The judge must rely on sufficient facts from the record to support legal conclusions as to grant or deny an FRO
Docket No. A-3506-18
Decided June 28, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey Family 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In a recent unpublished decision the Appellate Division of New Jersey affirmed a trial court entry of a Final Restraining Order (FRO) but remanded for the addition of plaintiff’s boyfriend to the FRO.
In A.M., Plaintiff and defendant had a tumultuous, “on and off” relationship from April to December 2018. Although the parties did not reside together, defendant would often stay at plaintiff’s residence. Notwithstanding the fact that the parties testified the relationship ended on December 6, 2018, the parties remained in contact for the next month.
By January 10, 2019,2 however, the parties seemingly had a more serious falling out because plaintiff accused defendant of having relationships with other women. Defendant attempted to reconcile the relationship, but plaintiff responded on multiple occasions “leave me . . . alone.” Indeed, plaintiff indicated that she had “had enough.”
Beginning on January 19 and continuing into the early morning of January 20, 2019, defendant sent plaintiff approximately twenty-four unanswered text messages. After a short conversation, plaintiff eventually responded “[j]ust leave me the hell alone.” In the afternoon on January 21, 2019, defendant called plaintiff eight times. Apparently realizing plaintiff had blocked his number, defendant sent her a string of emails starting on January 21, 2019. One email stated that he “will now make it a point to insert [himself] into [her] life.” He then emailed her that he “would never cross that line[,] but now [he’d] make sure that [he] [did].” Defendant sent plaintiff seventeen unreturned emails in a seven hour period. In response, plaintiff told him to “leave [her] alone” twice. From 12:38 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. on January 22, 2019, defendant called plaintiff six times and sent multiple emails. Around 2:00 a.m. on January 25, 2019, defendant called plaintiff fifteen times.
Plaintiff testified at trial the repeated communications left her worries and scared.
The trial judge found plaintiff’s testimony credible and entered an FRO against defendant, finding the predicate act of harassment and that the restraining order was necessary for plaintiff’s protection.
Defendant appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support harassment and that the FRO was necessary for plaintiff’s protection. The Appellate Division affirmed, finding the multitude of communications sent to plaintiff and extremely inconvenient hours satisfied harassment, even in absence of threats of violence or physical threats. The Appellate Division did remand because the plaintiff’s boyfriend should not have been added as a protected party.
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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