On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Morris County, Docket No. FV-14-000018-12.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Yannotti and Kennedy.
Defendant appeals from a final restraining order entered against her pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35. For reasons stated herein, we reverse.
Plaintiff and defendant had a dating relationship that started in 2004. It appears that the relationship was stormy and that the parties broke up and reunited several times over the course of several years, until their final break-up in December 2010.
On May 25, 2011, plaintiff filed a domestic violence civil complaint against defendant in which he alleged that defendant had harassed him and his new girlfriend. Rather than proceed to trial, however, the parties signed a "consent agreement" on June 10, 2011, whereby defendant agreed to "have no direct or indirect interaction" with plaintiff, his family or his customers. Further, if the parties had "any outstanding issues with each other," they agreed to handle those issues through the "court system." Plaintiff's domestic violence complaint was "withdrawn and dismissed."
Thereafter, defendant filed a domestic violence complaint against plaintiff alleging that on July 2, 2011, she found a letter under her garage door stating "You cannot win so stop or else." She asserted that plaintiff "may have" been responsible for the letter and that it constituted harassment.
Plaintiff also filed a domestic violence complaint against defendant alleging that on June 30, 2011, while in court to address a civil lawsuit that defendant had filed against him, he was "almost knocked . . . over" when defendant "ran into" him outside the courtroom.
The actions were tried before the Family Part on August 8, 2011, and each party testified. Defendant testified she had no arguments with anyone else and therefore simply "believe[d]" the typed note had been left by plaintiff. Plaintiff denied having written or placed the note by defendant's garage, and further stated that, while at the courthouse on June 30, 2011, defendant "came down the hallway, and bodily ran into [him], and yelled that [he] was in her way."
The trial judge found that defendant had not established the typed note was authored by plaintiff, and that the existence of the note would not constitute an act of domestic violence, in any event. With respect to plaintiff's complaint, the judge explained that defendant "has had a hard time letting go" and her lawsuits were "off the mark in a way that suggests" they were brought simply to "get at" plaintiff. The judge found "harassment . . . based on violation of both the spirit and the letter of the consent agreement[.]" He added that "there has been a course of alarming conduct looking at the entire history" and entered a final restraining order against defendant." This appeal followed.
Defendant raises a host of issues on appeal, but essentially argues that the trial court erred in adjudicating a domestic violence complaint by focusing on the "past history" between the parties and not addressing the actions alleged in the complaint. We agree.
The commission of one of the offenses listed in N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19 is a prerequisite to the entry of a domestic violence order. Franklin v. Sloskey, 385 N.J. Super. 534, 542 (App. Div. 2006). Moreover, "due process requires that [the] defendant receive 'notice defining the issues and an adequate opportunity to prepare and respond.'" J.D. v. M.D.F., 207 N.J. 458, 478 (2011) (quoting H.E.S. v. J.C.S., 175 N.J. 309, 321 (2003)). A court may consider allegations of domestic violence not included in a complaint to determine whether there has been a history of domestic violence. See J.D., supra, 207 N.J. at 479. However, "due process forbids the trial court to convert a hearing on a complaint alleging one act of domestic violence into a hearing on other acts of domestic violence which ...