Massachusetts law about harassment, stalking, or intentional infliction of emotional distress

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases, and web sources on harassment, stalking, or intentional infliction of emotional distress law by the Trial Court Law Libraries.

Table of Contents

Related topic

This page is primarily about Harassment Prevention orders under c.258E. Please see Law about domestic violence (209A) for information about abuse prevention orders under c.209A. 

If you are not sure what type of order applies to your situation, see Find out if you're eligible for an abuse prevention order.

COVID-19 update

Best bet

Harassment prevention orders, Mass. Trial Court 
Learn about what qualifies as harassment and how to request an order. Includes links to forms. 

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.258E Harassment prevention orders

MGL c.209A, § 11 Protection and custody of pets. Applicable to c.258E orders as well as 209A orders

MGL c. 265, § 37 Violations of constitutional rights

MGL c. 265, § 43 Stalking

MGL c. 265, § 43A Criminal harassment; punishment

MGL c. 269, § 14A Annoying telephone calls

Federal laws

18 USC § 2261A Interstate stalking

47 USC § 223 Obscene or harassing telephone calls in the District of Columbia or in interstate or foreign communications

Jury instructions

Selected case law

Agis v. Howard Johnson Co., 371 Mass. 140 (1976)
Expanded liability to cases without physical harm. Court held that "one who, by extreme and outrageous conduct and without privilege causes severe emotional distress to another is subject to liability for such emotional distress even though no bodily harm may result."

Ilan I. v. Melody M., 96 Mass. App. Ct. 639 (2019)
A "G. L. c. 258E order is immediately appealable, even where it is joined with other causes of action in a civil complaint."

Brown v. Nutter, McClennen and Fish, 45 Mass. App.Ct. 212 (1998)
Legal secretary brought action against law firm and one of its attorneys for emotional distress. Court held that while the Workers' Compensation Act barred her claim against the firm, it did not immunize the attorney from personal liability.

Comm. v. Alphas, 430 Mass. 8 (1999)
"In order to convict a defendant under 'following' prong of stalking statute, Commonwealth is required to prove more than two incidents of following."

Comm. v. Brennan, 481 Mass. 146 (2018)
In a case alleging criminal harassment, placing GPS tracking devices on 2 cars and monitoring them constituted 3 acts. The alleged victims did not have to know about the devices in real time to have suffered emotional distress as a result of the acts.

Comm. v. Goldman, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 222 (2018)
"If no distance is specified, the remain-away provision of a typical c. 258E order prohibits the defendant from (1) crossing the residence's property line, (2) engaging in conduct that intrudes directly into the residence, and (3) coming within sufficient proximity to the property line that he would be able to abuse, contact, or harass a protected person if that person were on the property or entering or leaving it. A protected person need not actually be present for such a violation of the order to occur."

Comm. v. McDonald, 462 Mass. 236 (2012). 
Staring, without more, is not "sinister." Under MGL c. 265, s.43A , "The act of regularly driving on a public street, looking at people in their driveways or on their porches, or at their dogs and gardens, cannot alone support conviction of a wilful and malicious act directed at a specific person."

Comm. v. Richards, 426 Mass. 689 (1998). 
Court held MGL chapter 269, section 14A does not apply to allegedly annoying facsimile transmissions.

Comm. v. Walters, 472 Mass. 680 (2015)
Stalking and harassment through social media.

Comm. v. Wotan, 422 Mass. 740 (1996). 
"Term 'repeatedly' in statute making it a misdemeanor to telephone someone repeatedly solely to harass, annoy or molest requires three or more telephone calls."

Ellis E. v. Finn F., 96 Mass. App. Ct. 433 (2019)
Unlike in an abuse prevention case, judges can only order 4 very specific types of relief in a harassment case: 1) don't harass the victim, 2) don't contact them, 3) stay away from them, and 4) pay for any money lost as a result of the harassment.

George v. Jordan Marsh Co., 359 Mass. 244 (1971)
Court held that "one who, without a privilege to do so, by extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally causes severe emotional distress to another, with bodily harm resulting from such distress, is subject to liability."

Payton v. Abbott Labs, 386 Mass. 540 (1982)
Great summary of the history of the tort and its required elements

Quinn v. Walsh, 49 Mass.App.Ct. 696 (2000)
"Openly conducting adulterous affair was not sufficiently outrageous conduct to support claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress."

Seney v. Morhy, 467 Mass. 58 (2014)
"This court concluded that appeals from expired civil harassment prevention orders issued pursuant to G. L. c. 258E should not be dismissed as moot where the parties have a continuing interest in the case, including removing any stigma from the name, and any law enforcement records, of the party against whom such an order issued."

U.S. v. Ackell, 1st circuit, 10/24/18.
18 USC § 2261A is constitutional because it targets conduct, not speech.

Web sources

Am I eligible for a restraining order? 
A one-page guide which simply explains the differences between MGL c.209A and MGL c.258E.

Harassment prevention orders, Mass. Legal Help.
Explains the law and procedure in plain language in a question and answer format.

Orders concerning domesticated animals in conjunction with restraining orders: Memo from Chief Justice of the Trial Court and Court Administrator, October 31, 2012
Includes explanation of the law and procedures, with forms

Print sources

Civil causes of action in Massachusetts, MCLE. Chapter 13, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

"Complaints for intentional infliction of emotional distress." Am jur pleading and practice forms (Includes forms). Fright, sec. 52-108.

"Intentional infliction of emotional distress," 43 Am jur proof of facts 2d 1.

“Liability of employer, supervisor, or manager for intentionally or recklessly causing employee emotional distress—defamation, invasion of privacy, and employer's alleged misuse of company procedures” 38 ALR 6th 541. 

Massachusetts proof of cases, Thomson West. Vol. 1, Civil, Chapter 13. 

Massachusetts Superior Court civil practice jury instructions, MCLE, loose-leaf, Chapter 8.

Massachusetts tort damages, 2d ed., by Michael B. Bogdanow, Lexis, 1999 (with supplement), Chapter 6.

Massachusetts tort law manual, MCLE, loose-leaf, Chapter 6.

"Modern status of intentional infliction of mental distress as independent tort; outrage," 38 ALR 4th 998.

Tort law, 3rd ed. (Mass. Practice, v. 37) Thomson West, 2005 with supplements.

“Validity of state stalking statutes” 6 ALR 7th Art.  6.



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Last updated: April 19, 2022