Feb. 22, 2012 at 1:12 PM ET
In a legal skirmish that pitted a nephew against his uncle on harassment allegations for posting childhood Christmas pictures on Facebook, a judge has ruled that although comments about such images may be "mean and disrespectful," they and those pictures do not rise to the level necessary to remove them, or for a restraining order to prevent such images from turning up again.
Aaron Olson, of Chisago City, Minn., filed for a harassment restraining order against his uncle, Randall LaBrie, in Oct. 2010, claiming "that family photos and accompanying text, posted by respondent to the social-networking web site Facebook, constituted harassment."
LaBrie had, as relatives are wont to do, posted family photos on his Facebook page from March to June 2010. Included in the trip down memory lane were photos of Olson in group portraits, such as in front of a Christmas tree.
When Olson learned these photos had been posted, he emailed his uncle asking him to remove photos that included him or to Photoshop them (or some such editing method) to blur him out from recognition. (No juicy details of why such photos were a problem were given in the written decision.) LaBrie's response in a word: no. LaBrie also advised his nephew to "stay off Facebook if he disliked the photos." At some point, however, LaBrie relented and removed photo tags and later, the photos.
In his defense, LaBrie said he had not intended for his nephew to see any of those pictures, that they were not Facebook friends and so should not have had access to those images. Apparently, however, LaBrie did not make the proper privacy adjustments to his photos, because Olson was able to print out pages that any member of the public could access.
Tensions between the family members escalated to comments "that could reasonably be interpreted as veiled threats agains" Olson's "life and safety." Olson accused his uncle of "a hostile tirade" online, posting those childhood memories with "obscene language." In filing for a two-year restraining order, Olson even went so far as to say his uncle's behavior and action had "restricted his movement "and caused reasonable alarm."
But, when it came down it, the photos and comments just didn't meet the legal standard for harassment.
It also didn't help Olson's case that he went on a six page-tear of "multiple accusations of bias against the district court and opposing counsel" without "one citation to a statute or caselaw."
To quote directly from the decision:
The district court also found that the family Christmas pictures were innocuous photos that "could not possibly serve as a basis for harassment," a finding that appellant does not contest. To constitute harassment, words must have a substantial adverse effect on the safety, security, or privacy of another. Minn. Stat. § 609.748, subd. 1(a)(1). Comments that are mean and disrespectful, coupled with innocuous family photos, do not affect a person's safety, security, or privacy—and certainly not substantially so. The district court did not err by determining that the evidence submitted by appellant did not satisfy the statutory definition of harassment. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing appellant's petition for an HRO.