Facebook, Pro Se Litigants, Social Media, Social Networking Websites, Technology

No, You Can’t Sue Your Uncle For Putting Embarrassing Family Photos On Facebook

Humiliating? Yes. Harassment? No dice.

At this point, nearly everyone has at least one friend who finds perverse joy in posting stupid, unflattering photos of their friends to Facebook. Maybe drunk photos or maybe just dorky, grody ones from right after you ran a marathon or something.

In these mildly annoying situations, most people would untag the photos and then forget that they existed. But not everyone. A Minnesota man named Aaron Olson could not handle the fact that his uncle posted photos from his childhood in front of the Christmas tree, along with some snarky captions. So he sued his uncle for harassment.

A Minnesota district court tossed his case, and earlier this week the Court of Appeals of Minnesota denied Olson’s pro se complaint. Judge Natalie E. Hudson wrote a surprisingly zen unpublished opinion, considering how silly the lawsuit (and Olson’s in-court behavior) was…

Venkat Balasubramani from the Technology & Marketing Law Blog gives us a summary of Olson v. LaBrie, as well as a more detailed legal analysis:

This case is what happens when a headline from The Onion comes to life. Aaron Olson sought a harassment restraining order against his uncle Randall LaBrie. Olson argued that Labrie harassed Olson by… get this… posting “innocuous [but surely awkward] family photographs” to Facebook and making mean comments directed toward Olson. The photos included Olson as a child, “posing in front of a Christmas tree.” LaBrie also tagged Olson in the photos. When Olson became aware of the photos, he requested they be removed or “altered to erase” Olson. Labrie demurred, although he untagged Olson. Understandably, LaBrie told Olson that if he did not like the photos, “he should stay off Facebook.”

For the record, Olson and Labrie are not friends on Facebook. It sounds like there’s some serious family drama going on here. Feels a bit like something out of a Jonathan Franzen novel.

The appeals court laid waste to Olson’s claims. Basically the judge took on the form of Scott Farkus for couple of pages (you can see the opinion here). “Come on, crybaby. Cry for me. Are you going to cry?”

From the opinion (citations omitted):

To constitute harassment, words must have a substantial adverse effect on the safety, security, or privacy of another. Comments that are mean and disrespectful, coupled with innocuous family photos, do not affect a person’s safety, security, or privacy — and certainly not substantially so. The district court did not err by determining that the evidence submitted by appellant did not satisfy the statutory definition of harassment.

The opinion doesn’t say how old Olson is. But I’m super curious. He sounds like the prototypical product of helicopter parenting, like the kind of people who sue a high school because they want to look slutty in their yearbook photos.

The funniest part is that Olson represented himself pro se. And complained that the district court was biased against him because of his socioeconomic status and religion. Sure buddy. I am pretty sure this one is on you.

More from Judge Hudson:

In any event, the district court is afforded broad discretion in controlling the courtroom as part of its duty to proceed efficiently…. And our review of the record reveals that the district court, in fact, assisted appellant multiple times regarding how to approach a witness with an exhibit, how to enter an exhibit into evidence, and how to properly question a witness. The record further demonstrates that any pressure appellant faced to finish his examinations or testimony came from the district court’s instruction and attempts to control the proceeding in an efficient manner. The district court judge was not biased and appellant received a fair hearing.

If Olson cannot handle appearing in old family photos on Facebook, I pity the fool friend who tags him in party photos. So yeah, mother, tell your children not to photograph this man.

Posting Family Photos to Facebook With Snarky Comments Isn’t Harassment of Family Member — Olson v. LaBrie [Technology & Marketing Law Blog]
Olson v. LaBrie [Court of Appeals of Minnesota]

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