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Michigan Court of Appeals: "odious" speech alone not enough for protective order

Judge's gavel

A feud between neighbors has led the Michigan Court of Appeals to rule "ugly, rude," and "odious" comments alone are not enough to grant a personal protection order.

The court said the issue arose when one neighbor said, “Here come your masser,” as a white neighbor tried to intervene during a dispute.

Both feuding neighbors are Black. A lower court deemed the remark hate speech and granted a protection order in the case.

Attorney Kevin Gentry represented the woman who made the remark. He said PPOs are only for keeping people safe from threats.

“If people could get a PPO because they didn’t like one another or because they said bad things to one another, the courts would be rapidly clogged up with many, many, many PPOs because there are plenty of people in the world who don’t get along,” Gentry said.

The appellate court ruled the neighbor’s comment fell under the First Amendment’s free speech protections.

Michigan law does bar harassment, but it doesn’t apply to “constitutionally protected activity.”

Gentry said the ruling in this case shouldn’t affect others where threats are made.

“Anything that crosses the line into violence, or incitement of violence or threat of violence is still totally regulatable by a PPO and totally prohibitable conduct. This merely says that being exceptionally rude is not,” he said.

The neighbors had requested five different PPOs at different points over the course of their feud.