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Auguste v. Aguado

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

September 25, 2019

Marchel Auguste, Appellant,
Christina Aguado, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County Lower Tribunal No. 18-16965, Lody Jean, Judge.

          Tables Law Group, P.A., and Ryan Tables (Hollywood); Gilbert & Smallman PLLC, and Andrew J. Smallman (Hollywood), for appellant.

          Carlos A. Ziegenhirt, P.A., and Carlos A. Ziegenhirt, for appellee.

          Before LOGUE, LINDSEY and GORDO, JJ.

          GORDO, J.

         Marchel Auguste appeals the trial court's entry of a final judgment granting Christina Aguado's petition for a permanent injunction. Auguste contends the evidence presented at the final injunction hearing was insufficient to establish the statutory elements of stalking because Aguado had not shown that she suffered severe emotional distress. We disagree and affirm.

         Auguste was a nanny for Aguado's children for approximately ten months. Auguste's job responsibilities included picking up Aguado's children from school and assisting them with their homework. Because of the nature of her employment, Auguste had access to much of the Aguados' personal information and daily schedules. She was terminated on June 28, 2018, by Aguado's husband. Later that night, a number of text messages were exchanged between Aguado, her husband and Auguste. These text messages contained profanity and lead Aguado to block Auguste's phone number. At one o'clock in the morning, Auguste contacted a cruise line with which the Aguados were scheduled to travel and cancelled their upcoming family vacation. She impersonated Aguado by providing her personal information without her authorization or consent. Later that morning, Auguste sent two emails to Aguado attacking her character and calling Aguado a "raging psycho." Aguado never responded to Auguste. A couple of weeks later, Auguste sent emails to Aguado's father, copying Aguado and numerous family members. In the first email, she quotes Psalms 28:3, saying "Do not drag me away with the wicked." Auguste refers to Aguado as "evil" and states that she has many enemies. The email goes on to reference another Bible passage, stating "Avenge not yourself, but rather give place unto wrath for it is written. Vengeance is mine. I will pay sayeth the Lord." The second email contained similar content and spoke of death. Communications from Auguste ceased only after she was served with the trial court's temporary injunction.

         At the final hearing, the lower court heard extensive testimony from Aguado, Aguado's father, Auguste, a senior investigator for the cruise line's security company and the police detective who investigated Auguste's fraudulent impersonation of Aguado. Aguado and her father testified that the correspondences they received disturbed, concerned and alarmed them. The trial court also reviewed various pieces of evidence including text messages, email correspondence and the recording of Auguste's telephone call with the cruise line. Auguste admitted to having sent all the text messages and emails and to having called the cruise line. The court found Aguado to be more credible and concluded that a reasonable person in Aguado's situation would fear for herself and her family. The court stated that because of the continuing nature of Auguste's "course of conduct weeks after being let go, " a permanent injunction was "needed to protect [Aguado] and her family." (emphasis in original).

         We have previously held that the appropriate standard by which to evaluate conduct under Florida Statutes section 748.048 is the objective reasonable person standard. See, e.g., Pallas v. State, 636 So.2d 1358, 1361 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994). On appeal, Auguste relies heavily on Jones v. Jackson, a case in which the court reversed a permanent injunction finding that the phone calls and text messages would not have caused a reasonable person substantial emotional distress. 67 So.3d 1203 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011). Despite the application of the same legal standard, Jones is clearly distinguishable from the case before us.

         In Jones, the only evidence of an emotional response from the petitioner was that he "was calm" after receiving the threats at issue. 67 So.3d at 1204. In light of that testimony, the Jones court concluded that harassment had not been established "because a reasonable person would not have suffered emotional distress." Id. Here, Aguado testified that Auguste's messages disturbed her. She also testified that she feared for her safety and that of her family, as Auguste was aware of her family's schedule and whereabouts. Aguado's testimony, along with the other evidence admitted at the hearing, lead the trial court to conclude that a reasonable person in Aguado's position would have feared for herself and her family. Further, the trial court found that a reasonable person would have felt the need to seek protection from the court.

         The court diligently analyzed the evidence and testimony and applied it to the statutory elements of stalking. Based on that, the trial court found that Auguste's conduct did not serve a legitimate purpose and would cause a reasonable person substantial emotional distress. Thus, the trial court concluded that Auguste's repeated, harassing conduct constituted stalking. See § 784.048(1)(a), (2), Fla. Stat. (2019).

         This case was highly fact-specific and relied in large part on live testimony. As such, the trial court was uniquely well-situated to evaluate the evidence and rule on the injunction. See Carricarte v. Carricarte, 961 So.2d 1019, 1020 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007) (quoting Smith v. Coalition to Reduce Class Size, 827 So.2d 959, 961 (Fla. 2002)) (Permanent injunctions will be affirmed absent an abuse of discretion, particularly "where the order relies on live testimony or other evidence that the trial court is singularly well-suited to evaluate."). Because the trial ...

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