On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FV-07-003343-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes and Graves.
Plaintiff obtained a temporary domestic violence restraining order against defendant Darron Daye on June 8, 2011. Following a trial, the Family Part judge found that plaintiff did not sustain her burden of proof as to either of the two predicate offenses----harassment and terroristic threats.
Plaintiff appeals from a June 24, 2011 order that vacated the temporary restraining order and dismissed her domestic violence complaint. We affirm.
The parties were the only witnesses to testify at the trial on June 24, 2011. At that time, they were both employed by the Department of Corrections and both worked at Northern State Prison. The parties' dating relationship, which began in March 2011, ended in June 2011. To a large extent, plaintiff's domestic violence complaint was based on text messages defendant sent to plaintiff. Plaintiff did not allege that defendant ever physically attacked her or damaged her property. In addition, plaintiff's complaint indicated there was no prior history of domestic violence. Nevertheless, plaintiff stated she was afraid of defendant because he "has a quick temper," and she saw him "go into rages over minute situations."
We do not find it necessary for purposes of this opinion to recite the parties' conflicting testimony regarding the reasons why their relationship ended. In an oral decision, the trial court found that defendant's "version of what happened [was] at least as credible as [plaintiff's] version of what happened." The court further found that the texts were not sent to plaintiff with a "purpose to annoy or alarm her or to threaten her."
On appeal, plaintiff argues the trial court erred in not granting a final restraining order because "plaintiff was subjected to treatment that falls squarely under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act." We do not agree.
"Domestic violence is a term of art which defines a pattern of abusive and controlling behavior injurious to its victims." Peranio v. Peranio, 280 N.J. Super. 47, 52 (App. Div. 1995); see also Corrente v. Corrente, 281 N.J. Super. 243, 246 (App. Div. 1995). The intent and focus of the Legislature in enacting the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act was to address serious abuse between individuals governed by the act. Corrente, supra, 281 N.J. Super. at 247. One sufficiently egregious action, however, may constitute domestic violence, even in the absence of a history of abuse between the parties. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 402 (1998).
In the present matter, the trial court carefully considered all of the evidence and explained its reasons for its findings and conclusions, including its credibility assessments. The trial court also found that none of the text messages sent by defendant to plaintiff indicated an intent to harass. See L.M.F. v. J.A.F., Jr., 421 N.J. Super. 523, 535-36 (App. Div. 2011).
The scope of our review is limited. A trial court's findings "are binding on appeal when supported by adequate, substantial, credible evidence." Cesare, supra, 154 N.J. at 412. "[A]n appellate court should not disturb the 'factual findings and legal conclusions of the trial judge unless [it is] convinced that they are so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice.'" Id. at 412 (alteration in original) (quoting Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974)). Such deference is particularly appropriate in a case such as this where there is conflicting testimony. "Because a trial court 'hears the case, sees and observes the witnesses, [and] hears them testify, it has a better perspective than a reviewing court in evaluating the veracity of witnesses.'" Ibid. (alteration in original) (quoting Pascale v. Pascale, 113 N.J. 20, 33 (1988)). ...