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A.T v. M.V.L

June 15, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FV-02-1373-11.

Per curiam.



Submitted June 4, 2012

Before Judges Ashrafi and Fasciale.

Defendant M.V.L. appeals from a final restraining order under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, entered on January 5, 2011, after trial. We affirm.

Plaintiff A.T. filed a domestic violence complaint on December 21, 2010, by which she alleged defendant had assaulted and harassed her in the middle of the night on October 3, 2010, causing physical injury to her face and body. Plaintiff also alleged several prior incidents of violence against her as indicating a history of domestic violence in the parties' dating relationship.

Trial began before Judge Mary Thurber on December 28, 2010, and was concluded on January 5, 2011. Plaintiff and defendant were the only witnesses. Both parties were represented by attorneys.

Plaintiff testified that she and defendant worked for the same employer. Defendant was in a management position above her. They had become involved in a dating relationship for several years. On October 2, 2010, plaintiff and defendant spent the day together and consumed alcohol during their activities. After midnight, they were in bed together at defendant's residence about to engage in intimate relations. Defendant became angry and retrieved a shotgun in its case from a closet. Plaintiff testified that defendant pointed the gun case at her and threatened her. She tried to take the shotgun case away to prevent defendant from using the weapon against her. The two fought, and defendant struck her in the face, neck, and chest with the butt of the shotgun still in its case. She testified that he pinned her down on the bed and punched her in the face. She stated her jaw was dislocated, and she suffered bruises on her body.

According to plaintiff, defendant then left the room with the shotgun, also taking her cell phone. When she tried to use the house phone, defendant pulled the cord out of the wall. She got out of the apartment and sought help at the door of a neighbor. Plaintiff testified that defendant grabbed her and tried to drag her away until neighbors and others came outside and rescued her from defendant. The neighbors called the police, who arrested defendant and filed criminal charges of assault. Plaintiff was taken to a hospital and received medical treatment for her injuries.

Plaintiff also testified about prior incidents of violence and harassment by defendant, including throwing and breaking a ceramic bowl, throwing an object through her window on another occasion, and yet a third incident when he was removed from a restaurant because he grabbed her shoulder in anger. She also testified that he would intimidate her when angry by "getting in her face," and that he would terrify her by driving very fast and recklessly to display his displeasure with her. She testified that she was frightened by him and needed a restraining order for protection.

Counsel for defendant cross-examined plaintiff at length both about the circumstances of the underlying incident on October 3, 2010, and about the delay of some eighty days, until December 21, 2010, before she filed a domestic violence complaint against him. Plaintiff admitted that she allowed defendant to come into her home on the evening after his arrest and they ate dinner together. During the following week, they saw each other several times and went out together for dinner and other social activities. Although they agreed to end the relationship on Columbus Day (October 11, 2010), they continued to communicate frequently by email and a few times by text message. Counsel suggested by his cross-examination, and later argued, that plaintiff was not in fear of defendant and filed the domestic violence complaint only out of spite to harm him at their place of employment.

On redirect examination and in rebuttal testimony, plaintiff explained that she declined opportunities to file a domestic violence complaint against defendant immediately after the incident and in the ensuing weeks because she was afraid that he would cause her to lose her job. She stated that the emails between the two concerned her medical expenses for the injuries he had caused, and that defendant agreed to reimburse her for any expenses that were not covered by insurance. She testified that she received domestic violence counseling in the weeks after the incident and eventually gathered sufficient confidence to file the complaint.

Defendant testified and disputed parts of plaintiff's version about the incident of October 3rd. He said that the two had spent the day socializing and drinking heavily. That night, he became angry because she wanted to call a male friend. He took her cell phone into another room to prevent her from calling the friend. When he returned to the bedroom, she was holding the shotgun case. He fought with her to take the gun away, and she may have been struck accidentally during the struggle. He denied pointing the gun at her or punching her. He admitted that he had unplugged the house phone to prevent her from calling the male friend, and he explained his actions outside the apartment as his attempt to prevent her from causing a commotion ...

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