On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cape May County, Docket No. FV-05-428-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman and Holston, Jr.
On February 9, 2006, plaintiff, J.A.R., signed a complaint under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (DVA), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, against defendant, M.M. Plaintiff alleged that defendant committed an act of harassment against her, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4. After conducting a seven hour plenary hearing on February 15, 2006, the Family Part judge found defendant committed the acts of harassment alleged and granted plaintiff a final restraining order (FRO) against defendant.*fn1
Defendant is a Correction's Lieutenant employed at a State prison. Plaintiff is a registered nurse attached to the medical clinic at the prison. The parties met in the course of their employments and began an affair in 2004. According to plaintiff, their relationship was "blissful" until approximately July 2005. Plaintiff knew defendant was married when their affair began.
The testimony was in dispute. Plaintiff described a series of events beginning in July 2005 where defendant was verbally and physically abusive toward her and exhibited acts of extreme jealousy. Defendant repeatedly accused plaintiff of infidelity and would scroll through lists on plaintiff's cell and home phones to see who she had spoken to when he was not present, make her save recorded telephone messages so he could be sure she was not cheating on him, and checked her underwear to make sure she had not engaged in sex. On one occasion defendant observed a feces stain on plaintiff's underwear. As a result, defendant accused plaintiff of having sex with someone else.
Defendant denied plaintiff's version of these events. Defendant instead described plaintiff as engaging in self-destructive behavior as a result of head injuries she sustained from a fall off a horse. The accident caused her to suffer depression, dizziness, ringing in the ears, anxiety and mood swings. As a result, plaintiff began to abuse Xanax and alcohol. When defendant attempted to end their relationship, plaintiff threatened suicide unless their relationship continued. Plaintiff denied defendant's assertions.
Plaintiff testified that the acts of harassment for which she sought an FRO occurred on February 9, 2006. The plaintiff told defendant that the relationship was over in two face-to-face encounters with defendant at work. When she initially told him that the relationship was over in the morning, defendant got angry. However, plaintiff walked away to avoid a confrontation. Later that day, defendant visited the infirmary and plaintiff reiterated her desire to end the relationship. During the course of the conversation, defendant told plaintiff, "let me tell you something, you're not the boss. This is going to go my way." Although defendant tried calling plaintiff at work later that day, she refused to speak to him. Plaintiff left work at her normal time and arrived home at approximately 4:00 P.M.
Defendant drove from his home, approximately an hour driving time away, and appeared at plaintiff's residence unannounced. According to plaintiff, "[h]e walked right in the front door. He was not welcome, did not knock, just barges right in the front door, as he normally does when we fight." Defendant immediately began arguing with plaintiff. Plaintiff repeatedly told defendant to leave but he refused. Although her children were home, one of them asked the children to go to their bedroom.
Defendant's temper rose and he told plaintiff, "we're not breaking up, this isn't over." Plaintiff tried to quell defendant's anger by redirecting the conversation but he grabbed plaintiff by her shoulders and would not let her go. As he squeezed her shoulders, he told her "you're not breaking up with me, you're my bitch, you're going to do exactly what I tell you to do." Plaintiff testified she was "trying to get near the door. Because I kept saying, five million times, just leave." Defendant refused to release plaintiff or to leave her home. Defendant threatened to kill plaintiff and to get her fired from her nursing position at the prison. When he was holding her, plaintiff tried to get away by pushing defendant and, at one point, attempted to knee him in the groin area. He continued to restrain her and refused to leave. The incident ended when plaintiff's daughter entered the room and plaintiff told her to dial 911. Once the 911 call was placed, defendant "went flying out the door."
Defendant's version was different. Defendant testified that when he went to work on February 9, 2006, he went to the clinic where plaintiff worked to talk to her. He approached another officer and indicated to him that he was going to tell plaintiff he was done with her and that the officer should stand by in case she flips out. Defendant told plaintiff he could not take it any more and he was cutting off contact with her. She ...