On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Gloucester County, Docket No. FV-08-0038-12.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Baxter and Nugent.
In this domestic violence case, defendant B.L.S. appeals from the July 7, 2011 final restraining order (FRO) entered against him in the Family Part pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35. During the hearing on the FRO, defendant made an ambiguous statement that caused the trial court to conclude, erroneously, that defendant did not dispute critical parts of plaintiff S.I.'s testimony. For that reason, and because the trial court's consequent findings of fact and conclusions of law were inadequate, we reverse and remand the matter to the trial court to make additional findings.
We derive the following factual and procedural history from the pleadings and from the hearing on the FRO. Plaintiff obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) against defendant on July 3, 2011. Neither party was represented by counsel when they appeared for the hearing on the FRO four days later. Plaintiff testified that defendant was her boyfriend. On July 2, 2011, plaintiff and a girlfriend went to Atlantic City and returned to Vineland in the early morning hours of July 3. Defendant began telephoning plaintiff "constantly," beginning at approximately 4:00 a.m. She did not answer because she did not want to start an argument. Sometime after the calls began, she and her girlfriend went to a Denny's restaurant where they had breakfast with other friends. After eating, plaintiff and her friends went outside to talk and plaintiff saw defendant approaching in his car.
Defendant exited his car, upset and angry. He said to plaintiff, "oh, you can't answer my phone calls," then said to one of her male friends, "'oh, what are you violating me,' [and] all kinds of different things." Defendant asked plaintiff if she was going to continue to talk to him, she said yes, and then defendant started making comments to her friends again. She told her girlfriend that they should leave before the situation "got any worse than what it [was]," and they drove out of the parking lot in her girlfriend's car. Defendant followed them.
When plaintiff's girlfriend stopped her car at a red traffic light, defendant got out of his car and knocked twice, "real hard," on the window of the car in which plaintiff was riding. Plaintiff told her girlfriend to drive to the Vineland police station. As they turned onto the street where the police station was located, defendant swerved his car in front of them, "almost hitting [their] car." Plaintiff started screaming. She did not "know if he was trying to get us off the road, trying to -- I don't know what his intentions were." Her girlfriend drove to the police station and, after plaintiff filed a complaint, a Vineland police officer escorted them home from the station.
Several blocks from the police station, plaintiff saw defendant driving his truck. When he saw plaintiff and her girlfriend, he pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.
They stopped too. Realizing that the police were following plaintiff, defendant attempted to drive away, but the police pulled him over. According to plaintiff, that ended the incident.
When plaintiff finished testifying, the court asked defendant, "[Are] there any questions you'd like me to ask [plaintiff] about what she's testified to?" Defendant wanted to ask plaintiff if the incident occurred in Vineland, and if so, why the case was filed in Gloucester County. Defendant also wanted to know "if there was that much of a fear of a domestic violence [incident] . . . why wasn't I taken away at the time[?]" The court interpreted defendant's first question as a motion to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. After explaining its jurisdiction, the court denied the motion, and then asked defendant, "Did you have another question you wanted me to ask [plaintiff]?" Defendant had no other questions.
Defendant testified that "the matter is exactly the way she said. I just tried to call her through the course of the night because we do have two young kids. And, they weren't with us at the time." Stating that his relationship with plaintiff had been "on shaky grounds here and there," defendant said that "there's a lot to this case other than . . . ...