Washington state court barring speech by a Massachusetts resident, and the Gjoni/Van Valkenburg controversy

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Apropos the Gjoni/Van Valkenburg restraining order controversy, I thought I'd also note a related matter: In late April, Van Valkenburg (there, using her pen name Zoe Quinn) got a restraining order against Gjoni in Washington state court, barring Gjoni from

post[ing] information about [Quinn], images of [Quinn], communication between [Quinn] & [Gjoni] or anything that can be used to incite 'Gamer Gate' to continue, cyberstalking, harassing, or threatening [Quinn].

That order was narrowed two weeks later, to be limited to "anything aimed at inciting others to harass, stalk, cyberstalk, or threaten [Quinn]," as well as "[v]iolations of [Rev. Code Wash.] 9.61.260" and "[p]osting of non-public information about [Quinn]." Section 9.61.260 of the Revised Code of Washington prohibits "cyberstalking," defined as:

with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person, and under circumstances not constituting telephone harassment, mak[ing] 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.

Gjoni, however, doesn't live in Washington, and apparently his relationship with Quinn—as well as any direct communication with Quinn—stopped in August 2014, when Quinn was a resident of Massachusetts. (Quinn apparently moved to Washington in January 2015.) In addition to the First Amendment problems posed by the order, which are similar to those posed by the Massachuetts order, it thus seems that Washington courts lacked jurisdiction over Gjoni. And that's important: The order entered by Washington courts tried to restrict speech nationwide (and worldwide) by a Massachusetts resident, in a context where it would have been quite difficult and expensive for him to go to Washington to contest the order.

Then Venkat Balasubramani, a highly experienced Washington cyberspace lawyer (of Focal PLLC and Technology & Marketing Law Blog), stepped in as Gjoni's counsel and raised First Amendment, statutory and jurisdictional objections. And in mid-June, the Washington court denied the request for a permanent restraining order (and thus allowed the temporary order to expire), because it found that it "does not have personal jurisdiction over [Gjoni]." A good illustration of how these sorts of "stop speaking about me" orders can raise a variety of different questions, beyond just the First Amendment.