NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 12, 2012 -
Before Judges Sabatino and Fasciale.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FV-15-2215-10. Patrice R. Hayslett, attorney for appellant. Respondent has not filed a brief.
In this unopposed appeal, defendant R.W.M. contests the Family Part's entry of a final restraining order ("FRO") against her in favor of plaintiff R.J.S. under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35 ("the Act"). The FRO was issued after a trial on May 17, 2010, at which both parties were self-represented. Two days after issuing the FRO, the trial court denied defendant's motion to stay the restraints, and this appeal followed.
The record reflects that the complaint arose out of an altercation between the parties on May 6, 2010, in the parking lot of their high school. At the time, plaintiff was seventeen-years-old and defendant was eighteen-years-old, and they both were enrolled in the twelfth grade at that high school. As indicated by the limited testimony on the subject at trial, the parties had dated one another for approximately six months. They broke up on May 2, 2010, four days before the incident in the parking lot. The parties had never lived together and had no children.
According to plaintiff's allegations, which the trial judge accepted as credible, defendant, accompanied by a female friend, assaulted him in the parking lot on the afternoon of May 6. Plaintiff testified that defendant parked her vehicle next to him. She walked over to him and an argument quickly erupted. Defendant began striking plaintiff in the face and neck. Plaintiff grabbed defendant by the arms and attempted to restrain her. Defendant's friend then got out of defendant's vehicle and placed plaintiff in a headlock. While the friend held plaintiff, defendant continued to punch him. She also bit him on the back. A teacher then interceded and stopped the fight. Police were called to the scene and defendant was placed under arrest. Thereafter, the high school apparently issued a "safety plan" relating to the parties.*fn1
Plaintiff obtained a temporary restraining order six days later, based on a concern that defendant would provoke another confrontation with him. At the ensuing FRO trial, he recounted the attack in the parking lot. He also contended that defendant had made several posts on Facebook directed against him. Defendant likewise testified, and gave her own account of the parking lot incident.
Following the testimony, the Family Part judge concluded that defendant had engaged in the predicate act of assault, and that restraints were warranted to protect plaintiff from further intrusions upon his peace and privacy. Immediately after the FRO trial, defendant appeared in the municipal court and pled guilty to simple assault arising out of the same conduct.
On appeal, defendant makes two arguments. First, she contends that the record lacks proof of a sufficient "dating relationship" to confer jurisdiction under the Act. Second, she maintains that the Family Part erred in concluding that final restraints were necessary for the protection of plaintiff, who had been a member of the high school wrestling team.
With respect to the jurisdictional issue, the Act defines a "[v]ictim of domestic violence," who is eligible to seek restraints, as follows:
[A]ny person who is 18 years of age or older or who is an emancipated minor and who has been subjected to domestic violence by a spouse, former spouse, or any other person who is a present or former household member. "Victim of domestic violence" also includes any person, regardless of age, who has been subjected to domestic violence by a person with whom the victim has a child in common, or with whom the victim anticipates having a child in common, if one of the parties is pregnant. "Victim of domestic violence" also includes any person who has been subjected to domestic violence by a person with whom the victim has had a dating relationship. [N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19(d).]
The Act does not precisely define the term "dating relationship." However, the concept has ...