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Rynearson v. Ferguson

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

October 10, 2017

ROBERT FERGUSON, Attorney General of the State of Washington, and TINA R. ROBINSON, Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney Defendants.


          Ronald B. Leighton, United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Richard Lee Rynearson's Motion for Preliminary Injunction [Dkt. 3] and Defendants Robert Ferguson and Tina Robinson's Cross-Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. 23]. In the underlying lawsuit, Rynearson alleges certain provisions in Washington's cyberstalking statute violate the First Amendment because they are facially overbroad. See Dkt. 1; Wash. Rev. Code § 9.61.260. Rynearson seeks injunctive relief against enforcement of the statute as well as declaratory judgment that the challenged provisions are unconstitutional. Dkt. 1 at 7; Dkt. 3 at 5; Dkt. 25 at 4. Defendants oppose the motion for preliminary injunction and move to dismiss the lawsuit under the doctrine of Younger abstention based on a related proceeding pending in Kitsap County Superior Court. See Dkt. 23. Because the Court determines that Younger abstention is appropriate, Defendants' Cross-Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED, and Rynearson's Motion for Preliminary Injunction is DENIED AS MOOT.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Parties

         Plaintiff Richard Rynearson is a self-proclaimed activist who regularly authors online posts related to civil liberties. Dkt. 3 at 5-6. Defendant Robert Ferguson is the Attorney General of Washington and Defendant Tina Robinson in the Prosecuting Attorney for Kitsap County.

         B. Statutory Background

         In 2004, the Washington Legislature passed legislation criminalizing cyberstalking. See 2004 Wash. Legis. Serv. Ch. 94 (codified at Wash. Rev. Code § 9.61.260). This law makes it a crime to anonymously or repeatedly harass another person online, providing in relevant part:

(1) A person is guilty of cyberstalking if he or she, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person, and under circumstances not constituting telephone harassment, makes an electronic communication to such other person or a third party:
(a) Using any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act;
(b) Anonymously or repeatedly whether or not conversation occurs; or
(c) Threatening to inflict injury on the person or property of the person called or any member of his or her family or household. Id.

         C. Factual Background

         This case stems from a peculiar situation involving a stalking protection order issued against Rynearson in Bainbridge Island Municipal Court. In November 2016, Rynearson became Facebook friends with Clarence Moriwaki, the volunteer founder of the Bainbridge Island Japanese-American Exclusion Memorial. Dkt. 24-2 at 4. After a series of initially cordial Facebook interactions, in January and February 2017, Rynearson authored numerous Facebook posts criticizing Moriwaki for not condemning several public officials who supported the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012. Rynearson is opposed to a provision in the NDAA which he believes permits internment-like indeterminate detention of American citizens. Dkt. 3 at 6; Dkt. 23 at 9-10. Rynearson sent numerous text messages and authored additional Facebook posts criticizing Moriwaki, even after Moriwaki told Rynearson that he felt harassed and requested that Rynearson stop contacting him and refrain from posting on Moriwaki's personal Facebook page. Moriwaki eventually blocked Rynearson from posting on his personal Facebook page, at which point Rynearson created a Facebook Group entitled “Clarence Moriwaki of Bainbridge Island” in which he created numerous memes critical of Moriwaki. Dkt. 24-2 at 6. Rynearson also paid to have Facebook advertise the page. Id. at 7.

         In March 2017, Moriwaki obtained a temporary stalking protection order against Rynearson from the Bainbridge Island Municipal Court. Dkt. 23 at 7. In June, Rynearson's attorney emailed a Kitsap County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney to inquire if charges would be forthcoming against Rynearson related to the above-described conduct. Dkt. 4 at 23. The Deputy Prosecuting Attorney responded that he was not ...

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