An Isolated Act of Screaming and Cursing Could Be an Act of Domestic Violence
By Snyder & Sarno on July 22, 2015
Domestic violence is not limited to people in the same family or in a romantic relationship. It extends to other domestic relationships, including cohabitants renting rooms in the same house. In A.N. v. W.D., the New Jersey Appellate Division reviewed a case involving a situation like that.
The defendant sublet a room in a house that the plaintiff’s father rented. He was up to date on his monthly rent payments, and he had paid the father $2,100 in advance. In addition, he had given the father an extra $700 to pay the utility bill. Still, the utilities were shut off in June 2013 because plaintiff’s father did not pay. Defendant wanted his money back.
Plaintiff said that she was packing up her bedroom, getting ready to move out of the house, when the defendant came to her door and told her she better not remove anything because he had a judgment on all the items in the house. He threatened to call detectives. The plaintiff followed him outside because she was afraid he would take the license plates off her car, and her spare key was missing. In front of a neighbor, the defendant screamed at the plaintiff, calling her and her father derogatory names, threatening to make her life a living hell, and reminding her that he knew where she and her boyfriend lived.
The plaintiff went inside and called the police. When she looked upstairs, she discovered that many of her father’s personal documents were missing. She testified that she did not feel safe in light of the defendant’s threats. However, she did admit that there was no prior history of domestic violence between her and defendant.
The defendant’s story differed from plaintiff’s perspective. He claims that he told the plaintiff not to remove any documents until the lawyers could work the situation out, since he had hired an attorney for a landlord-tenant matter. When he left, the plaintiff followed him out, and he asked her for his money back and proof that the utility bill had been paid. They began to yell at each other in front of a neighbor, and the defendant referred to the plaintiff’s father as a crook. He denied calling her obscene names, threatening her, or taking the documents or car keys.
Ultimately, the judge found the plaintiff’s testimony to be more credible and granted a final restraining order against the defendant. Defendant appealed the judge’s decision, arguing that a FRO was unnecessary because there was no history of domestic violence, the argument between the parties was an anomalous occurrence, and he and plaintiff did not live together anymore. The appellate panel disagreed with defendant’s contentions, and were “satisfied that the evidence in this case amply supports the judge's findings that defendant committed the predicate act of harassment under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a) and a FRO was necessary under the totality of the circumstances to protect plaintiff and prevent further abuse.” The obscene language that the defendant used may not in itself have been enough to be harassment, but in combination with his threats and plaintiff’s fear of him, the elements harassment were satisfied.
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