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Massachusetts Harassment Prevention Orders [Part III of III]

This post concludes the three-part series on Massachusetts Harassment Prevention Orders. In Liew v. Stansfield, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court focused on the type of speech involved and whether or not that type of speech was exempt from the harassment definition . A different Massachusetts case provides guidance on the interpretation of the word “fear” in the statute. This post discusses the definition of “fear” and how it applies to celebrities Kesha and Dr. Luke.

O’Brien v. Borowski involved a harassment prevention order issued on behalf of a Northampton police officer who was harassed by a new police officer. The first incident involved a bar encounter in which the new officer followed the Northampton officer out of the bar yelling expletives at him. The second incident occurred when the Northampton officer was in his driveway and new officer drove by making an explicit gesture. Ninety minutes later, the new officer returned in his truck and proceeded to beep his horn and make an explicit gesture, constituting a third act. The Northampton officer was granted a harassment prevention order.

The case came before the Massachusetts Supreme Court (“SJC”) on a procedural issue regarding an extension of the order. In the SJC’s discussion, they narrowed down the meaning of the word fear. Specifically, the SJC stated that fear under the statute pertains to fear of physical harm or fear of physical property damaged only. This definition eliminates fears such those of economic loss or damage to one’s reputation.

In the lawsuit between Kesha and Dr. Luke, Kesha alleged that Dr. Luke threatened to ruin her music career, remove her publishing and recording rights, physically harm her family members, and physically harm Kesha herself. In light of the O’Brien case, Dr. Luke’s threats regarding Kesha’s career and music rights would most likely not constitute fear for purposes of obtaining a harassment prevention order in Massachusetts. Luckily for Kesha, her case is being heard according to the laws of New York.

Being a party to a complaint for a harassment prevention order can be stressful. Often times, these situations arise between families and friends, which makes the situation even more difficult. If you find yourself involved in this legal process, don’t hesitate to reach out to our office for assistance.