New Jersey: Final Restraining Order Reversed on Grounds that Complaint was Insufficient

Loveland v. Hauke, N.J.Super.A.D., 2007 (unpublished opinion).

This is a domestic violence case where the plaintiff alleged defendant acted with a purpose or intent to harass.

The plaintiff, in attempting to explain her fear, attempted to testify to incidents that were not outlined in her complaint. In fact, the plaintiff informed a police officer that there were no prior instances of domestic violence. Therefore, the plaintiff was not allowed to testify to any incidents before the incident at issue.

The Trial Court issued a Final Restraining Order. Defendant appealed.

On appeal, the Appellate Court stated that “a trial court’s findings are binding on appeal when supported by adequate, substantial, credible evidence”, citing Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394.

The Court further cited N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29(a)(1):

In determining whether a defendant’s conduct is likely to cause the required annoyance or alarm to the victim, that defendant’s past conduct toward the victim and the relationship’s history must be taken into account. The incidents under scrutiny must be examined in light of the totality of the circumstances.

The Appellate Court remanded the matter for a new trial. This decision was based upon the fact that the plaintiff evidently did not know she could amend her complaint to include prior instances of violence. This would allow her to refer to prior instances giving them evidential weight. Further the Court held that the trial court failed to determine whether defendant acted with a purpose to alarm or seriously annoy the plaintiff.

Some interesting New Jersey law relating to this case:

The Court in J.F. V. B.K. held:

It constitutes a fundamental violation of due process to convert a hearing on a complaint alleging one act of domestic violence into a hearing on other acts of domestic violence which are not even alleged in the complaint.

J.F. v. B.K. 308 N.J.Super. 387.

The Pazienza Court held that a violation of due process rights can be avoided by “granting a party a reasonable adjournment if confronted by new allegations at the time of trial in order to afford the party an ample opportunity to meet the charges.”

Pazienza v. Camarata, 381 N.J.Super. 173.

Accordingly, the plaintiff in this case should have filed an amended complaint naming every prior instance of domestic violence so that she could refer to them on the record without objection.