NC COA: Morgan v. Defeo

By Jeff Marshall

Equitable Distribution, COA 18-322, Feb. 5, 2019, Morgan v. Defeo, Iredell County

Plaintiff requested an ex parte Domestic Violence Protective Order against Defendant alleging the “defendant attempted to cause or has caused bodily injury and that the defendant continues to lie on social media about her.”  The trial court granted Plaintiff’s ex parte DVPO and ordered Defendant to refrain from all social media about Plaintiff and her family.  Plaintiff wrote in her original complaint that Defendant abused her and damaged her home in July of 2016, but her complaint was not filed until approximately one year later.  In her complaint, she attached screen shots of Defendant’s Facebook posts, Defendant’s text messages, and damage to the home from 2016.

At trial Plaintiff testified that Defendant’s posting on social media caused her “emotional distress,” that she “can’t live every day wondering what he’s going to do and say on Facebook …,” and that “the only thing that has stopped [Defendant] from [posting on] his Facebook and harassment is that [she] got a restraining order.”  The trial court granted the DVPO and concluded that Defendant committed acts of domestic violence against Plaintiff.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order, holding there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of substantial emotional distress.  Even if Defendant’s actions were annoying and constituted harassment, Plaintiff did not allege facts sufficient to find that she suffered substantial emotional distress; and there was no evidence showing that the messages published on Defendant’s website were intended to cause, and did cause, her substantial emotional distress.