June 7, 2007
SHAWN MONTAGUE, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
MARY JANET MONTAGUE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, FV-15-0310-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued May 29, 2007
Before Judges S.L. Reisner and C.L. Miniman.
Defendant, Mary Montague, appeals from a final restraining order entered by Judge Sheldon Franklin on August 16, 2006, pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35. We affirm.
This case arose from a domestic violence complaint filed on August 9, 2006, in which plaintiff Shawn Montague claimed that on the previous day, his wife Mary Montague had tried to "run [him] off the road in her vehicle." He also contended that she screamed obscenities at him and told Shawn and his passenger that they "are dead, they are going to be killed." The complaint also alleged that two weeks previously Mary had screamed obscenities at Shawn and slammed a door on him. Additionally, the complaint alleged that in March 2003, Mary had stabbed Shawn with a nail file.
At the hearing, Shawn supported his allegations with testimony that the judge found credible. The parties were involved in divorce proceedings. According to Shawn, he was living on a boat docked at the Marine Max Marina, and was dating a girlfriend named Jessica. On the evening of August 8, 2006, he and Jessica were leaving the marina when Mary arrived and began shouting curses at them and threatening to have them killed. When Shawn and Jessica began driving away from the marina, Mary followed them. According to Shawn, she chased his car for miles along the highway, driving erratically and trying to run his car off the road. She also repeatedly lit a cigarette lighter and held it up while mouthing the words "I'm going to burn you." He testified that he perceived this as a threat. Shawn finally stopped his car to try to put an end to the incident "so that she didn't run me off the road into somebody else or her run off the road." At that point, Mary once again threatened Shawn and Jessica "that she was going to have us F-ing killed, burned and that we're dead." He testified that he believed that this was a real threat. However, he felt more threatened "when she was trying to run me off the road."
Shawn also described a prior incident approximately two weeks earlier when he stopped by the marital home to pick up a pair of pants. At this time Mary cursed at him and slammed a garage door on him causing him to slip down several stairs. He also testified to an incident in 2003 when Mary had become enraged and stabbed him with a nail file, drawing blood. On cross-examination he admitted that he was not afraid of his wife while she was sitting in the courtroom, but he was in fear of her "[w]hile she's driving a vehicle" or "[w]hen she has a nail file or [a] knife in her hand."
Mary testified that on the evening of August 8, she intended to go to dinner with a friend, but changed her plans when she spotted Shawn with Jessica. She first sent her friend into a nearby bar to learn Jessica's last name and then began following Shawn and Jessica. However, she insisted that her only purpose in chasing Shawn's car was to take pictures of his girlfriend for use in the divorce case. She did admit that when Shawn stopped his car she told his girlfriend "Jessica, you better watch your fucking ass." She denied threatening to kill Shawn on August 8, 2006. She admitted slamming the door on her husband when he came to the house, but contended that he had pinned her against a wall and threatened to break her jaw. She admitted stabbing him with a nail file in 2003 but tried to minimize the incident, stating "Did some blood come to the surface? Yes, it did. I mean, I penetrated it, but nothing to where it needed stitches."
In an oral opinion placed on the record on August 16, 2006, Judge Franklin found that Shawn was a credible witness and Mary was not credible. He noted that Mary admitted slamming the door on Shawn and admitted "that she was chasing him around" in her car. The judge concluded that Mary "is extremely bitter and vindictive" toward Shawn and that her strong emotions led her to make terroristic threats and to harass Shawn.
Ms. Montague has somehow constituted herself a vigilante to handle this case [the divorce] the way she would like to have it handled.
And in doing so, I find that she did, in fact, engage in a course of alarming conduct with the purpose to alarm or seriously annoy Mr. Montague. And that course of conduct was tracking him down, tracking down the information concerning his girlfriend, following him, when . . . instead of going to Harpoon Willy's [for dinner, she] instead decides to continue to follow Mr. Montague for miles along Route 70, pulling up alongside of him on the right-hand side, illegally, as she has acknowledged.
What she has acknowledged with regard to the chase on Route 70 lends credence to Mr. Montague's testimony as to what took place and I do find his testimony to be credible. I believe what he indicates took place along Route 70. I find that this constituted harassment under 2C:33-4(c).
. . . I also believe that his testimony is true with regard to the threats that he alleges that the plaintiff made against him to kill him and his companion. And I find that those threats, both at the marina and on Route 70, constitute terroristic threats.
On this appeal, defendant contends that "plaintiff failed to carry the burden of proof to sustain a finding that an act of domestic violence occurred" and contends that "the court abused its discretion in granting plaintiff a final restraining order." Having reviewed the entire record,*fn1 we conclude these arguments are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion, R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E), beyond the following.
Our review of Judge Franklin's decision is limited to determining whether his findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record, bearing in mind his ability to gauge the credibility of the witnesses. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998). We find substantial support for his conclusion that Mary engaged in a repeated course of intentional harassing conduct on August 8, 2006. See N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4c. She shouted obscenities and threatened to kill Shawn and his girlfriend at the marina. She then chased them for miles on the highway, threatening to "burn" them, driving erratically, and trying to run them off the road. She cursed and threatened to kill them again when Shawn stopped his car on Route 70. He testified that he felt threatened, as a reasonable person in his situation would have. Moreover, the evidence of the threat to kill Shawn and Jessica at the marina, followed by the attempt to run their car off the road, was sufficient to establish a terroristic threat pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3b.
Together with Mary's prior violent conduct, her behavior on August 8, 2006, justified a conclusion that she was likely to commit violent or harassing acts in the future if not subject to a final restraining order. Contrary to defendant's argument, the confrontations at issue here are not the "ordinary domestic contretemps" we addressed in Corrente v. Corrente, 281 N.J. Super. 243, 250 (App. Div. 1995). Mary's course of conduct is the kind of threatening, controlling behavior we deem "matters of consequence," appropriately addressed through the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Id. at 246-47, 250.