Trial Judge’s Failure to use magic words, “purpose to harass,” Not Reversible Error for Finding of Harassment Under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act

By:  Thomas A. Grossi, Esq.

In a recent unpublished decision, A.I.H (Plaintiff-Respondent) v. Z.O.F. (Defendant-Appellant), the Appellate Division affirmed the Trial court’s finding of harassment based on “the court’s unequivocal rejection of defendant’s purported reason for continuously contacting plaintiff.”

The parties were unmarried parents of a young son, and at the time of the underlying events, jointly owned a home. The parties’ relationship ended following a March 27, 2018 incident – one month after their son was born. The March 27, 2018 incident, which was part of plaintiff’s prior history of domestic violence, resulted in alleged bruising to plaintiff’s mouth and arms.  Plaintiff moved out of the residence.  Plaintiff detailed numerous acts of harassment by defendant in June and July 2018. Specifically, plaintiff detailed defendant contacting her for breast milk, which the Trial court found was for the purpose of having some type of control over plaintiff. Plaintiff ultimately filed her complaint in support of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on July 9, 2018 relying on the June and July 2018 incidents with the March 2018 detailed as prior history.

On Appeal, defendant argued the trial court did not find he had a “purpose  to harass” and none of the evidence supported such a finding. In rejecting defendant’s argument, the Appellate Division held, in relevant part:

Although the court did not use the magic words “purpose to harass,” the court’s unequivocal rejection of defendant’s purported reason for continuously contacting plaintiff, coupled with the court’s finding that defendant’s true “purpose” was to exert “some type of control over her,” sufficiently convey that message. Cf. L.C. v. M.A.J., 451 N.J. Super. 408, 414 (App. Div. 2017) (“Plaintiff provided… sufficient detail to suggest that defendant’s communications were not so innocent and, in reality, were made with a purpose to harass an exert control over her in a manner consistent with alleged past conduct.” D.N. v. K.M., 429 N.J. Super. 529, 598 (App. Div. 2013) (deciding in the context of a FRO hearing that “[w]hile the judge could have stated more, giving the deference, we are satisfied the findings sufficiently support the court’s conclusion”).

The Appellate Division, in further affirming the trial court’s decision, noted “defendant’s conduct was not an isolated event and the record indicated that the communications at issue stretched over several months.”  The prior acts were considered in the court’s determinations.

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