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D.B v. T.M

January 26, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Morris County, Docket No. FV-14-1053-09.

Per curiam.



Argued September 29, 2010 - Decided Before Judges Fuentes and Gilroy.

Respondent has not filed a brief.

Defendant T.M. appeals from a final restraining order (FRO) entered against her and in favor of her former husband D.B., pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (the PDVA), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35. We affirm.

Following an acrimonious marital relationship, the parties divorced on June 27, 2008. A daughter was born of the marriage in October 1999. Pursuant to the judgment of divorce (JOD), defendant has physical custody of the parties' daughter, and plaintiff has supervised parenting time. Following the divorce, defendant married R.M.; defendant, R.M., and the parties' daughter reside in Chatham with defendant's mother.

On May 1, 2009, plaintiff filed a domestic violence complaint against defendant, alleging that defendant had harassed and stalked him on April 21, and April 30, 2009. A temporary restraining order (TRO) was entered on the latter date barring defendant from having contact with plaintiff and his mother. Following a plenary hearing on May 18, 2009, the trial court entered an order determining that defendant had committed an act of domestic violence, that is, harassment, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4. On July 14, 2009, the court denied defendant's motion for reconsideration. It is from these two orders that defendant appeals.

Four witnesses testified at the FRO hearing. Testifying on behalf of plaintiff were himself and Thomas Murray, the superintendent at plaintiff's apartment complex in Parsippany. Testifying on behalf of defendant were her husband and herself.

Because the witnesses' testimony differs, we provide the following synopsis of each witness's testimony.

Plaintiff testified to the acrimonious marital relationship that he and defendant had prior to their divorce. For example, plaintiff stated that defendant had spat on him, struck him in front of his daughter, told him that she wanted him dead or in jail, and when they resided in Texas, had struck him on the head with a frying pan. On other occasions, plaintiff testified that defendant had poured a quart of milk over his head and had thrown a full salad bowl at him. Plaintiff conceded that he reacted and knocked defendant down, for which he was arrested.

As to the events that led to the signing of the complaint, plaintiff testified that because defendant had previously signed a domestic violence complaint against him in February 2009, which the court later found unsubstantiated, he had moved to apartment 7D in an apartment complex in Parsippany in an attempt to conceal his whereabouts from defendant. The apartment complex has approximately twelve buildings containing about 400 residential apartment units. Notwithstanding his attempt to keep his residence secret from defendant, on April 21, 2009, defendant knocked on his apartment building's outside door. On opening the door, defendant handed plaintiff her response to plaintiff's motion then pending in the Family Part. On serving the papers, defendant "smirk[ed]" and walked away without saying anything to plaintiff. Defendant took the papers and retreated back into his apartment.

According to plaintiff that was his only personal contact with defendant. However, on April 30, 2009, defendant served him with additional response papers pertaining to the ongoing Family Part matters by having Murray leave the papers at the foot of plaintiff's interior apartment door. Because plaintiff later learned from Murray that defendant and her husband had been at the apartment complex on at least two prior occasions, and because defendant had attempted to serve her responsive papers upon his mother who resided in Toms River, plaintiff stated he feared for his safety and filed the domestic violence complaint.

Murray testified that in late March 2009, defendant and her husband came to the apartment complex and asked if they could inspect apartment 7D. Murray informed defendant that that particular unit, although previously advertised for rent, was then occupied. Murray next showed defendant and her husband Unit 7A, a one-bedroom apartment similar in layout to Unit 7D. While inside the apartment, defendant looked out a window and mentioned to her husband something about a particular car being in the parking lot. When Murray, defendant, and her husband returned to Murray's office, defendant and her husband attempted to give Murray and the apartment manager a copy of defendant's criminal history. Murray testified that in their attempt to hand him a copy of defendant's criminal record, they told Murray that defendant had an extensive criminal history and made vial comments concerning defendant's past. Murray testified that he and the apartment manager refused to accept the copy of plaintiff's criminal record.

Murray testified that the next time he saw defendant and her husband was approximately two weeks later when they returned to the complex to once again look for an apartment. According to Murray, they looked in the location of apartment 7D, but plaintiff seemed more concerned in looking for an individual rather than an apartment. When questioned as to what he meant, Murray stated: "She didn't demonstrate the normal prospects[,] questions[,] and concerns. She was more concerned with a particular automobile that she had seen in the parking lot in [the] previous visit to the apartment complex." After overhearing defendant tell her husband that "[t]here's the car. That's it right there," they left the complex.

On April 30, 2009, Murray again saw defendant at the apartment complex. At her request, he met her outside building

D. Defendant requested that Murray deliver legal papers to plaintiff. In response to the request, Murray took the papers, placed them in the hallway in front of apartment 7D, closed the security door, and defendant left. That was the last occasion Murray observed defendant at the complex.

Defendant testified that since the parties' divorce in June 2008, they have been embroiled in post-judgment litigation, primarily concerning plaintiff's request for unsupervised parenting time with their daughter. Defendant stated that because of her remarriage, her mother wanted to move to her own apartment. Defendant and her husband researched the issue and found several prospective complexes in Chatham and in nearby Parsippany. On visiting plaintiff's apartment complex in late March 2009, defendant was not aware that plaintiff resided there. Defendant asked Murray if he would show them a single-bedroom apartment for her mother's prospective occupancy. However, defendant denied that she or her husband asked to view apartment 7D. On Murray taking them to look at apartment 7A, while in the apartment, she looked out the window and saw plaintiff's automobile in the parking lot. Contrary to Murray's testimony, defendant testified that she and her husband visited the apartment complex a second time solely for the purpose of going to ...

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