When somebody comes to bother and annoy you, that alone is not enough for the offense to qualify for attention under civil harassment laws. You probably still have an actionable case, and legal recourse, it’s just that this will fall under a different area of law. In order for it to qualify as civil harassment, the behavior must be threatening or intimidating, and not caused by an immediate family member (spouse, child, parent, etc). This careful definition is necessary because the title of the law is a bit confusing. Civil harassment law is intended to cover high-level harassment only. For example, if a gang of hooligans regularly loiter outside your shop with the intention of disrupting business for you, this is harassment behavior, but it’s not civil harassment because there’s no direct threat to you. Another example might be somebody spray painting racists slogans on your wall, and this is also definitely harassment, but it’s only civil harassment if it causes you to genuinely fear that you may be harmed. Some examples of behaviors that might be considered civil harassment include:
- Making threatening calls to an individual or business
- Loitering alone or in a group as a means of intimidation
- Sending threats or annoying letters in the mail on a repeat basis
- Making verbal threats or taunts
- Showing weapons as a means of intimidation
But it must be kept in mind that the harassment behavior must not be perpetrated by an immediate family member, and it must genuinely make you afraid. This means a threat must be credible. If somebody suggests they are going to harm you by dropping a giant block of jello on you from a helicopter, it’s not a credible threat because it would be very difficult to achieve. No reasonable person would believe they will be harmed in this way.
The distinction between ordinary harassment and civil harassment is a matter of degree, and it’s important because it can be much easier to obtain a restraining order when the matter is civil harassment or domestic violence. It’s best to have an attorney decide which laws are applicable to your situation and proceed from there.
On the topic of domestic violence attorneys, the team at Oceanside-based Fischer & Van Thiel are a great choice for civil harassment lawsuits. With an excellent track record of obtaining favorable settlements for clients, they also are able to help clients obtain justice and put a stop to harassment behavior, including assistance with getting restraining orders issued against violators.
A few examples of behavior that are clearly harassment but probably wouldn’t be considered civil harassment without additional factors include:
- Causing damage to property
- Playing loud music with the deliberate intention of annoying somebody
- Creating an obstruction to prevent somebody from entering or leaving a place
- Habitual loitering for reasons other than to intimidate
- Using graffiti, signs, or posters to harass somebody
With regard to the last one, there are some potential First Amendment issues that could arise, but in general when harassment is clearly the goal, and when there is no other measurable benefit or merit, a First Amendment defense might be difficult to use in beating a civil lawsuit for harassment.