Injunctions Against Speech That “Ha[s] a Substantial Adverse Effect … on … [a Person's] Privacy”

I’m writing an article that indirectly touches on this question, and I thought I’d ask our readers for their take on it. I’d particularly like to hear from people who are knowledgeable about privacy law, and who (unlike me) support information privacy speech restrictions, such as the disclosure-of-private-facts tort.

Minnesota has an interesting statute that allows courts to enjoin speech that “ha[s] a substantial adverse effect … on the … privacy” of a person, Minn. Stat. Ann. § 609.748. Five months ago it was used to issue an injunction banning online speech by a person about his ex-girlfriend, Johnson v. Arlotta (2011), but it has been used before as well.

I’m curious what people think of this — again, especially people who generally support the disclosure tort — given the lack of a statutory or judicial definition of what constitutes “privacy” for purposes of the statute, and the criminal penalties for violating the order. How should the statute be read, and is it constitutional? Should “privacy” be read as tortious invasion of privacy, with all the common-law twists on that (e.g., the exception for newsworthy speech, and the requirement that the speech be said to the public and not just as gossip within a circle of friends)? Is that sufficiently clear for an order that can be enforced through criminal penalties? Also, are temporary restraining orders under the statute — which may be issued ex parte — unconstitutional prior restraints?

Here’s the relevant excerpt:

(a) “Harassment” includes:
(1) a single incident of physical or sexual assault or repeated incidents of intrusive or unwanted acts, words, or gestures that have a substantial adverse effect or are intended to have a substantial adverse effect on the safety, security, or privacy of another, regardless of the relationship between the actor and the intended target;
(2) targeted residential picketing; and
(3) a pattern of attending public events after being notified that the actor’s presence at the event is harassing to another….

(c) “Targeted residential picketing” includes the following acts when committed on more than one occasion:
(1) marching, standing, or patrolling by one or more persons directed solely at a particular residential building in a manner that adversely affects the safety, security, or privacy of an occupant of the building ….

Subd. 4. Temporary restraining order. (a) The court may issue a temporary restraining order ordering the respondent to cease or avoid the harassment of another person or to have no contact with that person if the petitioner files a petition in compliance with subdivision 3 and if the court finds reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent has engaged in harassment. When a petition alleges harassment as defined by subdivision 1, paragraph (a), clause (1), the petition must further allege an immediate and present danger of harassment before the court may issue a temporary restraining order under this section….

(b) Notice need not be given to the respondent before the court issues a temporary restraining order under this subdivision….

(c) The temporary restraining order is in effect until a hearing is held on the issuance of a restraining order under subdivision 5. The court shall hold the hearing on the issuance of a restraining order if the petitioner requests a hearing. The hearing may be continued by the court upon a showing that the respondent has not been served with a copy of the temporary restraining order despite the exercise of due diligence or if service is made by published notice under subdivision 3 and the petitioner files the affidavit required under that subdivision.

(d) If the temporary restraining order has been issued and the respondent requests a hearing, the hearing shall be scheduled by the court upon receipt of the respondent’s request. Service of the notice of hearing must be made upon the petitioner not less than five days prior to the hearing. The court shall serve the notice of the hearing upon the petitioner by mail in the manner provided in the Rules of Civil Procedure for pleadings subsequent to a complaint and motions and shall also mail notice of the date and time of the hearing to the respondent. In the event that service cannot be completed in time to give the respondent or petitioner the minimum notice required under this subdivision, the court may set a new hearing date….

Subd. 5. Restraining order. (a) The court may grant a restraining order ordering the respondent to cease or avoid the harassment of another person or to have no contact with that person if all of the following occur:
(1) the petitioner has filed a petition under subdivision 3 [and the order has been served on the respondent];
(2) the sheriff has served respondent with a copy of the temporary restraining order obtained under subdivision 4, and with notice of the right to request a hearing, or service has been made by publication under subdivision 3, paragraph (b); and
(3) the court finds at the hearing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent has engaged in harassment.
A restraining order may be issued only against the respondent named in the petition; except that if the respondent is an organization, the order may be issued against and apply to all of the members of the organization. If the court finds that the petitioner has had two or more previous restraining orders in effect against the same respondent or the respondent has violated a prior or existing restraining order on two or more occasions, relief granted by the restraining order may be for a period of up to 50 years. In all other cases, relief granted by the restraining order must be for a fixed period of not more than two years. When a referee presides at the hearing on the petition, the restraining order becomes effective upon the referee’s signature….

(c) If the court orders relief for a period of up to 50 years under paragraph (a), the respondent named in the restraining order may request to have the restraining order vacated or modified if the order has been in effect for at least five years and the respondent has not violated the order….At the hearing, the respondent named in the restraining order has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that there has been a material change in circumstances and that the reasons upon which the court relied in granting the restraining order no longer apply and are unlikely to occur. If the court finds that the respondent named in the restraining order has met the burden of proof, the court may vacate or modify the order. If the court finds that the respondent named in the restraining order has not met the burden of proof, the court shall deny the request and no request may be made to vacate or modify the restraining order until five years have elapsed from the date of denial. An order vacated or modified under this paragraph must be personally served on the petitioner named in the restraining order.

Subd. 6…. (b) Except as otherwise provided in paragraphs (c) and (d), when a temporary restraining order or a restraining order is granted under this section and the respondent knows of the order, violation of the order is a misdemeanor.
(c) A person is guilty of a gross misdemeanor who knowingly violates the order within ten years of a previous qualified domestic violence-related offense conviction or adjudication of delinquency.
(d) A person is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than five years or to payment of a fine of not more than $10,000, or both, if the person knowingly violates the order:
(1) within ten years of the first of two or more previous qualified domestic violence-related offense convictions or adjudications of delinquency;
(2) because of the victim’s or another’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability as defined in section 363A.03, age, or national origin;
(3) by falsely impersonating another;
(4) while possessing a dangerous weapon;
(5) with an intent to influence or otherwise tamper with a juror or a judicial proceeding or with intent to retaliate against a judicial officer, as defined in section 609.415, or a prosecutor, defense attorney, or officer of the court, because of that person’s performance of official duties in connection with a judicial proceeding; or
(6) against a victim under the age of 18, if the respondent is more than 36 months older than the victim….