Final Restraining Order (FRO) Granted After Plaintiff Perpetuating Physical Acts Against Plaintiff
Docket No. A-2955-19
Decided June 7, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey Domestic Violence Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished decision the Appellate Division of New Jersey affirmed a trial court entry of a Final Restraining Order (FRO) after the trial judge found plaintiff credible of defendant perpetuating physical acts against plaintiff.
In J.C., the parties were married in June 2016. They resided together until February 16, 2020, when plaintiff J.C. secured a temporary restraining order (TRO) against defendant. Ten days later, plaintiff amended his TRO complaint to include allegations of defendant’s abusive behavior from 2018 and 2019. Such allegations included defendant’s purported threats to: “trash” the parties’ apartment; donate plaintiff’s clothes; destroy his laptop; send a naked photo of him to his father and others; and file a false report that he abused her, so she could send the false report to his law school. Plaintiff further alleged defendant hit him, and “slapped and pushed [him] several times.”
During the FRO trial, plaintiff contended he needed an FRO based on defendant committing the predicate acts of cyber harassment, N.J.S.A. 2C:33- 4.1 and assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(a). He described, in detail, an argument the parties had in their apartment on the evening of February 15, 2020, when defendant purportedly pushed him as she tried to prevent him from retrieving the parties’ cat from outside their doorway. Plaintiff testified defendant “pushed [him] about four times, banged [his] elbow, and then she moved . . . into the dining area.” He added that defendant pushed him “with a significant amount of force against the door frame and the kitchen countertops.” After plaintiff found the parties’ cat, he called the police to report the incident.
Plaintiff also testified about prior incidents of domestic violence. For example, he stated defendant threatened to destroy his final exam outlines from law school, as well as certain prescription medications, and he later “discovered that she did, in fact, act upon that.” Plaintiff identified pictures of these damaged items at trial.
Additionally, plaintiff testified he still loved his wife, but wanted her to attend an inpatient substance abuse program because he believed “[t]hat’s the root of all this evil . . . . The root of this behavior of threats and hostility is substance abuse.” Further, he testified he was “fearful of emotional and physical harm,” and that if defendant did not seek treatment, he felt “nearly certain that this pattern of behavior is going to continue” so that he would be “subject to emotional and physical threats, character assassination activities, and physical harm.”
After the trial, the Judge found plaintiff’s testimony credible and defendant’s denial of the events not credible. The judge entered an FRO because defendant committed the predicate act of assault and that the restraining order was necessary for his protection.
Defendant appealed arguing plaintiff did not prove assault nor did plaintiff need the FRO because the altercations were mere domestic contretemps. The Appellate Division affirmed the entry of the FRO, finding the plaintiff hit him with a plastic wand and had a history of harassment and criminal mischief, stemming from threatening to file a false police report and send it to plaintiff’s law school to destroying his medication.
The key takeaway in this case is a trial Court must make specific findings for domestic violence matters. First, they must make findings as to the statutory factors of each of the predicate acts alleged by the plaintiff. The Judge must also make explicit credibility findings when there are disputed facts. The judge must also rely on sufficient facts from the record to support legal conclusions as to grant or deny an FRO.
Remember, restraining order cases are all about credibility. Once credibility is determined, it is fairly simple to determine whether an FRO will be granted. Make sure you hire an experienced attorney for your domestic violence matter to bolster your credibility and get you the desired result.
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