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  • African Immigrants
  • Volume 13 | Winter 2009

case updates

The following are summaries of reported decisions involving domestic violence that we hope will be useful to practitioners. They are organized by topic. If you know of recent reported decisions that you would like to be included in future eNewsletters please send them to Rebecca Henry at Rebecca.Henry@americanbar.org.

PRIVACY
SHELTER LIABILITY
PERSONAL JURISDICTION
VEXATIOUS LITIGATION

PRIVACY

State v. Jahnke
2008 WL 5397241 (Wis. App. 4th Dist. 2008)

Holding: The Wisconsin Appellate court affirmed the trial court’s analysis of Wisconsin Stat. § 942.09(2)(am)1, which makes it a felony to record another person’s naked body without her knowledge and consent if the person had a reasonable expectation of privacy.  The Court held that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy when she exposes herself willingly to the recorder if she has no notice that she may be recorded. 
                      
Summary:  In 2006, Mark Jahnke (defendant) secretly recorded his girlfriend from a hidden video camera when she willingly exposed her naked body to him.  The girlfriend later found out about the recording and contacted the police.  Jahnke was charged with recording the naked body of a non-consenting person, under Wisconsin Stat. § 942.09(2)(am)1.  Jahnke eventually plead guilty to the charge.  He received probation and a withheld sentence.

On appeal, Jahnke argued that there was an insufficient factual basis to support his guilty plea.  He argued that even though he stipulated to the facts of the case, the facts did not meet the requirements of the statutory language.  Jahnke argued that his girlfriend had no “reasonable expectation of privacy” because she voluntarily and knowingly exposed her naked body to him, and that a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy when they know that another person will see them nude. 

The court rejected this expansive reading and held that Jahnke’s girlfriend had a reasonable expectation of privacy in this situation.  When deciding whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, the court will look at the plain meaning of the statute on a fact-specific inquiry as to whether the person had a reasonable expectation that they will not be recorded in the nude.


SHELTER LIABILITY

Stojanik ex rel. Estate of Woodring v. R.E.A.C.H. of Jackson County, Inc.
668 S.E.2d 786 (NC App. 2008)

Holding:  The North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s grant of a motion for summary judgment to a defendant abused women’s shelter where a woman was murdered on their premises by her abuser.  It found that no jury could reasonably find that the shelter’s negligence was the proximate cause of the victim’s death because the intervening criminal actions of the murderer were not foreseeable by the shelter. 

Summary:  In 2006, Bonnie Lynn Woodring and her son became guests of REACH (defendant), an abused women’s shelter.  On September 18, 2006, Woodring’s husband gained access to the shelter, threatened a shelter employee with a handgun, beat Woodring and murdered Woodring with a handgun. 
In 2007, the estate of Woodring (plaintiff) filed a suit against REACH, alleging that the shelter’s negligence was a cause of Woodring’s death.  Plaintiff alleged that REACH was negligent in leaving the back door to the shelter unlocked and failing to secure the premises with a steel door.  The Court held that the intervening criminal act of Woodring’s husband precluded any liability of defendant. 

The Court held that no reasonable jury could find that the attack by the victim’s husband was reasonably foreseeable by the defendant.  The victim never communicated to defendant’s employees that that her husband was so dangerous that she should be transferred to a shelter in another county, defendant never had an abuser come to the shelter in its 30 year history, and defendant’s employees experienced abusive personalities to be secretive in nature and not typically prone to public acts of violence.

PERSONAL JURISDICTION

In re R.H.
2009 WL 162384 (Cal. App. 5 Dist. 2009)

Holding:  Connecticut court had jurisdiction to issue a restraining order against a person who posted threatening videos on YouTube directed toward a resident of Connecticut, where the person has no other connections to Connecticut.

Summary: Ferguson (respondent), a resident of North Carolina, posted on YouTube.com a video in which he brandished a gun and rapped about hurting and killing Rios (applicant), a resident of Connecticut. Ferguson had no other ties to Connecticut.

Rios filed an application for a restraining order under Connecticut General Statute § 46b-15.  Ferguson did not challenge the restraining order, or appear at the hearing.  The Superior Court held that it could exercise jurisdiction over Ferguson even though the only ties he had to Connecticut were the videos he posted on YouTube.  The Court held that it could exercise jurisdiction under Connecticut’s Long Arm Statute provision (a)(2), committing a tortuous act within the state.  Targeting a threatening video to a Connecticut resident itself is a tortuous act committed in the state.

The Court also held that the constitutional principles of due process would not be offended by the extension of jurisdiction in this case.  The purposeful direction of the video to Rios established “minimum contacts” necessary to meet the standard required by International Shoe.


VEXATIOUS LITIGATION

Woods v. Shewry
Case No. 056072 (Cal. Ct. of Appeal 3d, Oct. 14, 2008)

Holding:  The California Court of Appeals held that the state courts could apply vexatious litigation law to a parent in dependency court proceedings under California Code § 391(b)(1).  The Court held that a father was a vexatious litigant where he had commenced thirteen appeals and writ proceedings in a span of seven years, all of which had been decided adversely to him.

Summary:  R.H. is the father of a child who was adjudged to be a juvenile dependant and placed in the California foster care system while R.H. was incarcerated.  Upon R.H. leaving prison, the California juvenile court found that the child was in serious risk of harm in R.H.’s custody, partially because of R.H.’s history of domestic abuse against the child’s mother. Over a span of 7 years, R.H. filed thirteen appeals and writ proceedings to challenge the dependency adjudication and lack of visitation rulings.  All of the proceedings were adjudged against R.H. 

The California Court of Appeals found that under California Code § 391, a parent litigating within California dependency court proceedings could be deemed a vexatious litigant.  The court further found that R.H. was a vexatious litigant because of the amount of his proporia persona appeals.  Under § 391, the court banned R.H. from filling any new litigation within the state of California without judicial permission.