(A). The trial court did not abuse its discretion in issuing a permanent injunction against Klein. Manville adduced competent, substantial evidence of at least two acts of harassment and cyberstalking. We therefore affirm the trial court's permanent injunction. We find no abuse of discretion in the trial court's BIP directive, and thus, we also affirm that decision.2
After Manville broke up with Klein following a ten-month romantic relationship, he stalked her for nearly a year using various methods. Many of Klein's tactics involved the use of various websites and social media applications. He began by registering a website using an acronym that the parties had used for their relationship while dating. The acronym referenced personal matters, and we need not describe it here. Suffice it to say, Klein acknowledged nobody in Naples other than Manville would be interested in visiting this website. Indeed, Klein monitored the website's visitor traffic to see if Manville visited the site; he would then contact her after she viewed it. He also knew that she was regularly searching for her name on the internet to see what he had done next.
On the first acronym website, Klein posted pictures of, and communications between, him and Manville. These included pictures of her in her bathing suit. He identified her using her full name and nickname. He thereafter created Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit accounts using the acronym. He would tag and name Manville in these accounts, and he created hashtags featuring her full name. For example, Klein created several Reddit accounts using the acronym and posted multiple times about “relationship abuse by Alayna Manville.” He also wrote her letters in which he referenced the parties’ intimate experiences, begged her to work things out, and insisted that he still loved her.
In the midst of this campaign—and after Manville had filed her first stalking petition for an injunction against Klein—Manville told Klein she was suicidal, and she asked him why he would keep posting about her so long after their breakup. The parties later entered into a mutual agreement in Klein's pending Illinois divorce case. Manville agreed to dismiss her stalking petition, and Klein agreed not to disparage her.
Despite this agreement, Klein registered three more domain names using the acronym. He posted their photos, their past communications, thoughts about their relationship, and ironically, a copy of their mutual agreement. Over the next few months, he created YouTube, BlogSpot, and Facebook accounts using the acronym. Another Facebook account was called “Alayna Manville & Adam Klein Love Story.” He also created dating profiles using the acronym and Manville's photos. He continued posting on Instagram and Twitter, both to and about Manville and their relationship. He emailed and mailed her on multiple occasions, one time proposing the cooperative creation of a “relationship website.”
A month before Manville filed her second stalking petition, she started a new business under her nickname. After she filed an application for a service mark for her business, Klein informed her via letter that he had already service marked her nickname and registered a website under it. He had also secured her full name as a website domain. Klein congratulated Manville on her new business and suggested she “propose an agreement” to use her name in connection with it. He said that if she did not respond, he would contest her application, and “that will put us for a long time of litigation and cost.” His service mark application identified the purpose of the nickname's business as “Sex toys, namely Jewelry.” Klein acknowledged that he had never sold jewelry, and Manville is also not a jeweler. Klein also applied for registration of fictitious name for Manville's nickname with the Florida Department of State. He later created an Instagram account using Manville's name, which linked to both the nickname's and the full name's websites, and where he identified Manville by her full name.
A week before Manville filed her stalking petition, Klein posted multiple messages on the Twitter acronym account directing Manville to meet him for dinner. He posted about the relationship on Twitter and Instagram, again identifying Manville by her full name.
Manville engaged in therapy sessions throughout Klein's yearlong campaign. She felt terrorized by Klein and stated that the experience had been “debilitating” and “devastating.” She testified that she had to seek medical treatment, and she feared for her physical safety. Klein testified that he did not understand why Manville had broken up with him, that he wanted “closure” in the relationship, and that he felt like she was harassing him.
Following a three-day evidentiary hearing, the trial court granted Manville's stalking petition. It delivered an extensive and detailed explanation for its ruling, in which it found that this “was exactly the type of case and the type of behavior that the stalking statute was designed to prohibit.” The trial court found Manville's testimony entirely credible, and Klein's testimony almost entirely incredible. It also found that Manville was “clearly and understandably distressed by [Klein's] actions.” In a separate hearing, the trial court ordered Klein to complete BIP.
II. Standard of Review
Trial courts have broad discretion in granting stalking injunctions, and we review an order imposing a permanent stalking injunction for an abuse of that discretion. Pickett v. Copeland, 236 So. 3d 1142, 1143–44 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018). We review de novo whether the evidence adduced below is legally sufficient to justify the imposition of a permanent injunction. Id. at 1144. In resolving this question, we ask whether the trial court's decision was supported by competent, substantial evidence.3 See Santiago v. Leon, 299 So. 3d 1114, 1117 (Fla. 3d DCA 2020). We review the trial court's decision to order Klein to complete BIP for an abuse of discretion. See § 784.0485(6)(a)2., Fla. Stat. (2020) (providing that court “may grant such relief as the court deems proper,” including ordering respondent to participate in intervention services).
Manville adduced competent, substantial evidence supporting at least two separate acts of harassment or cyberstalking by Klein. These acts were directed at her, they caused her substantial emotional distress, and they served no legitimate purpose. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by imposing a permanent injunction against Klein or directing him to complete BIP.
A. The Elements of Stalking.
In 2012, the Florida Legislature created a cause of action for an injunction for protection against stalking. Ch. 2012-153, § 3, Laws of Fla. (enacting § 784.0485, Fla. Stat. (2012)). Stalking occurs when a person “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person.” § 784.048(2), Fla. Stat. (2020). Harassment and cyberstalking are at issue in this case. To “harass” a person means to “engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose.” Id. § 784.048(1)(a). To “cyberstalk” a person means “[t]o engage in a course of conduct to communicate, or cause to be communicated, words, images, or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person ․ causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose.” Id. § 784.048(1)(d)1.4 A “course of conduct” is “a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, however short, which evidences a continuity of purpose,” excluding “constitutionally protected activity such as picketing or other organized protests.” Id. § 784.048(1)(b). We apply a reasonable person standard, rather than a subjective standard, to determine whether harassment or cyberstalking causes substantial emotional distress. See Bouters v. State, 659 So. 2d 235, 238 (Fla. 1995) (citing Pallas v. State, 636 So. 2d 1358, 1361 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994)).
B. The Number of Acts Necessary to Prove Stalking Occurred.
The parties disagree about how many acts of following, harassment, or cyberstalking Manville needed to prove in order for the trial court to issue a permanent stalking injunction in her favor. Klein suggests Manville had to prove two separate acts of stalking itself. Manville claims that she only had to establish two separate acts of following, harassment, or cyberstalking. The difference between the parties’ positions is important, because by its definition, “stalking” requires more than one action. See § 784.048(2) (defining stalking as something done “repeatedly”). If Manville is correct, then she needed to prove two separate acts of following, harassment, or cyberstalking to prevail. If, on the other hand, Klein is right, then Manville had to demonstrate two separate acts of stalking, each of which would have required two separate predicate acts.
The stalking statute's plain language demonstrates that Manville is correct. When interpreting a statute, we “follow the ‘supremacy-of-text principle’—namely, the principle that ‘[t]he words of a governing text are of paramount concern, and what they convey, in their context, is what the text means.’ ” Ham v. Portfolio Recovery Assocs., LLC, 308 So. 3d 942, 946 (Fla. 2020) (quoting Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts 56 (2012)). During this interpretive process, we will “exhaust all the textual and structural clues that bear on the meaning of a disputed text.” See Conage v. United States, 346 So. 3d 594, 598 (Fla. 2022) (internal marks and citations omitted) (quoting Alachua Cnty. v. Watson, 333 So. 3d 162, 169 (Fla. 2022)). Here, the statutory definition of stalking plainly answers the question, and we agree with the First District's analysis on this issue. See Pickett, 236 So. 3d at 1145. The definition states that stalking occurs when someone “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person.” § 784.048(2). It does not require that a petitioner prove that a respondent has “repeatedly stalked” them, just that the respondent has followed, harassed, or cyberstalked them “repeatedly.” Stated differently, “nowhere in the definitions of section 784.048 is stalking defined as a multiple of itself.” Pickett, 236 So. 3d at 1145.
We respectfully disagree with the Second District's contrary interpretation of section 784.0485. See Touhey v. Seda, 133 So. 3d 1203, 1204 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014).5 In construing the stalking injunction statute, Touhey relied on cases analyzing repeat violence injunctions issued pursuant to section 784.046, Florida Statutes. See id. at 1203. “Repeat violence” has a different definition than stalking. It requires a petitioner to prove “two incidents of violence or stalking committed by the respondent, one of which must have been within 6 months of the filing of the petition, which are directed against the petitioner or the petitioner's immediate family member.” § 784.046(1)(b), Fla. Stat. (2020).6 But we again agree with the First District that section 784.0485 makes no reference to the provisions of the repeat violence statute; does not mandate “guidance” from the repeat violence provisions; and, independent of the requirements of section 784.046, creates “a cause of action for protection against stalking.” See Pickett, 236 So. 3d at 1144.
C. The Trial Court Did Not Abuse its Discretion in Imposing a Permanent Stalking Injunction.
Klein's substantive arguments for reversal of the trial court's permanent stalking injunction are either unpreserved or meritless. First, he contends that his actions served a legitimate purpose, namely, to inform Manville of legal actions, arrange for the exchange of personal possessions, or to document “his love story” with her. We need not address this argument's substantive lack of merit because Klein did not make it below. “[T]o preserve an issue for appeal, the issue ‘must be presented to the lower court and the specific legal argument or grounds to be argued on appeal must be part of that presentation.’ ” Bryant v. State, 901 So. 2d 810, 822 (Fla. 2005) (quoting Archer v. State, 613 So. 2d 446, 448 (Fla. 1993)).
Second, Klein argues that Manville failed to adduce competent, substantial evidence of substantial emotional distress. He suggests that “[o]nly after skillful questioning was Alayna even able to allude to some vague feelings of emotional distress.” This mischaracterizes the record. Manville testified to feeling suicidal, seeking medical and mental health treatment, and fearing for her safety. The trial court found this testimony credible, determining that Manville had “overwhelmingly met her burden.” Moreover, we have no difficulty finding that Klein's actions would cause substantial emotional distress to any reasonable person.
Finally, Klein briefly suggests that his actions were “meant for public consumption,” and that his public posts were not “directed at” Manville. But Klein does not mention his letters and emails he sent directly to Manville. And he ignores his effort to service mark her name and sell it back to her only if she would propose an agreement acceptable to him. Regardless, Klein's online behavior was clearly “directed at” Manville. See § 748.048(1)(d)1. In this regard, we note Klein's own testimony that nobody else in Naples other than Manville would have been interested in viewing his slew of websites and social media profiles, all anchored in an acronym personal to the parties. Further, the exhibits Manville introduced support the trial court's findings. Klein took great pains to ensure Manville saw his websites and posts. He repeatedly tagged, hashtagged, and referenced her by her full name. Cf. Horowitz v. Horowitz, 160 So. 3d 530, 531 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015) (reversing permanent stalking injunction where social media posts neither tagged nor mentioned petitioner, nor were “directed to her in any obvious way”). The trial court did not abuse its discretion in permanently enjoining Klein from further contact with Manville.
D. The Trial Court Did Not Abuse its Discretion in Ordering BIP.
Finally, the trial court acted within its discretion in ordering Klein to complete BIP. Klein has not filed a transcript of the trial court's BIP hearing, so our review is limited. See Applegate v. Barnett Bank of Tallahassee, 377 So. 2d 1150, 1152 (Fla. 1979). His contention that error appears on the order's face is incorrect; the stalking statute permits the trial court's actions. BIP is a 29-week intervention program designed to hold perpetrators accountable for their acts. See §§ 741.32, 741.325(1), Fla. Stat. (2020). The stalking statute specifically allows trial courts to “grant such relief as the court deems proper” when issuing a permanent stalking injunction, including ordering a respondent “to participate in treatment, intervention, or counseling services to be paid for by the respondent” upon issuing a permanent stalking injunction. See § 784.0485(6)(a)2. (emphasis added). Klein's contention that certain portions of the domestic violence statute limit BIP to domestic violence cases finds no support in the statute's text, and his argument that he did not “batter” Manville is irrelevant. See §§ 741.28 (defining domestic violence to include stalking), 741.32 (containing legislative findings on BIP). We therefore decline his invitation to use inapplicable law and unarticulated legislative intent to rewrite the stalking statute.
For these reasons, we affirm the trial court's permanent stalking injunction and BIP order.
1. These cases were transferred from the Second District Court of Appeal to this Court on January 1, 2023.
2. We decline to address Klein's other appellate issues because he did not preserve them below.
3. This differs from the burden a trial court uses to decide whether to grant a permanent stalking injunction, which is a preponderance of the evidence. See Rollins v. Rollins, 336 So. 3d 1241, 1243 (Fla. 5th DCA 2022). Florida jurisprudence contains no shortage of cases where a trial court concluded a petitioner prevailed by a preponderance of the evidence, only to be reversed by an appellate court that determined that there was no competent, substantial evidence supporting this legal ruling. This is not one of those cases. But our opinion should not be cited for the proposition that the egregious and appalling nature of Klein's actions constitutes some sort of “floor” for the behavior necessary to support a stalking injunction's issuance. Rather, we simply hold that under these circumstances, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it concluded—by a preponderance of the evidence—that Klein stalked Manville.
4. In 2021, the Florida Legislature amended this provision to include communications done “directly or indirectly” and actions “directed at or pertaining to a specific person.” See Ch. 2021-220, § 1, Laws of Fla. (eff. Oct. 1, 2021) (emphasis added).
5. Despite our disagreement with Touhey, we do not certify conflict because its holding did not depend on its interpretation of the stalking statute. See 133 So. 3d at 1204–05 (holding that no evidence supported entry of stalking injunction); see also Pell v. State, 97 Fla. 650, 122 So. 110, 112 (1929) (explaining that court's discussion is mere obiter dictum, and thus, without force as precedent).
6. The District Courts of Appeal are split on whether a repeat violence injunction requires two incidents of stalking, and thereby, four separate acts, or simply two acts. See, e.g., Lukacs v. Luton, 982 So. 2d 1217, 1220 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008) (two acts); Dudley v. Smith, 786 So. 2d 630, 631 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001) (four acts).
NARDELLA and WHITE, JJ., concur.
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Docket No: Case Nos. 6D23-50, 6D23-379
Decided: April 06, 2023
Court: District Court of Appeal of Florida, Sixth District.
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