Parents in Washington want to do what they can to protect their children from harassment. A parent may petition on their child’s behalf for an anti-harassment protection order. A parent’s ability to seek a protection order against another child, however, is more limited. In such cases, the other child must have been “adjudicated of” or investigated for an offense against the protected child. RCW 10.14.040(7). A high school student recently challenged a protection order issued against her on the grounds it was not permitted under RCW 10.14.040(7).
Two high school students were involved in some sort of conflict. The appeals court’s opinion identified the two minor students by the initials A.R.S. and K.G.T. According to the court’s opinion, A.R.S. repeatedly threatened to assault K.G.T.
They met in the bathroom to resolve their differences. A.R.S. shoved K.G.T. A teacher intervened and stopped the incident. The assistant principal subsequently addressed it as a disciplinary issue and suspended K.G.T. for one day and A.R.S. for three.
K.G.T.’s mother left a message telling the school’s resource officer her daughter sprained her ankle. She said they were thinking about pressing charges. She told the resource officer at a meeting the next day that she did not want to press charges but intended to pursue a restraining order. The resource officer did not take any further action.
The mother filed an anti-harassment protection petition on behalf of her daughter. The superior court commissioner issued a temporary protection order and later held a hearing. The assistant principal testified at the hearing that there had been a school investigation. The resource officer testified it had become “a school investigation only” when the mother and K.G.T. said they did not want to press criminal charges. He further testified he did not believe it was likely he would have found probable cause to arrest A.R.S.
A.R.S.’s attorney argued the superior court did not have jurisdiction to issue a civil anti-harassment order against her because there had been no criminal investigation. The commissioner granted the petition and ordered A.R.S. to have no contact with K.G.T.
A.R.S.’s motion for revision was denied, so she appealed.
The appeals court noted the issue was what was meant by “under investigation” or “has been investigated” in the statute. The court pointed out that a parent’s own concerns regarding their child are insufficient to support a petition when the other party is also a minor. There must also be an investigation or adjudication by another party. The appeals court further found the statutory language requires the involvement of law enforcement. The words “offense” and “adjudicated” are both related to crimes. School officials do not generally investigate crimes.
The appeals court considered general and legal dictionary definitions of the word “investigate.” The appeals court noted that the definitions required the investigator to “act systematically.” Receiving information and deciding not to act on it does not, the court concluded, constitute an investigation.
The appeals court further pointed out that if taking information were sufficient to constitute an investigation under the statute, the parent would only need to make a report to police to create a basis for the petition. That was not what was intended by the statute’s requirement of adjudication or investigation.
The appeals court found there was no adjudication or investigation under RCW 10.14.040(7). The resource officer only received the complaint, and there was nothing in the record indicating any other law enforcement officer took any additional action.
Without a criminal investigation, the appeals court found K.G.T.’s mother did not have a factual basis for the protection order and the trial court therefore did not have the authority to render a decision. The appeals court vacated the order and remanded the case for the trial court to dismiss the petition.
Whether you are seeking or defending against a protection order, an experienced Washington civil protection order attorney can help. Having someone on your side is even more important when your case involves children. Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to set up a consultation.