Heidi Bassett and Katherine Herman Win Reversal of Harassment Restraining Order on Appeal

Hellmuth & Johnson attorneys Heidi Bassett and Katherine Herman persuaded the Minnesota Court of Appeals to reverse a harassment restraining order (HRO) entered against their client.

The HRO arose out of a dispute between two brothers who shared a farming operation for 40 years. The appellant (and client) raised hogs on the farm site shared by the brothers, while the respondent was responsible for the field crops. The parties decided to dissolve their farming partnership, and after a trial in 2020, the trial court divided the partnership’s property. The farm site was awarded to the respondent, although title could not yet be transferred as the parties had to resolve some related issues and the appellant still had to care for the hogs.

Following a confrontation between the brothers in May of 2020, the respondent requested an HRO from the district court in Rice County. Minnesota Statute §609.748 permits the entry of an HRO in the event of an assault or when someone commits repeated acts that have (or are intended to have) a substantial adverse effect on the safety, security, or privacy of another. The respondent alleged, among other things, that the appellant pushed him, made uninvited visits to the farm site, sent him harassing text messages and emails, and damaged and stole property. Based on these sworn statements, the trial court issued a temporary HRO preventing appellant from contacting the respondent or visiting the farm.

The appellant asserted his right to an evidentiary hearing. Following the hearing, the trial court ruled that the appellant: (1) made uninvited visits to the farm site; (2) made harassing phone calls or sent harassing text messages; (3) frightened the respondent with threatening behavior; and (4) damaged property.

In reversing the HRO, the appellate court recognized that the record did not contain sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s findings. First, visits to the farm site could not be considered uninvited because the parties still shared legal title to the property and the appellant was obligated to care for the hogs. In addition, the respondent presented no evidence of the content or nature of text messages (or emails), and while he recorded the parties’ May of 2020 confrontation on video, the video did not depict the appellant engaging in objectively threatening behavior. Finally, the record contained no evidence of any damage to property.

“It is difficult to obtain reversal of a harassment restraining order on appeal, because the trial court is given substantial discretion in entering these orders,” stated Heidi Bassett, lead attorney. “Discretion is limited, however, by the record evidence. We are very pleased with this ruling, and we are not dissuaded from pursuing our clients’ interests when faced with a difficult task.”

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