September 5, 2007
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Essex County, Docket No. FV-07-0344-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted July 17, 2007
Before Judges R. B. Coleman and Sapp-Peterson.
Defendant, J.J., appeals from a final restraining order issued on August 15, 2006, by the Essex County, Chancery Division, Family Part, based upon a finding that defendant committed an act of domestic violence against C.M. with whom he had a former dating relationship. After careful consideration of the facts and applicable law, we affirm.
Plaintiff, C.M., sought a restraining order against defendant following an altercation on July 28, 2006. On the evening in question, plaintiff was visiting from her home in Virginia. Defendant had rented a car for plaintiff and offered to buy her food if she came to see him at a bar, however, when plaintiff met defendant at the bar, defendant became belligerent towards her. Plaintiff attempted to leave but once they were outside the bar, she testified, defendant grabbed her by her neck and pushed her into a parked car. At this point, a passerby intervened and ordered defendant to remove his hands from plaintiff. Plaintiff then accepted the passerby's offer of a ride and left the scene.
Defendant testified that he had come to the realization that evening that plaintiff was using him and that she would only contact him when she needed something. Defendant said he told her the following: leave me alone, I'm tired of you using me any time you need help, or your rent is not paid, or you need some money, or you're working part-time. I said that's none of my business. You have a boyfriend, leave me be. I walked over to my car, and two or three days after I receive a note from the Court to come.
Defendant described about how upset he was and how he shook his hands while speaking to plaintiff outside the bar. Defendant admitted in his testimony that he had assaulted plaintiff a year ago, but denied having laid hands on her.
Plaintiff also gave two prior dates on which defendant had assaulted her but she had not pressed charges. Following the testimony from both parties, the judge made certain credibility findings and determined that an assault had occurred, which justified the issuance of the final restraining order.
Defendant now appeals, arguing that the court improperly based its determination on his emotions during his testimony and concluded from such display of emotion that an assault had occurred.
Where the lower court has made credibility determinations, we are obliged to give deference to those findings which are substantially influenced by that court's opportunity to hear and see the witnesses and to have the feel of the case. State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 472-75 (1999). We are not free to make our own credibility determination. Based on our own independent review of the record, we are satisfied that the court's determination is supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record. Id. at 471.