In the recent unpublished decision of L.G. v. T.G.. the Appellate Division addresses an issue that we are dealing with more and more – tracking one’s spouse through a hidden GPS on their car. GPS in terms of domestic violence isn’t necessarily “new” – you can read about the beginnings in Eric Solotoff’s 2011
Technology is making it easier and easier to satisfy our curiosity about just what the heck the people in our lives are up to. Are you curious about your husband’s whereabouts? You could plant a GPS device on his car. Do you want to know what your wife is saying to the kids? There are…
The word “harassment” is one of those terms I hear all the time as a family law attorney. I have had complaints from clients that their spouse made a mess of the house just to “harass” them. Or, I have had adversaries who intentionally misconstrue every single dispute between our clients as “harassment.” It is…
Accordingly to a Pew Internet Project research study, as of 2014:
- 90% of American adults own a cell phone
- 32% of American adults own an e-reader
- 42% of American adults own a tablet computer
- 64% of American adults own a smartphone
As with all advances in technology however, we take the good with the bad. …
The times, they are a’changing – at least when it comes to how the judicial system approaches harassment as an act of domestic violence in light of advanced technology used for communication. In the newly reported (precedential) Appellate Division decision of L.M.F. v. J.A.F., Jr., the Court addressed the use of electronic communications, specifically text messages, as a form of harassment. Those claiming an act of harassment based on electronic communications might not like what the Appellate Division had to say, as detailed further below, but the decision provides a breadth of noteworthy language in shaping what is an extremely sound, rationale and common sense methodology to approach such cases in the future.
As a refresher, harassment is defined by New Jersey statute as follows:
[A] person commits a petty disorderly persons offense if, with purpose to harass another, he:
a. Makes, or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm;
b. Subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so; or
c. Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.
Addressing the struggles faced by courts in addressing harassment as an act of domestic violence, the Appellate Division noted
The facts presented here exemplify the complexity of human interactions and the strain they place on the Family Part judges as they struggle to distinguish between the cases that merit judicial intervention and those that do not.
Further addressing such difficulties in the context of modern technology and the facts at issue, the Court first provided an online definition of “texting” from www.netlingo.com as:
[t]he act of typing and sending a brief, electronic message (less than 160 characters) via a wireless network to another person so that they can view the short message on any number of mobile or handheld devices.
Harassment under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act can take on many forms, one of which, under a given set of facts and circumstances, can involve an individual placing a victim in fear of losing her job. Recently we handled a matter where the defendant was contacting the victim’s employer and threatening to tell the employer very private details about the victim’s personal life. Whether the victim would have actually lost her job was one thing, since, more importantly, she had a reasonable fear based on the defendant’s harassment that it would occur.
The facts in J.J. v. J.M. were relatively similar (as each case carries its own details and nuances), as the Appellate Division affirmed in this unpublished (not precedential) case that the defendant’s actions in placing his former girlfriend in fear of losing her job constituted harassment meriting issuance of a Final Restraining Order.
About a month ago, I blogged on a case that held that putting a GPS in a spouse’s car was not an invasion of privacy because cars travel on public roads and there is no expectation of privacy. That said, invasion of privacy is a tort so this case really did not address the domestic violence/stalking implications of the conduct. In fact, at the end of the post, I said:
Now, should people going through a divorce take this as a green light to start placing GPS devices in their spouse’s vehicle. Perhaps not. There have been some that have argued and some judges have found that that conduct would amount to domestic violence – perhaps harassment or stalking. Of course, that begs the question of how the alleged victim could demonstrate the requisite fear or be alarmed, if the did not know of the placement of the GPS and similarly, how it would be stalking if the person did not know that the GPS was recording their movements. I have no doubt that there will be more to come on this.
Little did I know that more was going to come so soon. That is, until I read L.J.V.H. v. R.J.V.H., an unreported Appellate Division opinion decided yesterday. In that case, the court found that the putting a GPS device in an ex-wife’s new boyfriend’s car was stalking and thus domestic violence.
Apparently, this was not the defendant’s first foray into the use of a GPS. At the commencement of the original divorce a year prior, the defendant had put a GPS on the wife’s car. She obtained a TRO which was ultimately resolved by a consent order in the divorce case for restraints, including restraints on stalking.
As technology progresses, the use of it rears its head during divorce cases. One such form of technology is the use of a GPS in a spouses vehicle. In a reported (precedential) opinion decided on July 7, 2011, in the case of Villanova vs. Innovative Investigations, the Appellate Division affirmed a trial court’s granting of summary judgment, effectively dismissing a husband’s invasion of privacy claim.
In this case, the wife , in the midst of divorce proceedings, hired a private investigator to follow her husband. The private investigator later suggested that the wife put a GPS device in the family vehicle driven by the husband and she did. She later used the findings in the divorce case. During the divorce case, the husband amended his divorce pleading to seek invasion of privacy damages against the wife. He also tried to add the defendant’s in this case, the private investigator as a defendant in the divorce case but the court would not allow that. The husband ultimately abandoned his tort claim against the wife in their settlement but reserved his rights to pursue his claim against the private investigator.
The invasion of privacy claim in the case against the private investigator was ultimately dismissed because the court found that there is no expectation of privacy driving over public roads.
This post was written by Melissa M. Ruvolo, a new Family Law associate, in our Roseland office, and soon to be an official contributior to this blog.
Our blog frequently features discussions regarding what constitutes domestic violence to warrant the issuance of a Final Restraining Order (FRO). Perhaps the most frequently alleged “predicate act of domestic violence” is harassment under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4. What may constitute “harassment” was recently raised in the unpublished Appellate Division decision of A.B. v. L.S.M. decided on May 6, 2011.
The parties were unmarried but had been living together for almost four years. They had two daughters – a 3-year old and a 22-month old. During an argument, the defendant called the plaintiff a “b-tch” and the plaintiff admitted she may also have cursed and yelled at him. The defendant attempted to leave the home but while doing so, got a flat tire. When he tried to fix it with a car jack, the plaintiff twice tried to remove the jack from under the car and the defendant pushed her shoulders each time. She threw the daughter’s sippy cup at his face and broke his nose. Both parties applied for temporary restraining orders, which were dismissed. The defendant eventually moved out of the home and parenting time was ordered by the Court.
Two months later, the defendant went to the plaintiff’s home and knocked on her bathroom window, pleading to speak with her. The plaintiff refused. On the way home from plaintiff’s house, the defendant sent her an apologetic text message stating that he had no idea how much he had hurt her and would leave her alone.
Several days later, when the defendant went to the plaintiff’s home to pick up the children for parenting time, he asked to speak with her. He told her he “really missed her” and wanted to “hug and kiss her.” She responded that she didn’t want to talk to him or “have him touch her.” Later that evening, the defendant sent a text message to the plaintiff claiming the children forgot a teddy bear and blanket. She offered to bring them to his home and he agreed. When the plaintiff arrived at the defendant’s front door, he told her the children were already asleep, leading her to believe that the entire incident was a ploy to get her there. According to the plaintiff, the defendant grabbed her to prevent her from leaving and she told him not to touch her. The plaintiff’s friend, who was waiting in the car, witnessed the defendant give the plaintiff an unwanted “bear hug.”
To obtain a Final Restraining Order, a claimant must, among other things, establish that one of the predicate act of domestic violence actually occurred under N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19. Notably for the purpose of this blog entry, theft is not one of those predicate acts. The question then begs – can theft be a form of domestic…