July 24, 2009
ERASTO FLORES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
MONICA CRUZ, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Atlantic County, FV-01-1135-08-B.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued December 1, 2008
Before Judges R. B. Coleman and Sabatino.
Defendant Monica Cruz appeals a final restraining order (FRO) dated February 6, 2008, granted to her estranged husband plaintiff Erasto Flores against Cruz.*fn1
Approximately two weeks after oral argument was presented in this appeal, correspondence from counsel for Cruz was submitted to chambers informing the court that Flores had dismissed the FRO at issue in this appeal. Counsel attached a copy of the order of dismissal from the Family Part dated December 2, 2008. We would ordinarily decline to reach the merits of such an appeal and dismiss it on grounds of mootness. City of Camden v. Whitman, 325 N.J. Super. 236, 241 (App. Div. 1999) ("Courts of this state do not resolve issues that have become moot due to the passage of time or intervening events."). However, Cruz's letter asks for a different result.
According to Cruz, she may be prejudiced in the future as a result of Flores's voluntary dismissal of the FRO, in contrast to a reversal and vacatur granted as a result of appellate review. Specifically, Cruz contends that should Flores ever decide to use the restraining order process against her again in the future, he would be able to prove a history of domestic violence based on the now dismissed FRO. In addition, Cruz contends that the domestic violence central registry will code the FRO as "dismissed" and not "vacated," which could affect her in the future if she and her children were ever involved with the Division of Youth and Family Services.
We perceive Cruz's concerns as speculative and remote. Nonetheless, our review of the record does not lead us to the substantive result Cruz would have us reach. After a careful review of the record, we find competent, relevant, and reasonably credible evidence in the record to support the motion judge's findings of fact. We defer to the trial judge's determinations on witness credibility when the evidence is largely testimonial and no manifest error exists. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 412 (1998) (quoting In re Return of Weapons to J.W.D., 149 N.J. 108, 117 (1997)). The FRO granted to Flores was appropriate where, as here, the trial court had sufficient evidence to find that an earlier FRO against him in favor of Cruz was being used in a manner inconsistent with the purpose of granting an FRO, i.e., to harass, coerce, and intimidate him with the threat of unwarranted criminal charges.
Finally, we note that on its face, the February 6, 2008, order of dismissal both dismisses and also specifically vacates the FRO. The literal text of the order thus substantially addresses Cruz's concerns about potential future ramifications.