N. L.P. v. C.G.W., No. ED 99738.

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtANGELA T. QUIGLESS
Citation415 S.W.3d 800
PartiesN.L.P., Respondent, v. C.G.W., Appellant.
Decision Date17 December 2013
Docket NumberNo. ED 99738.

415 S.W.3d 800

N.L.P., Respondent,
v.
C.G.W., Appellant.

No. ED 99738.

Missouri Court of Appeals,
Eastern District,
Division Three.

Dec. 17, 2013.


[415 S.W.3d 801]


Steven A. Waterkottw, St. Louis, MO, for appellant.

N.L.P., Fenton, MO, Acting Pro Se.


ANGELA T. QUIGLESS, Judge.
I. INTRODUCTION

C.G.W. appeals the judgment of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County entering a full order of protection under Missouri's Adult Abuse Act, sections 455.005–455.090,1 against him and in favor of his next-door neighbor, N.L.P.2 C.G.W. argues the trial court erred in entering a full order of protection because N.L.P. failed to prove that C.G.W. engaged in an unwanted

[415 S.W.3d 802]

course of conduct that served no legitimate purpose and that caused alarm to N.L.P. We reverse and remand.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The record reveals that N.L.P. lives with her husband on property adjoining C.G.W.'s property. The three of them are the only people living on a shared road that provides ingress to and egress from their homes. N.L.P. filed a petition for an order of protection against C.G.W., alleging that he was stalking her by: (1) making “false reports to animal control”; (2) making constant “harassing phone calls”; and (3) “us[ing] the building department and solid waste department to harass [her].” N.L.P. stated that she was “scared for [her] life” and that she did not know “what [C.G.W.] is capable of.” The trial court entered an ex parte order of protection against C.G.W.

Pursuant to section 455.040.1, the trial court conducted a hearing on N.L.P.'s petition. After hearing the evidence, the trial court noted that there had been peace between the parties and entered a judgment granting a full order of protection, effective for one year, against C.G.W. and in favor of N.L.P. The order of protection prohibits C.G.W. from, among other things, stalking N.L.P. or communicating with her in any manner. C.G.W. appeals.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In an appeal from a court-tried civil case, our review is governed by Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30 (Mo. banc 1976). White v. Dir. of Revenue, 321 S.W.3d 298, 307–08 (Mo. banc 2010). Accordingly, this court will affirm the 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. Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d at 32. “This Court views the evidence and permissible inferences drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the judgment.” Bateman v. Platte County, 363 S.W.3d 39, 43 (Mo. banc 2012). “Because of the potential stigma that may attach to an individual who is labeled a ‘stalker’ under the Missouri Adult Abuse Act, trial courts must exercise great care ... to ensure sufficient evidence exists to support all elements of the statute before entering a full order of protection.” M.L.G. v. R.W., 406 S.W.3d 115, 117 (Mo.App. E.D.2013).

IV. DISCUSSION

In his sole point on appeal, C.G.W. argues the trial court erred in entering a full order of protection against him because the evidence was insufficient. Specifically, C.G.W. maintains that N.L.P. failed to prove he engaged in an unwanted course of conduct that served no legitimate purpose and that caused alarm to N.L.P. We agree.

Missouri's Adult Abuse Act allows any adult who has been the victim of stalking to seek relief by filing a verified petition alleging such stalking by the respondent. Mo.Rev.Stat. § 455.020.1. The trial court must hold a hearing on the petition. Mo.Rev.Stat. § 455.040.1. At the hearing, the trial court shall issue a full order of protection “if the petitioner has proved the allegation of ... stalking by a preponderance of the evidence.” Id.

The legislature defined “stalking” as “when any person purposely and repeatedly engages in an unwanted course of conduct that causes alarm to another person when it is reasonable in that person's situation to have been alarmed by the conduct.” Mo.Rev.Stat. § 455.010(13). The legislature further defined “stalking” by providing definitions for “alarm,” “course of conduct,” and “repeated”:

[415 S.W.3d 803]

(a) “Alarm” means to cause fear of danger of physical harm;

(b) “Course of conduct” means a pattern of conduct composed of repeated acts over a period of time, however short, that serves no legitimate purpose. Such conduct may include, but is not limited to, following the other person or unwanted communication or unwanted contact; and

(c) “Repeated” means two or more incidents evidencing a...

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