Wis. Stat. § 813.125 – Civil Harassment

  1. Introduction

    A WMC victim may seek a restraining order where he or she is continually harassed by an individual, regardless of their relationship with that individual (e.g. regardless of whether they are “household members”).

  2. Summary of Statutes

    1. Types of harassment

Restraining orders are available for the following kinds of harassment:

      • Striking, shoving, kicking or otherwise subjecting another person to physical contact; abuse, sexual assault, or stalking; or attempting or threatening to do the same; or

      • Engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts which harass or intimidate another person and which serve no legitimate purpose.

    2. Types of orders

      • A temporary order may be granted by a judge or circuit court commissioner if s/he finds reasonable grounds to believe that the abuser has intentionally harassed or intimidated the victim. The temporary order lasts for 14 days or until the full court hearing. Notice does not need to be given to the perpetrator before the judge may issue the temporary restraining order.

      • A final harassment restraining order or injunction, can be granted only after a full court hearing where the victim and abuser both get a chance to tell their sides of the story. If granted, a final harassment restraining order may last for up to 4 years.

    3. Process

      Petitioner files a petition identifying the aggressor and the conduct. There are forms available for filing at county courthouses. A judge or commissioner may issue a temporary restraining order upon filing of the petition, which is then served on respondent. Otherwise the petition is served on respondent and a full court hearing is held to assess the need for a permanent injunction.

    4. Effect

      Either order may order the perpetrator to avoid contacting or causing any person other than a party’s attorney or law enforcement officer to contact the victim without the victim’s consent, to case or avoid the harassment of another person, and/or to avoid the victim’s residence.

  3. Cases

    1. Welytok v. Ziolkowski, 752 N.W.2d 359 (Wis. App. 2008)

      • Procedural Posture: Appeal from order of injunction.

      • Law: Wis. Stat. § 813.125

      • Facts: Defendant lost in the bidding on a piece of property successfully purchased by plaintiff. In response, defendant yelled at plaintiff in a bar, called reporters and told them she was changing her name to avoid her past (a disciplinary action eight years before), sent various obnoxious emails to her husband, boss and colleagues, and showed up at an event she was promoting with flyers about the disciplinary action. Plaintiff filed for and was granted an injunction against the harassment.

      • Outcome: The appellate court affirmed the injunction. While recognizing that it was required to be deferential to the trial court, the appellate court also found Defendant’s arguments lacking on the merits.

      • Special Notes:

        • Appeals from decisions to grant or deny injunctions are difficult to win because appellate courts heavily defer to the trial court’s decision.

        • The legitimate purpose that excuses what might otherwise be harassing conduct must exist at the time of the incident. The court rejected respondent’s attempts to “manufacture a legitimate purpose” after the fact.

        • The court had no difficulty defining conduct as harassment even though there was only one contact directly between defendant and plaintiff (the others were various attempts to embarrass her with others). Thus, a defendant’s communications with third parties still constitute harassment against the victim.

    2. Elston v. Zoellick, 351 Wis. 2d 681 (Wis. Ct. App. 2013)

      • Procedural Posture: Appeal from an order of injunction.

      • Law: Wis. Stat. § 813.125

      • Facts: Defendant was a patron at a restaurant at which plaintiff worked, and began frequenting the restaurant nearly every day plaintiff worked and inquired when she was not his server. He began to drive past her home, and inquired about plaintiff’s dating life. He followed her to her new job, and at one point, drove past her place of work six times in a 30 to 40 minute period. Plaintiff filed for and was granted an injunction, and the circuit court imposed geographical restrictions on defendant. Defendant argued on appeal that the geographic restrictions were too broad because a large swathe of his home town and a nearby town were off-limits to him.

      • Outcome: The appellate court affirmed the injunction. It found that defendant had repeatedly demonstrated that he would not abide by narrowly tailored orders, and in fact, had violated previous injunctions, and therefore a significant geographic restriction was necessary to provide plaintiff with a margin of territorial safety.