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Quinn v. Gjoni

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

May 19, 2016

ZOË TIBERIUS QUINN [1]
v.
ERON GJONI.

          Heard: Date March 18, 2016.

         Complaint for protection from abuse filed in the Dorchester Division of the Boston Municipal Court Department on September 16, 2014.

         A hearing to extend an abuse prevention order was had before Serge Georges, Jr., J., and a motion to vacate the order was heard by James W. Coffey, J.

          Jeffrey G. Harris for the defendant. Felicia H. Ellsworth (Tasha J. Bahal & Daniel C. Wewers with her) for the plaintiff.

          Daniel J. Lyne & Theodore J. Folkman for Eugene Volokh & another, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

          Milkey, Agnes, & Meade, JJ.

          MILKEY, J.

         The plaintiff, Zoe Quinn, obtained an abuse prevention order against her ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni. That order included a provision restricting Gjoni's ability to post information about Quinn online. On appeal, Gjoni principally argues that this provision impermissibly interfered with his rights pursuant to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and he urges us to reach those arguments even though the order is no longer in effect. For the reasons set forth below, we decline to do so.

         Background.

         Quinn is a designer of video games who -- as both parties appear to agree -- has become a controversial figure in gaming circles. The parties dated for several months. In seeking an abuse prevention order pursuant to G. L. c. 209A, § 3, Quinn alleged that Gjoni abused her in various respects, including through being violent toward her on one occasion. She also alleged that after she and Gjoni broke up, he published online a lengthy screed that included highly personal information about her, and that this in turn incited many third parties to harass her, including through making numerous "death and rape threats" to her. Gjoni concedes that he posted information about Quinn online, and he does not appear to contest that third parties have heaped significant abuse on her. Rather, the parties appear to dispute the extent to which Gjoni should be deemed legally responsible for causing the third parties to act as they have.[2]

         Quinn originally obtained the abuse prevention order (order) at an ex parte hearing held in the Dorchester Division of the Boston Municipal Court on September 16, 2014. Specifically, the judge ordered Gjoni not to abuse or contact Quinn, and to stay away from her residence and workplace. In order to address Quinn's allegations that Gjoni was inciting others to threaten and harass her through his online posts, the judge also ordered Gjoni "not to post any further information about [Quinn] or her personal life online or to encourage 'hate mobs.'" For simplicity, we will refer to this provision as the "no posting requirement."

         After Gjoni was notified of the order, an evidentiary hearing was held on September 30, 2014, before a second judge. In response to Gjoni's counsel having indicated his desire to cross-examine Quinn, the judge peremptorily stated "[t]here's going to be no cross-examination of the plaintiff." Gjoni himself was present at the hearing but did not testify. When the judge signaled his intention to extend the order for another year, Gjoni's counsel attempted to argue that the scope of the existing order infringed on his client's First Amendment rights. The judge declined to consider the issue, stating, "Counsel, I'll leave that to your appellate rights." Gjoni filed a timely appeal, which was docketed in this court on April 21, 2015.

         On August 13, 2015 -- while the appeal was pending -- Quinn filed a motion in the trial court seeking to have the order vacated in its entirety. According to Quinn, "the existence of [the] Order, and Mr. Gjoni's appeal of it, is in fact exacerbating her situation by allowing Mr. Gjoni to continue to draw attention to himself, and as a result [to her], which has the direct effect of increasing the harassment and threats she suffers." On August 28, 2015, after a hearing, a third judge terminated the order and directed law enforcement agencies to destroy all records of it.[3] See G. L. c. 209A, § 7, third par., as appearing in St. 1990, c. 403, § 8 ("The court shall notify the appropriate law enforcement agency in writing whenever any such order is vacated and shall direct the agency to destroy all record of such vacated order and such agency shall comply with that directive").

         In his appellate brief, Gjoni principally argues that the no posting requirement violated his First Amendment rights and that this requirement was, at a minimum, overly broad.[4] In her brief, Quinn did not address the underlying merits, but instead argued solely that Gjoni's appeal should be dismissed on the ground that the case has become moot. In reply, Gjoni argued that the case is not fully moot and that, in any event, this court should reach the merits. In this vein, Gjoni pointed out that as of the date his reply brief was filed, he was facing a criminal prosecution for allegedly ...


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