Georgia: Statutory Civil Law

  1. Civil Stalking Laws

    1. Introduction

      In situations in which a WMC victim is harassed or intimidated (including through electronic means), he or she may file a petition for a protective order against his or her harasser for stalking to prevent further contact with the harasser.1 There is no tort cause of action for stalking.2

    2. Text of Statutes

      Ga. Code Ann. § 16-5-94 – Restraining orders; protective orders

      (a) A person who is not a minor who alleges stalking by another person may seek a restraining order by filing a petition alleging conduct constituting stalking as defined in Code Section 16-5-90. A person who is not a minor may also seek relief on behalf of a minor by filing such a petition.

      (b) Jurisdiction for such a petition shall be the same as for family violence petitions as set out in Code Section 19-13-2.

      (c) Upon the filing of a verified petition in which the petitioner alleges with specific facts that probable cause exists to establish that stalking by the respondent has occurred in the past and may occur in the future, the court may order such temporary relief ex parte as it deems necessary to protect the petitioner or a minor of the household from stalking. If the court issues an ex parte order, a copy of the order shall be immediately furnished to the petitioner.

      (d) The court may grant a protective order or approve a consent agreement to bring about a cessation of conduct constituting stalking. Orders or agreements may:

      1. Direct a party to refrain from such conduct;
      2. Order a party to refrain from harassing or interfering with the other;
      3. Award costs and attorney's fees to either party; and
      4. Order either or all parties to receive appropriate psychiatric or psychological services as a further measure to prevent the recurrence of stalking.

      (e) The provisions of subsections (c) and (d) of Code Section 19-13-3, subsections (b), (c), and (d) of Code Section 19-13-4, and Code Section 19-13-5, relating to family violence petitions, shall apply to petitions filed pursuant to this Code section, except that the clerk of court may provide forms for petitions and pleadings to persons alleging conduct constituting stalking and to any other person designated by the superior court pursuant to this Code section as authorized to advise persons alleging conduct constituting stalking on filling out and filing such petitions and pleadings.

      Ga. Code Ann. § 16-5-90 - Stalking; psychological evaluation

      (a) A person commits the offense of stalking when he or she follows, places under surveillance, or contacts another person at or about a place or places without the consent of the other person for the purpose of harassing and intimidating the other person. For the purpose of this article, the terms "computer" and "computer network" shall have the same meanings as set out in Code Section 16-9-92; the term "contact" shall mean any communication including without being limited to communication in person, by telephone, by mail, by broadcast, by computer, by computer network, or by any other electronic device; and the place or places that contact by telephone, mail, broadcast, computer, computer network, or any other electronic device is deemed to occur shall be the place or places where such communication is received. For the purpose of this article, the term "place or places" shall include any public or private property occupied by the victim other than the residence of the defendant. For the purposes of this article, the term "harassing and intimidating" means a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes emotional distress by placing such person in reasonable fear for such person's safety or the safety of a member of his or her immediate family, by establishing a pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior, and which serves no legitimate purpose. This Code section shall not be construed to require that an overt threat of death or bodily injury has been made.3

    3. Cases

      See supra Section C “Restraining Orders” for applicable case law related to restraining orders.

    4. Practice Pointers

      See supra Section C “Restraining Orders” for practice pointers related to restraining orders.

    1. See, supra, Section C “Restraining Orders” for more information relating to civil stalking and restraining orders.
    2. Troncali v. Jones, 514 S.E.2d 478, 481 (Ga. Ct. App. 1999).
    3. The rest of the stalking statute has been omitted because it is not applicable to “civil stalking.” See supra Section D (“Criminal”) for information about the crime of “stalking.”
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  2. Civil Computer Privacy Laws

    1. Introduction

      Although no examples were found in case law research, in situations in which a WMC victim is harassed electronically through computer hacking, the victim may be able to bring a civil action against the defendant with a computer-related crime. This statute contemplates crimes for computer theft (stealing or appropriating), computer trespass (unauthorized access), computer invasion of privacy, and computer forgery.

    2. Text of Statute(s)

      Ga. Code Ann. § 16-9-92 – Definitions

      Ga. Code Ann. § 16-9-93 – Computer crimes defined; exclusivity of article; civil remedies; criminal penalties

      (a) Computer theft. Any person who uses a computer or computer network with knowledge that such use is without authority and with the intention of:

      1. Taking or appropriating any property of another, whether or not with the intention of depriving the owner of possession;
      2. Obtaining property by any deceitful means or artful practice; or
      3. Converting property to such person's use in violation of an agreement or other known legal obligation to make a specified application or disposition of such property shall be guilty of the crime of computer theft.

      (b) Computer Trespass. Any person who uses a computer or computer network with knowledge that such use is without authority and with the intention of:

      1. Deleting or in any way removing, either temporarily or permanently, any computer program or data from a computer or computer network;
      2. Obstructing, interrupting, or in any way interfering with the use of a computer program or data; or
      3. Altering, damaging, or in any way causing the malfunction of a computer, computer network, or computer program, regardless of how long the alteration, damage, or malfunction persists shall be guilty of the crime of computer trespass.

      (c) Computer Invasion of Privacy. Any person who uses a computer or computer network with the intention of examining any employment, medical, salary, credit, or any other financial or personal data relating to any other person with knowledge that such examination is without authority shall be guilty of the crime of computer invasion of privacy.

      (d) Computer Forgery. Any person who creates, alters, or deletes any data contained in any computer or computer network, who, if such person had created, altered, or deleted a tangible document or instrument would have committed forgery under Article 1 of this chapter, shall be guilty of the crime of computer forgery. The absence of a tangible writing directly created or altered by the offender shall not be a defense to the crime of computer forgery if a creation, alteration, or deletion of data was involved in lieu of a tangible document or instrument.

      (e) Computer Password Disclosure. Any person who discloses a number, code, password, or other means of access to a computer or computer network knowing that such disclosure is without authority and which results in damages (including the fair market value of any services used and victim expenditure) to the owner of the computer or computer network in excess of $500.00 shall be guilty of the crime of computer password disclosure.

      (f) Article Not Exclusive. The provisions of this article shall not be construed to preclude the applicability of any other law which presently applies or may in the future apply to any transaction or course of conduct which violates this article.

      (e) Civil Relief; Damages.

      1. Any person whose property or person is injured by reason of a violation of any provision of this article may sue therefor and recover for any damages sustained and the costs of suit. Without limiting the generality of the term, "damages" shall include loss of profits and victim expenditure.
      2. At the request of any party to an action brought pursuant to this Code section, the court shall by reasonable means conduct all legal proceedings in such a way as to protect the secrecy and security of any computer, computer network, data, or computer program involved in order to prevent possible recurrence of the same or a similar act by another person and to protect any trade secrets of any party.
      3. The provisions of this article shall not be construed to limit any person's right to pursue any additional civil remedy otherwise allowed by law.
      4. A civil action under this Code section must be brought within four years after the violation is discovered or by exercise of reasonable diligence should have been discovered. For purposes of this article, a continuing violation of any one subsection of this Code section by any person constitutes a single violation by such person.

      (h) Criminal Penalties.

      See Section E.8 for criminal penalties and cases.

    3. Cases

      Research is ongoing. There are no Georgia cases that are factually relevant or analogous to WMC’s target situations at this time. Most cases have addressed disputes between businesses and former employees or other businesses.

    4. Practice Pointers

      • As noted above, our research did not find examples of victims of cyber harassment or similar treatment bringing civil actions under these computer security statutes. One obstacle to challenge might be showing damages, which are limited to actual damages and the cost of the suit, including loss of profits and victim expenditure. In other words, a plaintiff would need to be able to provide the elements of the crimes and establish quantifiable damages associated with such crimes.1
      • The state may also bring criminal actions for violations.2
    1. See, e.g., Ware v. American Recovery Solution Services, Inc., 749 S.E.2d 775 (Ga. App. 2013)(analyzing damages available under the computer crimes statute).
    2. Ga. Code Ann. § 51-5-7.
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  3. Defamation (Libel and Slander)

    1. Introduction

      If a sexual photo or video is published online, it may be accompanied by defamatory statements about the victim that may be actionable. It is less likely that the statements would be verbal (e.g., slander in the video or appended to video) than written statements for libel (e.g., comments accompanying the photo/video may state that the victim is infected with a sexually transmitted disease, or is seeking sex in exchange for money).

    2. Text of Statutes

      Ga. Code Ann. § 51-5-1 – Libel Defined; publication perquisite to recovery

      Ga. Code Ann. § 51-5-2 – Newspaper Libel; publication prerequisite to recovery

      Ga. Code Ann. § 51-5-3 – What constitutes publication of libel

      Ga. Code Ann. § 51-5-4 – Slander Defined; when special damage required; when damage inferred

      Ga. Code Ann. § 51-5-5 – Inference of malice; rebuttal thereof; effect of rebuttal

      Ga. Code Ann. § 51-5-6 – Truth as justification

      Ga. Code Ann. § 51-5-7 – Privileged Communications

      1. (a) A libel is a false and malicious defamation of another, expressed in print, writing, pictures, or signs, tending to injure the reputation of the person and exposing him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.

        (b) The publication of the libelous matter is essential to recovery.

        (a) Any false and malicious defamation of another in any newspaper, magazine, or periodical, tending to injure the reputation of the person and expose him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, shall constitute a newspaper libel.

        (b) The publication of the libelous matter is essential to recovery.

        A libel is published as soon as it is communicated to any person other than the party libeled.

        (a) Slander or oral defamation consists in:

        (b) In the situation described in paragraph (4) of subsection (a) of this Code section, special damage is essential to support an action; in the situations described in paragraphs (1) through (3) of subsection (a) of this Code section, damage is inferred.

        1. (1) Imputing to another a crime punishable by law;

          (2) Charging a person with having some contagious disorder or with being guilty of some debasing act which may exclude him from society;

          (3) Making charges against another in reference to his trade, office, or profession, calculated to injure him therein; or

          (4) Uttering any disparaging words productive of special damage which flows naturally therefrom.

        In all actions for printed or spoken defamation, malice is inferred from the character of the charge. However, the existence of malice may be rebutted by proof. In all cases, such proof shall be considered in mitigation of damages. In cases of privileged communications, such proof shall bar a recovery.

        The truth of the charge made may always be proved in justification of an alleged libel or slander.

        The following communications are deemed privileged:

        (1) Statements made in good faith in the performance of a public duty;

        (2) Statements made in good faith in the performance of a legal or moral private duty;

        (3) Statements made with a good faith intent on the part of the speaker to protect his or her interest in a matter in which it is concerned;

        (4) Statements made in good faith as part of an act in furtherance of the right of free speech or the right to petition government for a redress of grievances under the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the State of Georgia in connection with an issue of public interest or concern, as defined in subsection (c) of Code Section 9-11-11.1;

        (5) Fair and honest reports of the proceedings of legislative or judicial bodies;

        (6) Fair and honest reports of court proceedings;

        (7) Comments of counsel, fairly made, on the circumstances of a case in which he or she is involved and on the conduct of the parties in connection therewith;

        (8) Truthful reports of information received from any arresting officer or police authorities; and

        (9) Comments upon the acts of public men or public women in their public capacity and with reference thereto.

    3. Cases

      1. Baskin v. Rogers, 493 S.E.2d 728 (Ga. Ct. App. 1997).
        • Procedural Posture: Plaintiff appealed grant of summary judgment for slander.
        • Law: Slander
        • Facts: Plaintiff sued defendant for allegedly telling various people that plaintiff, a married man, had engaged in extra-marital affairs. The plaintiff alleged that as a result of the slanderous statements about extra-marital affairs he lost a school board position. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, which the plaintiff appealed.
        • Outcome: The court reversed the grant of summary judgment for defendant. The court explained that “accusing [plaintiff] of having sexual relations with any person other than his wife constitutes slander per se, meaning no special damages nor malice need be shown.”1 The court rejected the defendant’s argument that she had not actually said the plaintiff was having sexual relations because “affair” refers to a short-lived intense relationship that may not include sex. The defendant also argued she never “published” the slander, which is required for libel or slander. However, the evidence showed that the defendant communicated the slander to her mother, her husband, an investigator, and others, which is sufficient to support publication. Finally, the defendant claimed she never said the affairs were fact, only that “she had heard of the affairs,” but the court explained “it is no defense that the speaker did not originate the slander, but heard it from another, even though he in good faith believed it be true.”2
        • Special Notes: The court also noted that the statements were not privileged because the defendant made the statements to numerous nonprivileged individuals.3
      2. Boston v. Athearn, 764 S.E.2d 582 (Ga. Ct. App. 2014).
        • Procedural Posture: Appeal of summary judgment granted to parents of minor who allegedly published defamatory statements and photographs of victim.
        • Law: Defamation
        • Facts: Defendant, a minor, created a Facebook page of a classmate posing as the victim while using computer supplied by parents. The photo used on the account was altered using a “Fat face” application and the profile included racist viewpoints and a homosexual orientation. The minor then sent invites to numerous other classmates, teachers, and family members, while continuing to post graphically sexual, racist, and offensive items. The victim went to the school and each party involved signed a written statement admitting to engaging in the wrongful behavior. The victim brought an action for libel against the minor and his parents, seeking to impose liability on the parents for negligently failing to supervise or control their child. The trial court granted the defendant parents motion for summary judgment defendant. The plaintiff appealed.
        • Outcome: The court reversed the summary judgment finding that “a reasonable jury could find that, after learning on May 10, 2011, of [the minor defendant’s] recent misconduct in the use of the computer and Internet account, the [parents] failed to exercise due care in supervising and controlling such activity going forward.”4 As such, the trial court erred in granting the summary judgment in part.
    4. Practice Pointers

      • “Publication” for purposes of libel occurs when a website operator posts on a site, and includes messages posted on internet bulletin boards.5
      • Disclosure of alleged sexual harassment made during employer investigation of an employee’s job performance when made to persons with authority is not “publication” that is sufficient to establish a libel claim.6
      • For purposes of the statute of limitations, the Georgia Court of Appeals overruled the earlier “single publication rule,” holding that for injuries involving reputation, including slander, the first day of injury is not to be counted in determining whether a claim is timely filed.7 In other words, the statute of limitations does not begin to run on the date of first posting.
    1. Baskin v. Rogers, 493 S.E.2d at 730.
    2. Id. at 731.
    3. Id.
    4. Boston v. Athearn, 764 S.E.2d at 584.
    5. Mulim v. Banks, 642 S.E.2d 892, 898 (Ga. Ct. App. 2007).
    6. Ekotu v. Pizza Hut, Inc., 422 S.E.2d 903, 904 (Ga. Ct. App. 1992).
    7. Infinite Energy, Inc. v. Pardue, 713 S.E.2d 456 (Ga. Ct. App. 2011) (overruling McCandliss v. Cox Enterprises, 595 S.E.2d 856 (Ga. Ct. App. 2004).
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