Accused blogger did not cause substantial emotional distress

Ramsey v. Harman, — S.E.2d —-, 2008 WL 2415127 (N.C.App. June 17, 2008)

Defendant Harman maintained a blog on which she put up some posts accusing plaintiff Ramsey’s daughter of being a bully. Harman also posted this:

With all the bulling [sic] and harassing that goes on in our school system. Then the trouble that went on Friday at Madison Middle. The first student in that age group that came to mind was [plaintiff]‘s daughter. Wasn’t this the student that harassed the Cantrell child? And we wonder why some kids hate to go to school…..

Ramsey apparently took great offense, filing suit against Harman for “stalking” under North Carolina law, and sought a “civil no-contact order” (like a restraining order) against Harman. The trial court granted the no-contact order and Harman sought review with the state appellate court. On appeal, the court reversed.

Harman argued that the lower court erred in finding that she had violated the state’s anti-stalking law (N.C. Gen. Stat. §50C-1(6)). She also argued the order violated her First Amendment rights. Because the court found there was insufficient evidence to support a violation of the statute, it did not need to rule on the constitutional issue.

The main question before the court was whether Harman’s blog posts were intended to cause, and indeed did cause, “substantial emotional distress” to Ramsey and her daughter. The court found there was no such showing. There were no threats of physical harm, and the only evidence as to the effect on the plaintiff’s daughter was that she was “embarrassed” when teachers at school were reading the blog posts. But there was evidence that the school had blocked access to the website, making the claim implausible to begin with. There were no communications directly between the defendant and the plaintiff, and the plaintiff’s daughter’s name was never mentioned. Moreover, there was evidence that the posts were made in retaliation over a disagreement between the Harman and Ramsey which had taken place on a political website, and over an alleged threatening phone call Harman had gotten from some of Ramsey’s family members.