Yes. New Jersey shall protect victims of domestic violence who come to this state looking for refuge from their abuser. As a restraining order lawyer I applaud this public policy of protecting victims at any cost. Family law attorneys often have to determine whether or not New Jersey has jurisdiction over a case. Personal jurisdiction is the power of a court over the litigants in the case. A restraining order attorney may seek to have a New Jersey court exercise power over a party even though the Constitution of the United States of America requires that the party have certain minimum contacts with the forum in which the court sits. My experience lawyer representing victims of domestic violence has taught me that sometimes victims of domestic violence flee to escape the violence of their perpetrators. Whether a perpetrator has minimum contacts in New Jersey is a fact-specific inquiry done on a case-by-case basis. The question essentially becomes whether the defendant could have reasonably anticipated being called into court in New Jersey, by his or her conduct and connection with the State.
In A.R. v. M.R., defendant M.R. appealed a final restraining order entered by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Part of Mercer County. He argued that the Family Part lacked both personal jurisdiction, because he did not have sufficient contacts in New Jersey, and subject matter jurisdiction, because he committed the acts of domestic violence in a different state. The New Jersey Appellate Division was tasked with answering whether the Family Part of Mercer County had personal jurisdiction over M.R., and if it was a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, to apply the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, New Jersey Statute 2C:25-17 to -33, to protect a victim who fled to New Jersey for safety, against a perpetrator who had committed the acts of domestic violence in another state, but threatened to get revenge on the victim wherever she went, and then started making phone calls to New Jersey to try and find her location. The New Jersey Appellate Division found that this was not a Due Process violation, and affirmed the final restraining order.
A.R. and M.R. met in 1985 in New Jersey. After their first child was born, they had moved to Mississippi, and married there in 1987. They would have two more children together. While living in Mississippi, M.R. inflicted numerous forms of physical and mental abuse on A.R. He did not allow her to have friend, violently twisted her arm, insisted on keeping a handgun and bullets around the house where the children could have found them, and forced her to engage in sexual acts that she considered “outside the norm.” He also threatened to bring college women into their bedroom, so that she would have to watch them engage in sexual intercourse, and to coerce her into joining in. He also threatened to get a camcorder and record the intercourse and make his own videos.
If this wasn’t disgusting enough, he also inflicted violence on the children. A.R. described a beating he gave to one of children when she was only six years old. He took a stick and beat the young girl all over the house. When A.R. tried to stop him, he exclaimed, “you better [get] the hell out of my way before I put this on you too.” A.R. claimed that he would beat this young girl “almost once a week.” The child was fourteen years old at the time of trial, but still had marks and gashes all over her body. Another time, their ten-year-old son had gotten a D in Math, so M.R. took an extension cord and whipped him with it. When A.R. tried to stop him, he shouted, “get the heck out of my way before I wring your damn neck.” Their youngest child once got in trouble at school, and he beat her with a leather belt. A.R. described the incident, “She’s just a tiny little child and he just use[d] all of his strength and just beat her all across her back, her legs, her face, everything.” A.R. also testified that if she ever tried to stop him or get in his way, “he would threaten to kill me. And he said ‘if you ever attempt to report this, . . . or if you every try to leave, . . . I’m going to kill you or I’m going to track you down wherever you go and I’m going to kill you and the kids.’”
The final straw came on April 4, 2000, when M.R., without reason, pinned A.R. down, and when she screamed for help, he yanked her hair, and punched her neck, face, and jaw numerous times. He then pulled out a loaded handgun, held the gun to her head and screamed, “Shut up bitch or I’ll blow your f-ing brains out all over this wall. A.R.’s brother went to the police who arrested M.R., and took A.R. to a hospital. After this incident, A.R. fled to her sister’s house in New Jersey. Their refuge would be short lived, as on April 8, 2000, M.R. called to try and locate them. He would make many calls for this purpose. On April 10, 2000, A.R. got a ex parte temporary restraining order that included temporary custody of the kids on an emergency basis, but on April 25, 2000 M.R. got an ex parte order from Mississippi that granted him emergency custody of the kids.
M.R. filed a motion on October 26, 2000 to dismiss A.R.’s temporary restraining order. He argued a lack of jurisdiction. His motion was denied by an order dated January 19, 2001. The final restraining order trial was held in the spring of that year, and on May 16, 2001, judgment was entered in A.R.’s favor. M.R. appealed.
The New Jersey Appellate Division stated that the Court has upheld both the exercise of subject matter and personal jurisdiction over someone who has committed an act of domestic violence in another state, and then pursued the victim to New Jersey. The appellate panel explained that public policy would not be served by failing to protect a victim of domestic violence simply because the perpetrator has not arrived in New Jersey. A denial would against the intent of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act because the Act itself allows a victim, no matter where the domestic violence occurs, to apply for relief wherever that victim “resides or is sheltered.”
The court acknowledged that a judgment by a court that does not have personal jurisdiction violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Nonetheless, a state court does not violate due process by asserting personal jurisdiction in the defendant has “certain minimum contacts with it such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Whether a perpetrator has minimum contacts in New Jersey is a fact-specific inquiry done on a case-by-case basis. The question essentially becomes whether the defendant could have reasonably anticipated being called into court in New Jersey, by his or her conduct and connection with the State. The New Jersey Appellate Division stated that when considering if M.R.’s conduct was of a nature that he should have expected A.R. seeking protection in New Jersey, they must keep the intent of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act in mind. This is because this case was not about money damages. A.R.’s and her children’s lives literally hung in the balance. Furthermore, he didn’t he didn’t just threaten her in Mississippi. He called her numerous times in New Jersey to search for her. In the context of the parties relationship and history, M.R. must have known the frightening effect they would have on her in New Jersey. The New Jersey Appellate Division held that the Family Part correctly exercised jurisdiction over the case, and the final restraining order was affirmed.
My law firm is prepared to protect any victim of domestic violence.