Ellen J. Clark filed a complaint requesting that an order for protection from abuse be entered against John Brian McLane in a District Court in Maine. The order entered and McLane appealed. The issue on appeal was whether threats to publicly publish "revenge porn" on the Internet established abuse authorizing a Maine court to issue a protection order.
Clark and McLane had an intimate relationship for several months during 2011 to 2012. On January 13, 2013, after their relationship had ended and after Clark had notified McLane’s wife of the affair, McLane sent an email to Clark containing a litany of insulting and derogatory remarks. McLane told Clark:
- that he had created a website in her name
- that he planned to post nude photographs of her on the website, and
- that he was also setting up accounts with three major search engines so that any search of her name would easily lead folks surfing the Net to the website he’d created.
- that he was creating an account on a video-sharing website in her name
- that he would be sharing the websites with her friends
- that he had already gathered eighteen or more email addresses from her work colleagues to share the websites with them, and
- that potential employers would see the websites as well.
- that “[g]uys will have your cell number, as well as your work number to get a hold of you [sic] and ask you out.”
In his email to Clark, McLane provided a link to the described website that he had already set up. Basically, it was a one-page “Under Construction” notice that promised that “The naked pictures of EJ Clark will be coming soon.... along with her cell phone number and her work number for you to call and arrange a date.”
After receiving the email, Clark filed for a protection order against McLane. The court issued a temporary protection order. At a hearing on the petition. Clark testified that she was fearful that McLane would follow through with his stated intentions, and that his actions would adversely affect her career and her employability
The trial court determined that McLane’s conduct constituted abuse and granted Clark a protection order for a period of one year prohibiting McLane from having contact with Clark, and also ordering McLane to “immediately disable any effor ts/sites designed to disseminate information about plaintiff to others” and “not undertake further efforts to do so.”
The Maine Supreme Court upheld the trial court decision, stating that McLane’s actions and statements meet the definition of “abuse” in the statute as a matter of law.
19-A M.R.S. § 4002(1)(C) defines “Abuse” in relevant part as follows:
1. Abuse. “Abuse” means the occurrence of the following acts between family or household members or dating partners or by a family or household member or dating partner upon a minor child of a family or household member or dating partner:
C. Compelling a person by force, threat of force or intimidation to engage in conduct from which the person has a right or privilege to abstain or to abstain from conduct in which the person has a right to engage.
The Maine Court found that “abuse comes in many forms, and neither the plain language of the protection statute nor our prior interpretations of it requires evidence of physical harm or the risk of physical harm to sustain a finding of abuse.” So finding, the Maine Court upheld the trial court’s issuance of the protection order.
Read the Clark decision here: Download Clark Decision [PDF] [Thank you Sarah Buel, Clinical Professor of Law, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. 85287-7906]
Michigan: This type of conduct--use and abuse of the Internet to embarrass a spurned spouse or lover--has occurred before. A Michigan Court of Appeal case held that a woman could be restrained by a protection order from contacting her former lover, his wife, his family and friends and his co-workers. See Cavanaugh v Smith: Should a personal protection order restrain speech?
New Hampshire: Or consider Mr. Krasnansky whose Internet Blog contained scathing remarks, private facts and scurrilous details including excerpts from his wife's diaries left behind. Divorce Wars | Blogs, Free Speech & Getting Even [Ex parte temporary restraining order issued] and my post regarding tort law that Krasnansky's wife could (and apparently did) put to good use: Divorce Wars & Invasion of Privacy [The blog came down after a lot of bluster, at least all statements about his wife and associations].
Florida: See also Man held in Contempt for Facebook Rant, Ordered to Apologize on Facebook [Man held in contempt of court for Facebook rant violating personal protection order.]
New Jersey: Where are the "common decency police" when you really need them? [MySpace page contained a video titled, "Superdiva Meltdown," allegedly containing selected portions of a video deposition given in the parties’ divorce case and violated restraining order.