On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FV-02-0623-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 9, 2010
Before Judges Parrillo,Yannotti and Espinosa.
Defendant, J.J.C., Jr., appeals from the Family Part's November 17, 2009 final restraining order (FRO) in favor of plaintiff, M.C., issued under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (Act), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35. We affirm.
Plaintiff is the eighty-eight year old mother of defendant, who is fifty-two years old. Prior to the FRO, they resided in the same family home in Lodi, where defendant's sister, L.C., also lived until August 13, 2009 when defendant obtained an FRO against her. In December 2008, defendant's fiancee, Y.L., moved into the residence and together with defendant occupied an upstairs apartment in the home. Plaintiff continues to reside in the downstairs basement apartment, equipped with a kitchen, living and sleeping areas.
Plaintiff suffers from osteoporosis, arthritis and other medical conditions. After her husband's death, defendant became plaintiff's primary caretaker and exercised her power of attorney. Defendant maintains that he has paid all of the household bills, including real estate taxes, insurance and utilities, along with plaintiff's unreimbursed medical expenses. He claims to be the joint owner with plaintiff of a certificate of deposit (CD) account.
The events that precipitated the FRO occurred around 2:00 p.m. on August 31, 2009. Both plaintiff and defendant agree they had a verbal argument over plaintiff's finances and a plumbing bill due for repairs at their home. This much is undisputed. What followed thereafter is the subject of vastly conflicting accounts.
According to defendant, because plaintiff did not write checks, he stored about $5,000 in cash in her closet for use in case of emergencies. When he asked for money to pay the plumbing bill, plaintiff refused and also declined to produce the CD bankbook. Plaintiff then became "irate" and "upset" and threw her cane at him. She then began yelling about L.C. being forced out of the home as she started to walk without her cane towards the door leading outside. At that point, her foot got caught in the door and she began to fall backwards. Defendant caught her and sat her on the floor. He then freed plaintiff's leg, picked her up and carried her to her bed.
Plaintiff offered a substantially different account. She claimed that when she refused to produce the cash or CD bankbook, defendant began rummaging through her room, turning over her mattress, smashing her door frame and berating her with abusive names and threats of removal to a nursing home. She became alarmed and headed for the door leading outside her home to call for help. As she was exiting, defendant ran up to her from behind, grabbed her by the waist with one arm, placed his other hand over her mouth and nose to muffle her screams, and forcibly dragged her backwards, away from the door and back into the house where he carried her onto her bed and threw her cane and slippers at her. In the process, defendant scratched plaintiff's nose.
Plaintiff did not call the police because of defendant's threats. However, that evening, plaintiff telephoned her niece D.M., who then informed L.C. of the incident. As a result, the next day, L.C. reported the incident to the Lodi Police. Officer Dominick Miller responded to plaintiff's home, where he witnessed an "obvious" injury to plaintiff's arm and nose. Plaintiff then accompanied Officer Miller to the police station where another officer photographed the bruises on her face and right arm.
Four days later, on September 4, 2009, L.C. and D.M. took plaintiff to her doctor for an examination of her injuries. Following the doctor's visit, the two took additional photographs of plaintiff's injuries, which showed bruising on her left arm that had been largely obscured in the police photos, and her thigh, which supposedly was covered by her dress when the police earlier photographed her. D.M. also recovered part of the broken door's locking mechanism and a wooden shard from the door frame.
Defendant denied plaintiff's account, claiming that the entire incident was an accident and that plaintiff fabricated her version to remove defendant from the family home and enable L.C. to return. Defendant actually suggested that plaintiff's injuries were self-inflicted, with the assistance of L.C. and D.M., at some point after the police photos were taken on September 1, 2009, but before D.M. took the additional photographs on September 4, 2009. In fact, plaintiff's expert, Dr. Arthur Tiger, opined that the bruising depicted in the September 4th photographs appeared to be much ...