Kentucky Court of Appeals reverses Allen Family Court, vacates IPO extension based on insufficient written findings to support evidence of stalking by Respondent

Christina Holt Taylor v. Leigh-Ann Fitzpatrick, No. 2022-CA-0946-ME

Allen Circuit Court

Allen Family Court entered an IPO against Respondent in 2019 based on Petitioner’s allegations that Respondent stalked, harassed, and threatened her. Shortly before it was set to expire in July 2022, Petitioner filed a motion to extend the IPO for three years. The family court set the matter for a hearing, at which it extended the IPO until July 2025. Respondent filed an appeal, in which she alleged that the family court lacked jurisdiction to hear the IPO, arguing that only a district court had jurisdiction to hear such a case, and challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the family court’s order granting an extension of the IPO. Petitioner did not file a brief.

The Court of Appeals recognized that family courts frequently consider IPOs, and held that, pursuant to KRS 456.030(6)(a), district and circuit courts have concurrent jurisdiction over petitions filed under that chapter. The Court then addressed Respondent’s other claim and held that the family court’s decision was not supported by sufficient evidence of stalking, the reason given for Petitioner’s motion to extend. The Court stated that although the family court checked the box on the standard form finding that stalking had occurred, it gave no additional written findings of fact and did not indicate any threats made to Petitioner by Respondent that fit within the definition of “stalking” pursuant to KRS 508.140 and KRS 508.150. Additionally, comments made by the judge from the bench were not incorporated into the standard form used to enter the extended IPO. Further, the testimony given by the parties was vague and merely reiterated statements that formed the basis for the original issuance of the IPO in 2019. No other parties testified. The Court stated that the incidences Petitioner testified to – that Respondent had walked within arm’s reach of Petitioner at their children’s school event and that Respondent had taken photos of Petitioner at their children’s sporting event – did not rise to the level of stalking. The Court held that because stalking had not occurred and because no new allegations were put forth other than those that Petitioner used to support the entry of the original IPO, the family court lacked sufficient evidence to extend the protective order. The Court reversed and vacated the IPO. 

Carter Anderson

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