WILLIAM H. MONE reports on a recently published decision from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.
A recent New Jersey case involved a woman filing a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against a man she was dating at that time. She alleged that he had harassed her, in violation of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. The matter proceeded to trial, wherein the court ultimately ruled in the woman’s favor and entered a Final Restraining Order (FRO) against the man.
In entering the FRO, the trial court concluded that the evidence presented by the woman failed to support a finding of domestic violence, but ruled that the court nonetheless had the “equitable power” to grant the FRO and impose restraints on the man. Specifically, the court found that the woman failed to prove that the man acted with a purpose or intent to alarm or annoy her, as required by the underlying harassment statute.
The trial court justified its reasoning under prior case law that allowed the court to invoke its inherent “equitable powers” to use evidence adduced in the failed domestic violence trial to support the issuance of a FRO in a separate related case between the same parties.
The man appealed the entry of the FRO, arguing that the court could not have entered the FRO because there was no finding that he committed an act of domestic violence. The Appellate Division agreed with the man’s argument
In overturning the trial court’s issuance of the FRO, the Appellate Division noted that
that the trial court improperly relied upon the prior case law, as this case was distinguishable from it. In this matter, unlike the cases relied upon by the trial court, there was no other pending domestic violence matter or allegation between the parties, or by the man against the woman. Thus, it was improper for the trial court to enter the FRO in the same matter that resulted in a finding that there was no underlying act of domestic violence.
Finally, in doing so, the Appellate Division noted that in scenarios where a trial court does not find an act of domestic violence, but may still enter a FRO on a related complaint between the same parties based on evidence found in the initial failed complaint, due process may nonetheless require that the trial court provide sufficient notice to the parties regarding such a potential outcome.
Please contact William H. Mone if you have any questions or need assistance in connection with this subject.