P.A. v. S.A.

DOCKET NO. A-2675-21

Decided April 6, 2023

Submitted by New Jersey Domestic Violence Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In a recent unpublished decision, the Appellate Division of New Jersey affirmed an entry of a Final Restraining Order solely for defendant removing a ring camera in a house where he resided and not replacing it immediately.

In P.A. v. S.A., Plaintiff was seventy-two years old on February 27, 2022, the date of the incident. She had been married to defendant’s father for twenty-nine years until her husband’s death five months earlier. For the duration of their marriage, the two resided at a two-floor “Cape Cod” style home decedent owned in Fair Lawn. In approximately March 2020, plaintiff and her husband installed an interactive doorbell with audio and visual intercommunication capacities (Ring camera) which streamed video directly to plaintiff’s phone. Although plaintiff contended her husband or a family friend installed the doorbell, at trial defendant maintained he installed the device.

In September 2020, approximately one year before his father’s death, defendant, and his girlfriend moved into second floor of the Fair Lawn home. When defendant’s father passed away in September 2021, defendant and his girlfriend continued occupying the second floor, while plaintiff, his stepmother, continued occupying the ground floor. Following decedent’s death, plaintiff and defendant became opposing parties in litigation involving a will contest challenging the type and duration of estate decedent left to plaintiff regarding the Fair Lawn home. The litigation was ongoing at the time of the FRO hearing although it is not clear from the record whether that litigation has since resolved.

On February 27, 2022, defendant unilaterally removed the Ring camera. The same day, plaintiff filed a complaint and obtained a temporary restraining order. At the FRO hearing, plaintiff testified the Ring camera allowed her to virtually monitor who came and went from the house and provided her with a sense of safety. She testified that on the day of the incident, defendant removed the Ring camera without asking her, leaving behind only the mounting plate where the device used to be, and defendant never replaced it.

Defendant testified he removed the Ring camera because he had purchased a new and improved doorbell the day prior and was planning on replacing the old one in anticipation of his plans to travel out-of-state. Defendant admitted he never consulted with plaintiff or obtained her permission to remove the Ring camera, nor did he present a receipt at the FRO hearing to substantiate his testimony regarding his intent to replace the device. He also did not explain why he did not immediately replace the old device with the new one if he purchased it prior to removing the old device. At trial, the new device had still not been installed.

The trial court found plaintiff credible and defendant not credible. The court found defendant had committed the predicate act of harassment by failing to reinstall a Ring camera immediately, knowing plaintiff relied on the camera. Even though there was no prior history of domestic violence, the Court found the restraining order was necessary for plaintiff’s protection because of the ongoing litigation and the hostility between the parties.  A Final Restraining Order (FRO) was entered against defendant.

Defendant appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed the decision, finding no basis to overturn the decision.

The case is important to understand the status of domestic violence restraining order law in New Jersey. An FRO, that has significant consequences, was entered against the defendant in this matter simply removing a ring camera and not replacing it. Normally, a history of domestic violence or multiple acts of domestic violence are needed for a Court to find that a restraining order is necessary for a victim’s protection after a finding of harassment. Here, it was just a single act of harassment with nothing more that caused defendant to have an FRO put against him.

It is clear that it is becoming increasingly easier for a plaintiff to obtain both a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and a Final Restraining Order (FRO) against a defendant. If you have a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against someone else or against yourself, contact the experienced attorneys at Hark & Hark today.  There are several things attorneys can do to bolster your credibility and damage the credibility of the other party. Do not wait until court because if you are the defendant and an FRO is put against you or if you are the plaintiff and your TRO is dismissed it is significantly more difficult to overturn the result! Contact Hark & Hark today! We help clients with domestic violence, FROs, TROs, prenups, divorce, custody, child support, alimony, adoptions and more.

In recognition of these trying financial times, we are reducing fees and working with clients to come up with manageable payment plans. Initial consultation is always free and we are available remotely.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing domestic violence charges similar to this circumstance, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Ocean, and Salem counties. We represent clients in all towns in New Jersey, including Bridgeton, Commercial Township, Deerfield Township, Downe Township, Fairfield Township, Greenwich Township, Hopewell Township, Lawrence Township, Maurice River Township, Millville, Shiloh Borough, Stow Creek Township, Upper Deerfield Township, and Vineland.

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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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