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Santiago v. Leon

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

January 2, 2020

Luis A. Santiago, Appellant,
v.
Carlos Leon, etc., Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Lower Tribunal No. 17-16905 Deborah White-Labora, Judge.

          Palomares Starbuck & Associates, and Lorenzo J. Palomares, for appellant.

          Martinez-Scanziani & Associates Law, P.A., and Denise Martinez-Scanziani, for appellee.

          Before LOGUE, SCALES and GORDO, JJ.

          SCALES, J.

         Luis Santiago, the respondent below, appeals a final judgment imposing a permanent stalking injunction against him in favor of the petitioner below, M.L., a minor child. Because there is not competent, substantial evidence in the record to support the trial court's determination that Santiago had "stalked" M.L. as that term is defined in section 784.048 of the Florida Statutes (2017), we reverse the final judgment imposing the permanent stalking injunction.

         I. RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Santiago and M.L.'s father, Carlos Leon ("the father"), had a long-distance relationship[1] during which M.L. was born through a surrogate. The relationship ended when M.L. was approximately one and a half years old.[2]

         On July 12, 2017, the father, on behalf of M.L., filed a verified petition against Santiago in the lower court seeking a permanent injunction against Santiago based on Santiago's alleged stalking of M.L. The verified petition alleged that, beginning in February 2017, Santiago had stalked M.L. by: (i) getting a tattoo of M.L.'s name on his body; (ii) posting images of M.L. on his social media accounts (including Facebook and Instagram) and representing thereon that M.L. is Santiago's son; (iii) mailing packages to M.L.; (iv) twice emailing the father to express his love for M.L.; (v) contacting the father's surrogate in search of information about M.L.; (vi) appearing once outside the father and M.L's home; and (vii) driving by a restaurant the father and M.L. were patronizing and making eye contact with the father and M.L. The father further represented that Santiago regularly frequented the same restaurants at the same time as the father, oftentimes when M.L. was also present.

         On December 17, 2018, after holding two evidentiary hearings on the injunction petition, the trial court entered a final judgment precluding Santiago both from having any contact with M.L. and from posting any images or comments about M.L. on all social media. Santiago appeals this December 17, 2018 final judgment.

         II. ANALYSIS [3]

         Section 784.0485(1) of the Florida Statutes (2017) "create[s] a cause of action for an injunction for protection against stalking."[4] The statute authorizes a trial court to enter a statutory injunction against a respondent whose conduct meets the statutory definition of stalking set forth in section 784.048 of the Florida Statutes. See Richards v. Gonzalez, 178 So.3d 451, 453 (Fla. 3d DCA 2015). Hence, a review of the relevant statutory text - and whether the respondent's conduct constitutes behavior proscribed by the relevant statutes - is critical to our analysis.

         Section 784.048 defines "stalking" as when "[a] person . . . willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person." ยง 784.048(2), Fla. Stat. (2017) (emphasis added). Hence, to warrant issuance of a stalking injunction, the record must establish that the respondent either "followed," "harassed," or "cyberstalked" another. Here, the transcripts for the two evidentiary hearings reflect that, aside from determining that Santiago had engaged in "stalking-like" and "creepy" behavior, the lower court neither referred to section 784.048, nor made any express findings with respect to any of the statutory elements for stalking set forth therein. As outlined in more detail below, we conclude that there is not competent substantial evidence in the record to support the trial court's legal ...


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