What happens when a victim of domestic violence suffers a predicate act in a State outside of New Jersey and then seeks an order of protection in New Jersey? The general answer is… the victim is entitled to the full protection of the laws of this state. This is reaffirmed by B.A.F. v. H.D.N., an unpublished (non-precedential) decision in which the predicate act occurred in Florida and the victim, a resident of New Jersey, sought her Temporary Restraining Order in New Jersey a few days later upon her return.
In this case, the defendant/aggressor physically assaulted the plaintiff/victim in their hotel room during a vacation in Florida – while drunk, defendant pinned her to the bed and strangled her twice, prevented her from getting his cell phone to call 9-1-1, demanded her engagement ring and took it back, and threatened to kill her. Plaintiff called 9-1-1 when defendant left, and defendant was arrested in Florida and faced criminal charges.
Plaintiff sought a TRO the day after she returned to New Jersey and then the Final Restraining Order commenced. Plaintiff was the only witness as Defendant refrained from testifying to avoid self-incrimination with respect to the Florida criminal charges. Unsurprisingly given the underlying incident, the FRO was entered following the trial.
Notably, Defendant never objected to jurisdiction in New Jersey. Notwithstanding, Defendant appealed and claimed that New Jersey did not have subject matter jurisdiction because the incident occurred in Florida and Plaintiff did not “flee” to or “seek shelter” in New Jersey, but rather is a resident of New Jersey, and claiming that Plaintiff sought protection in Florida.
As the Appellate Division points out, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act states:
A plaintiff may apply for relief under this section in a court having jurisdiction over the place where the alleged act of domestic violence occurred, where the defendant resides, or where the plaintiff resides or is sheltered, and the court shall follow the same procedures applicable to other emergency applications.
The Appellate Division further noted that the Criminal Code likewise does not prevent a victim of domestic violence from filing for a TRO when the criminal act occurred in another state.
Turning to case law, the Appellate Division relied on Shah v. Shah, which found subject and personal matter jurisdiction in New Jersey when a domestic violence incident occurred in Illinois where the parties resided, and the victim sought refuge in New Jersey. There, the New Jersey Supreme Court stated “plaintiff, having a lawful presence in New Jersey and residing here, at least for the time being, is entitled to seek and expect the full protection of our laws.” Moreover, citing and then quoting Shah:
[t]he fundamental logic of that statutory provision is unassailable: a victim of domestic abuse who seeks a place of refuge must be able to engage the protections of the law of the jurisdiction in which she is sheltered. To state otherwise flies in the face of plain common sense.” Id. at 135-36. The Court [in Shah] expressly held:
‘[A]s long as one of the statutorily enumerated subject matter jurisdiction conditions precedent to the filing of a domestic violence complaint is present and the action is [properly] venued[,] . . . New Jersey courts have all requisite subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate a complaint seeking relief under the [PDVA].’
Additionally, despite defendant’s arguments otherwise, plaintiff did not first seek protection in Florida. Yes, she called the police and criminal charges were pending in Florida, but she did not seek the Florida equivalent of a New Jersey TRO.
Simply put, the defendant’s argument on jurisdiction was going nowhere fast. Also, it bears repeating that defendant did not make this argument in the underlying case. In other words, he was fine with New Jersey handling the matter until he lost. He did not preserve his rights on appeal by objecting to the jurisdiction at any point before or during trial, although it’s clear that he would have lost the argument either way.
While this blog focuses on jurisdiction, the case also dealt with the second prong of Silver (meaning a plaintiff first has to provide prong one, the predicate act, and then prong two, continuing need for protection), as defendant claimed that plaintiff did not properly demonstrate a continuing need for protection, but the Appellate Division disagreed because she testified to her ongoing fear of defendant especially when he drinks. The case also addresses admissibility of evidence whereby the plaintiff sought to introduce photographs taken by the Florida police immediately after the incident, defendant objected on authenticity grounds, and the pictures were excluded except for the one photo taken by plaintiff herself, but later admitted the photographs and bodycam footage on redirect based on defendant “opening the door” to the evidence, i.e.: raising a subject on cross examination that could be rebutted or otherwise addressed with the evidence.
Frankly, based on the underlying incident for which plaintiff met her burden of proof, defendant’s efforts to appeal the TRO can only be described as grasping at straws and, unfortunately, caused plaintiff to engage in further litigation over a serious incident. But, the real takeaway is that a victim of domestic violence can certainly seek an order of protection in New Jersey regardless of where the underlying incident occurred and regardless of whether the victim is a resident of New Jersey who returns to the state for such order, or a non-resident who seeks refuge in New Jersey and thereby is residing here for that time period.