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T.D. v. C.N.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

May 10, 2018

T.D. PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
C.N., ET AL. DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS

          Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CV-17-880773

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS Carolyn W. Allen

          FOR APPELLEE T.D., pro se

          BEFORE: Blackmon, J., McCormack, P.J., and Keough, J.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          PATRICIA ANN BLACKMON, J.

         {¶1} Respondents-appellants, C.N. and B.N. (collectively referred to as "appellants"), appeal from the trial court's granting of petitioner-appellee T.D.'s (referred to as "appellee") petition for a civil stalking protection order ("CSPO") and from the trial court's denial of relief from that order.[1]

         {¶2} Appellants assign the following errors for our review:

I. The trial court abused its discretion when it issued a CSPO against appellants as the evidence presented failed the preponderance of the evidence requirement needed for a civil protection order for menacing by stalking.
II. The trial court abused its discretion when it issued a CSPO against appellants as the granting of said order was against the manifest weight of the evidence
III. The trial court abused its discretion when it denied the appellants' Civ.R. 60(B) motion for relief from judgment as the terms of the CSPO were overreaching, over-restrictive, and unsupported by the evidence, thus infringing upon the appellants' civil and constitutional rights causing them personal harm and humiliation.

         {¶3} Having reviewed the record and pertinent law, we modify the CSPO to indicate that appellants are not to be present within 50 feet of appellee. As so modified, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed. The apposite facts follow.

         {¶4} On May 23, 2017, appellee filed a petition for a CSPO against appellants. On June 5, 2017, the trial judge issued a temporary restraining order against appellants. The trial judge thereafter ordered a full hearing on appellee's CSPO on June 14, 2017. On June 16, after a three-day hearing, the trial court issued the following form order:

The Court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that 1) [appellants] knowingly engaged in a pattern of conduct that caused [appellee] to believe that [appellants] will cause physical harm or cause or has caused mental distress; and 2) the following orders are equitable, fair, and necessary to protect the persons named in this Order from stalking offenses.

         {¶5} The trial judge ordered the appellants "not to be present within 500 feet" of the protected person, which the order identifies as appellee. The terms of the order are effective until June 15, 2018.

         {¶6} The facts of this case are not complicated. Although at the trial of this matter, the appellants highly contested the allegations of appellee, appellee consistently maintained that the offending behavior or conduct of appellants, from April 2014 through November 2015 at Ward 7 council meetings, continued until it culminated on May 15, 2017. In his application for a restraining order he stated the following:

[Appellants] on or about May 15, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections located at 2925 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115 approached me bent over while I was sitting in the chair, she put [her] finger in [my] face stating, "I'm going to get you!" Then she proceeded to walk outside the board room. I waited a moment then walked out of the board meeting and was met by verbal threats from [appellants] stating, "[You're] going to get it, wait and see." This culminated over years of stalking by [appellants], they have come to meetings, acted unruly, looked at me in a menacing way and [have] driven by my house multiple times with the purpose of intimidation.

         {¶7} Appellee was elected Cleveland City Councilman of Ward 7 at the time the incidents occurred. The appellants are citizens and residents of Ward 7 and attend the council's meetings.

         {¶8} Something clearly went wrong between these parties that resulted in the appellee seeking a restraining order against the appellants. The trial court heard the evidence of the parties and their witnesses and concluded that a preponderance of the evidence established that appellee was entitled to the CSPO order against the appellants.

         {¶9} The record establishes the following: According to a precinct committee person, during a precinct meeting at Oriana House, appellants and a group of individuals ran through the facility, "hollering and disrupting the meeting that we just had to close it out." They were also disruptive at another meeting at the Sight Center.

         {¶10} According to appellee, the disruptive behavior continued from April 2014 through November 2014, which prompted the ward club to hire security due to appellants' conduct. Appellee stated that "they blurt stuff out and they will reference me." They were "disrespecting" him, making comments, and threatening comments under their breath. They would enter into his personal space and look at him in a threatening way, but did not ask a question or appear to have a legitimate reason for approaching him. Appellee spoke to a police liaison about the matter and obtained security for subsequent meetings. Appellee submitted as exhibits various invoices to pay for off-duty police officers, who were present at eight meetings.

         {¶11} Appellee also testified that during a meeting at the Sight Center in 2016, appellants and their group were so disruptive that the police officer at the meeting terminated it, and the Sight Center banned the city from holding further meetings there. By 2016, the meetings were moved to the third district police department community room due to security issues.

         {¶12} Additionally, according to appellee, in 2017, appellants filed a challenge with the Board of Elections disputing his Cleveland residency, and claiming that he was living and working in Florida. In April 2017, in response to the residency challenge, appellee wrote a letter to the Board of Elections in which he stated that he believed that he had been menaced by appellants. He wrote:

[T]he complaints seemed to be filed in retaliation for doing my due diligence of following up on several residents' complaints. The complaints were concerning drug activity at [Appellants' residence]. My follow-up on these allegations was not personal. I did what any councilperson would do if these allegations were brought to their attention.

         {¶13} Appellee acknowledged that the drug allegations had not been substantiated. Later, C.N. filed a public records request for appellee's communications involving them, their property, and the ward club meetings.

         {¶14} Appellee testified that after the residency challenge was rejected by the Board of Elections, B.N. "got very mad, " so she confronted appellee, put her finger in his face, and threatened that "we're going to get you." According to appellee, when he walked toward the exit, appellants ...


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