Jury Awards Victim of Internet Harasser $50,000

troll 3This is a case of cyber-harassment gone wild. The case was originally filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County and on July 15, 2011, transferred to the federal district court for the Northern District of Illinois.   There were numerous defendants named in the complaint, but the person of significant interest is Robert DiDomenico, a resident of Rome, New York. The other named defendants consisted of law enforcement officers, hospitals, and doctors, all of whom became involved in the lives of Steven and Joseph Rusinowski because of Robert DiDomenico.

Since July 15, 2011, the case had proceeded to summary judgments, some of which were denied, some granted, and some granted in part and denied in part. DiDomenico argued lack of jurisdiction. The court didn’t buy it. DiDomenico also played games about his “handle” The court didn’t buy it.

Beginning in March of this year, motions to continue the date for trial and a truck load of motions in limine were filed. The court denied DiDomenico’s Motion for Summary Judgment and his attorney withdrew. There is no indication on the docket sheet that DiDomenico obtained another attorney. At the time of trial, it appears that only two defendants were left – others settled or were terminated as defendants. Trial started on September 30, 2014. On October 2, 2014, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Rusinowski’s and against DiDomenico, awarding the Rusinowski’s $50,000.

Considering what DiDomenico put Steven through, the amount seems small. However, as is said in many things, it was the principle; justice was served, and the case helps to set precedent. Attorney Todd McMurtry, who practices in Kentucky, took interest in the court’s decision on DiDomenico’s lack of jurisdiction argument, writing,

“The effect of this and similar decisions is potentially profound. Concerted efforts made over the Internet causing activity in a distant jurisdiction could result in an out-of-state defendant defending a case in that jurisdiction.”

Cyber-harassers, be aware.

Federal District Court Judge Harry D. Leinenweber’s Memorandum Opinion on DiDomenico’s Motion for Summary Judgment gives the background of the case.

Plaintiff Steven Rusinowski (“Steven”) is (or at least was) an active user of “BattleCam.com,” a website where users broadcast themselves on camera and role-play with other users in aggressive, intimidating, and combative scenarios. On this website, users expect to see pranks, threats and unusual behavior. Steven’s online role-playing overflowed into real life, leading ultimately to this nine-count lawsuit against five defendants.

The principal events took place on and shortly after March 4, 2011, but relevant background goes back somewhat further. Steven is twenty-nine years old, enrolled in classes at Elmhurst College, and lives with his father, Plaintiff Joseph Rusinowski, in Hillside, Illinois. On November 11, 2010, Hillside Police arrived unannounced at the Rusinowski home based on a “concerned citizen” report from a caller who claimed that Steven was suicidal. The Police entered the home and found Steven sleeping in his bedroom with no apparent suicidal thoughts. Joseph Rusinowski later learned from Hillside Police Chief Joseph Lukaszek (“Chief Lukaszek”) that Defendant Robert DiDomenico (“DiDomenico”) was the anonymous caller, though DiDomenico disputes that he placed the call.

A few months later (the exact date is unclear), Elmhurst College security received a call stating that Steven was bringing weapons to and selling drugs on campus. The College’s security employees observed Steven on BattleCam.com and notified Elmhurst Police of their concerns about Steven.

This brings us to March 4, 2011. Starting around midnight, Steven was on BattleCam.com with DiDomenico, a user with whom Steven was acquainted. The two were online for more than eight hours straight. Steven was displaying a handgun, making lewd comments about other users, and drinking beer – all of which seem par for the BattleCam.com course. DiDomenico decided to call the Hillside Police – depending on whom you ask, DiDomenico was playing either a prank on Steven or concerned for Steven’s safety and well-being.

DiDomenico spoke with Chief Lukaszek and told him that Steven could be seen on BattleCam.com drinking, waving loaded weapons, and threatening himself and others. Chief Lukaszek later testified that DiDomenico told him that Steven was suicidal.”

Long story short, the Hillside police ended up taking Steven to jail, and then transported him to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.

Steven sued DiDomenico under a Count for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. To determine whether conduct is extreme and outrageous, the court evaluated the conduct to see if it went beyond all possible bounds of decency. The court noted that on November 11, 2010, DiDomenico called the Hillside Police, and that the police upon visiting Steven’s home, found DiDomenico’s report unsubstantiated.   The Judge found that the fact that DiDomenico called Elmhurst College, and what he reported was unfounded, and a false report to the Hillside Police Department, indicated that DiDomenico perpetrated a “campaign of harassment.”

DiDomenico conceded that he thought it was funny to call the police on Steven and have him sent to the hospital, but he disputed that he laughed about the arrest. The Judge denied DiDomenico summary judgment, deciding that a reasonable jury could view these facts and determine that DiDomenico “…intended to inflict severe emotional harm on Steven, or at the very least acted recklessly with regard to whether his actions would inflict severe emotional harm on Steven.

The Judge also addressed causation, and found that no matter what the police did, that a reasonable jury could conclude that DiDomenico was responsible for a pattern of harassment, and that Steven’s emotional distress was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of DiDomenico’s actions.

Beware20justice20aheadThe court denied DiDomenico summary judgment. His attorney withdrew and there is nothing on the docket indicating that DiDomenico was represented by legal counsel during trial. That can be expected when a litigant loses summary judgment.

The jury was instructed that the plaintiff has the burden of proving that he was injured, and that willful and wanton conduct of the defendant was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Steven proved it and the jury found in Steven’s favor, awarding him $50,000.00.

DiDomenico might or might not have assets to pay the judgment. Often, people without assets who are sued and have a judgment entered against them mistakenly believe that no harm comes to them. Court judgments are provided to credit reporting bureaus. It can have a negative effect on employment, on getting credit, and in some cases, disqualify the individual for housing assistance. Liens can be placed against property. Judgments awarded in federal courts can be renewed every 10 years, and interest accrues.

DiDomenico might have thought that his actions were funny. He thought that he could hide behind a computer and a handle to do his dirty work. He had to pay legal counsel, and if he wanted to appear at trial, bear the costs of coming from New York to Illinois.

DiDomenico apparently thought that causing Steven humiliation was worth risking his future, his credit, and his finances.  Cyber-harassers should take this as a lesson.

 

Posted on 11/23/2014, in Cyber-bullying, Trials & Cases and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 51 Comments.

  1. yahtzeebutterfly

    Looks as if slowly and steadily, internet harassers and extortionists will be dealt with by LE and will have to answer for their wrongdoing in a court setting.

    Like

  2. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    This is a serious situation ….. Not to take lightly. Seems the law is catching up with cyber-bullies! Beware …. Excellent post!

    Like

  3. I am very heartened by this precedent.

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  4. There have been several stories in the news lately about police being sent to check on ‘suicidal’ people and the people have ended up dead, being killed by the police. I’m so glad this story didn’t end this way.

    Robert DiDomenico is sick to have thought it would have been funny to harass anyone this way. I’m surprised he wasn’t charged with a crime

    Me too, I hope all cyber harassers take note. They are never really anonymous.

    Like

    • crustyolemothman

      mindyme62, One can not help to wonder if this man had been shot dead by the police, like others have been, would DiDomenico have been charged for his death due to this “alleged” prank? Would he have been held accountable for his actions???

      Like

      • The man who called the police on John Crawford wasn’t charged, although he admitted later that he lied about John’s actions.

        Like

      • Two sides to a story

        Good thought. There;s always the possibility of police mishandling a situation.

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    • Mindyme,
      Remember back in 2012 that a collector called an elderly woman and in “fun” called her local police and reported that she was suicidal? The company that the collector worked for was sued — handsomely.

      The reason that comes to mind as to why DiDomenico was not charged with a crime is because he would have to be arrested in Illinois which is where he called. False police reports in Illinois are under obstruction of justice. Evidently, the State Attorney did not feel it would put a feather in his cap to have the court issue an arrest warrant that would need to be served in New York.

      Like many other victims, Steve’s option was to go to the civil court. And now we know that those in other states who commit harassment have no jurisdictional protection.

      Like

  5. Oh Dear!

    “DiDomenico began by having others (presumably fellow RPG players) send pizzas and cabs to Steven’s home. Later, DiDomenico sent multiple men to Steven’s home seeking to have sex with him. He also called local police stating that Steven was on a webcam waiving guns and threatening rape, murder and suicide. Police rushed to the scene. They took Steven into custody, drugged him (even though he was not resisting arrest), and then had him involuntarily committed.”

    Like

    • Yep Mindyme — it was all fun and games for DiDomenico at first. I wonder what his legal fees came to? On average, preparing a motion for summary judgment runs around $10K.

      Like

  6. Two sides to a story

    Good precedent, though it seems an unlikely case for a precedent to be set considering the victim;s behavior. I’d like to see victims who are more innocent than this be supported under the law.

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    • Hey Two sides! The most important precedent involves the jurisdictional issue. Hopefully now, more attorneys will be willing and able to help victims of cyber-harassment when the perpetrators reside in another state.

      Like

  7. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

    Do I feel sorry for DiDomenico? Uh, no way! He was punished in a way that should send a loud message to all trolls and harassers out there. Justice was served; consequences will be ongoing. 😀

    Like

  8. Thank you for this important information!

    Like

  9. scrodriguez

    I would love to give an in depth comment, all I will say is those who have participated in harassing me and my family for the last two years, things are going to get very real for you this week.. Mark my words!

    Like

    • scrodriguez, I know what you mean about in dept comment. Powell and Schwarzkopf said that the way to win a war is to first cut-off the eyes and ears of your enemies.

      Like

      • scrodriguez

        I know exactly what you mean, let them assume I do not have an attorney or the means to go after them..

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        • scrodriguez, their assumptions are their online lies that they use to mock us.

          Hey — what about that boxing match last night?

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          • scrodriguez

            I expected more out of Algeri but I do know Manny trained with him for 5 years the boy can crack, id like to see the Mayweather match made if not Manny should retire there is nothing else left for him

            Like

            • I followed the fight via Yahoo news. It didn’t tell much. It’s uploaded on Youtube and I plan on watching it after a nap.

              Like

  10. Like

  11. Off topic, and I don’t want to post a separate article, but Fox News reported that the grand jury indicted Darren Wilson, then scrubbed the story.

    Here’s the video followed by the original URL.

    http://www.fox28.com/story/27454245/2014/11/21/ferguson-grand-jury-indicts-officer-darrien-wilson-in-death-of-michael-brown

    Like

    • scrodriguez

      Notice the date it was published that is the same day we heard about Wilson being in discussions regarding his resignation. I do believe that story is legit look at the article read what is says.
      I think they expected the announcement and ran it, Anyways I believe we will have an indictment you dont negotiate your resignation whats to negotiate? you resign or you dont, the only thing he could be negotiating is a severance package, which should also be cut and dry you worked her for four years per the policy this is what you leave with.
      So I believe the negotiation that was going on was this is what you will get if you are found Not guilty by a jury of your peers.
      Just my take on it….

      Like

      • scrodriguez, towerflower explained on another post that as long as Wilson is on the force, if he’s indicted, the city pays for his lawyers. If he’s no longer on the police force, he will have to pay for his own lawyers. Thus, a negotiation no doubt focused on whether or not the city will pay his legal fees if he resigns.

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  12. To the harassers,
    People know that you are liars. If your fingers are typing, you are lying. Contacting other bloggers who participate on this blog is working against you. People don’t give two seconds of thought to your slanderous comments which serve no purpose other than to retain as evidence. They could care less about what you say about the writers here and myself.

    You’ve been trying the same agenda since around January 2013. Your lies about others being “racist” works against you. Your White Supremacist and sovereign citizen ideologies scream out of your attempts to be deceptive. Your comments demonstrate a campaign of harassment because of race.

    Your ignorance is without description. You allege that Santiago isn’t in the United States legally? You truly don’t know the history of those of Puerto Rican descent, do you?

    You can use proxy IP addresses, but you are not hidden behind them. You use a service that connects to the internet in order to access proxy IP address providers. Think about that.

    I’m the queen of doxing, you allege? So why is it that I’ve never publicly posted your real names and other personal information about you? Unlike yourself, I’ve not even made up names and personal information to post about any of you. Oh — there’s three in your gang who use their real names, but I don’t give them the attention they seek by posting their names, although they are public knowledge.

    Didn’t you learn anything from the article? Victims of your campaign of harassment have private rights of action. You should consult with legal counsel and have a lawyer explain to you how the courts have authority to assist private parties to get around handles, fake email addresses, and proxy IP addresses to discover your real identity.

    (Big smile) The Wizard of Oz is on. Now — begone with you!

    Like

  13. chuquestaquenumber1

    Go Get em. Cyber harassers your days are numbered.

    Like

    • Hey Chuquest! A project that I hope to start the first of the year is to identify lawyers nationwide who can and will represent victims of cyber harassment along with any conditions such as retainers. It’s my belief that more victims will seek redress by taking that route.

      Like

  14. butterflydreamer2

    Officer Darren Wilson gets married to fellow Ferguson cop as grand jury decision on Michael Brown shooting looms

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/officer-darren-wilson-married-fellow-ferguson-article-1.2021745

    Like

  15. The grand jury has reached a decision in the Darren Wilson case. They are waiting to announce the decision.

    Like

    • yahtzeebutterfly

      I am praying that they will hand down an indictment.

      I was encouraged when I learned that the ME for the Brown family testified in front of the grand jury. Hoping…….

      Like

      • Yahtzeebutterfly, it’s strange that they will wait until after it’s dark to announce the actual decision. Maybe it will be a celebration of indictment rather than a protest.

        Like

  16. yahtzeebutterfly

    Michael Skolnik @MichaelSkolnik · 3h 3 hours ago
    JUST IN: Marissa Alexander has agreed to a plea deal.

    (via @JacobLong_FCN)

    Like

  17. yahtzeebutterfly

    Photo of media presence:

    Like

  18. yahtzeebutterfly

    Wesley Lowery retweeted:

    Like

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