Our client, age 63, was a retired engineer and lived alone in a home in a rather nice area of Gardena. He had never been married and often helped his parents, who were still alive and living nearby.
Much closer than his parents lived our client’s next-door neighbors, a single woman, age 53, with two sons ages 35 and 33, who still lived at home and had never worked for more than very short periods of time. Their mom had a steady, well-paying job as a longshoreman, but she often worked long hours. The boys were fond of playing their music loud, smoking marijuana and using methamphetamine at the house.
The smell of marijuana often filled our neighbor’s house, which was only about eight feet away on one side from his neighbor’s house. Our client eventually erected a block wall between the houses to block the marijuana smoke.
The wall did not block the loud music or prevent the adult kids from being up and noisy at all hours of the night due to using methamphetamine. It seemed to our client that the neighbors enjoyed filling his house with marijuana smoke.
For years, our client silently tolerated the noise, marijuana smoke and the adult children’s odd behavior, even being friendly with his 53-year-old neighbor. However, he two boys seemed to enjoy bothering our client, often staring him down as he swept his driveway or did gardening outside. Our client claimed they also enjoyed breaking the pots that housed his potted plants.
Our client finally began calling the Gardena Police Department about the loud music coming from his neighbor’s house and in particular, a loud base beat that seemed to vibrate our client’s entire house for hours on end.
One time, he believed, the neighbor’s kids had poured many gallons of bleach all around our client’s house, which created a strong, chemical smell that caused our client sinus problems for weeks. Our client also reported this to the police, as our client suspected the next-door neighbors had been manufacturing drugs and spilled some chemicals. On this report, the police did report to the neighbor’s house and inspected the residence, finding nothing.
While the next-door neighbor was never on any of the phone calls and the Gardena police seemed to regard our client as overly sensitive to noise, the next-door neighbor resented our client’s frequent calls to the police about her sons, who she believed were law-abiding citizens.
She therefore filed a civil harassment restraining order against our client “to stop him from calling the police” and opted not to serve him because, she claimed, serving him might cause him to react violently and endanger her health and safety. Our client only learned of the restraining order by a courtesy call from the police, who the neighbor had apparently shared her frustrations and her intentions.
Had our client not learned of the filing, the restraining order might have been granted when our client failed to appear in court to contest the order being sought.
Our client, however, was able to get a copy of the request for a civil harassment restraining order and called Greg Hill & Associates. The client described the situation and shared many videos he had taken of the neighbors. It was obvious that he was extremely eager to let the judge hear about the loud noise, particularly the base sound, the staring, the methamphetamine use and the chemical smell incident.
However, in reading the civil restraining order request, Greg realized the request basically alleged our client was harassing her family, including their dog, by calling the police so often. The restraining order failed to state that the calls then caused the police to investigate the neighbor or that the calls caused serious emotional distress, such as anxiety. However, the request claimed the calls were all false and therefore, an order into the future to make no calls at all should be ordered.
Greg then explained to the client that the request was, fundamentally, to take away the client’s First Amendment right of petition (to call the police), even for true and good faith concerns. No judge would grant such a request.
However, Greg also realized that our client would be the next-door neighbors’ best witness if he ever testified because he would describe the neighbors in a way that showed his enduring and strong need to call the police on the neighbors for almost anything he disliked.
Greg also understood that instead of forcing the judge to “pick sides” on such a situation, our client’s wiser strategy should be to respond in writing, stating to the judge that the request legally fell short of meeting the legal standard needed to impose such an order. This defense was “cleaner” and did not require the judge to compare the credibility of the parties, which injected a personal bias and emotional element to the hearing, which judges strive to avoid.
Indeed, the petition (a CH-100 form), failed to allege that our client had any violent history toward the neighbors and failed to allege he had the intent to “harass, intimidate, molest, attack, strike, stalk, threaten, assault (sexually or otherwise), hit, abuse, destroy personal property of, or disturb the peace” of the neighbors. It never alleged our client even came on the neighbor’s property. If there were any harassment, it was the client harassing the police by making many phone calls, which were all made with a good faith belief in a true need for police attention.
The client’s response also pointed out that the next-door neighbors had not established harassment by “clear and convincing evidence" as required by California Code of Civil Procedure § 527.6(i); see also Nora v. Kaddo (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 1026, 1028.
Indeed, under § 527.6(b)(3), “[h]arassment” is unlawful violence, a credible threat of violence, or a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose. The course of conduct must be that which would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and must actually cause substantial emotional distress to the petitioner.” This had not been even remotely alleged and did not take place.
The judge read our client’s response and agreed, denying the neighbor’s request for the civil harassment restraining order. Our client never testified.
For more information about civil restraining order issues, please click on the following articles: