May A Man Obtain A Restraining Order Against A Woman In New Jersey?

           Yes.  While it is common for a man to feel to be at a disadvantage (even with an experienced lawyer representing him) as an experienced restraining order attorney I can assure you that New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act is gender-neutral.  The judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey is mandated to consider any final restraining order based up on the facts without giving weight to gender.  In the following case, a women’s harassing behavior was deemed to be enough to cause this man to fear for his safety.  Hence, a final restraining order was entered and affirm on appeal.   

         In R.P.B. v. D.R, the parties began dating in September 2015, but the relationship quickly ended in November 2015.  R.P.B. is a carpenter contractor and D.R. is R.P.B.’s former client.  After the relationship ended, R.P.B. cancelled D.R.’s construction job.  On Thanksgiving Day in 2015, D.R. called and emailed R.P.B. many times stating that she would bring the deposit for the cancelled job to R.P.B.’s home.  R.P.B. informed D.R. that she did not owe him any money because the job was cancelled and that he would return any money she brought him.  Also, R.P.B. told D.R. to leave him alone.  Despite R.P.B.’s objections, D.R. left an envelope filled with cash at R.P.B.’s home that day.  On November 30, 2015, R.P.B. returned the money to D.R. via cashier’s check with a letter asking that D.R. leave him alone.  According to R.P.B., D.R. called R.P.B. approximately thirty times between November 28 and December 18, 2015.  R.P.B. answered D.R.’s call on December 18, 2015 because he did not recognize the incoming telephone number.  R.P.B. again asked D.R. to leave him alone and informed D.R. that he would file for a restraining order if she did not.

       R.P.B. then went on vacation to Morocco and returned on January 6, 2016.  During this time, D.R. sent R.P.B. approximately forty-five emails between January 2 and January 6, 2016.  In her emails, D.R. accused R.P.B. of hacking her laptop and cell phone, as well as voiced annoyance over the relationship ending and the fact that R.P.B. did not respond to any of D.R.’s emails.  On January 2, 2016 at 10:43 p.m., D.R. emailed R.P.B. and stated that R.P.B. treated her poorly and that he had been spying on her for two months.  D.R. also stated that she knows that R.P.B. still has feelings for her and cannot deal with those feelings.  R.P.B. received sixteen emails from D.R. the next day.  One of the sixteen emails accused R.P.B. of using spyware to monitor D.R.  R.P.B. received four more emails from D.R. on January 4, 2016.  In these emails, D.R. accused R.P.B. of collecting evidence against D.R. for a lawsuit.  D.R. also admitted to calling R.P.B. a number of times and trespassing on his property.  D.R. also “strongly recommended” that R.P.B. meet her at her house when he returned so that he can explain why he had been invading D.R.’s privacy.

           R.P.B. received six more emails from D.R. on January 5, 2016, starting at 3:19 a.m.  In these emails, D.R. sent R.P.B. pictures of himself from his social media accounts.  D.R. also stated that R.P.B. owed her about $4,600 for the slow speed of her computer and the time she spent “chasing” him the past few days.  In an email later that day, D.R. informed R.P.B. that what he had tried to send failed twice, however, R.P.B. denied attempting to communicate with D.R., and denied having a friend try to communicate with D.R. on R.P.B.’s behalf.  The next day, D.R. sent fifteen more emails to R.P.B.  In the string of emails sent by D.R., she stated that she would send R.P.B. a bill for the amount that it costs to remove the spyware from her electronic devices and for her time out of work.  D.R. also accused R.P.B. of having files and pictures of hers, which she stated she wanted back.  D.R. also emailed R.P.B. expressing that she would need to change all of her passwords, including her bank account and credit card passwords, because R.P.B.’s friend now had all of her information.  In the emails that followed later in the day, D.R. indicated that she could not do her job because she had been crying.  She also reiterated her claims that R.P.B. installed or had someone install spyware onto her electronic devices.  D.R. expressed her frustration with R.P.B. and stated that she did not understand what she did to deserve this treatment. 

          On January 7, 2016, R.P.B. filed a complaint against D.R. seeking a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) for harassment under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (“PDVA”).  A final restraining order (“FRO”) hearing was held in the Superior Court of New Jersey Family Part on January 14, 2016.  Both parties represented themselves in court and did not call any witnesses beside themselves.   At the hearing, when asked if he feared for his safety, R.P.B. stated that the constant badgering by D.R. was alarming.  D.R. admitted to sending about forty-five emails to R.P.B., but denied doing so to harass R.P.B.  D.R. stated that she sent R.P.B. so many emails because she believed that he was hacking her electronic devices.  She also stated that she continued to email R.P.B. because she believed he was installing spyware onto her computer.  As evidence, D.R. testified that she “saw flashing” on her computer, the computer was very slow, and there were pictures on the computer that she did not upload.  D.R. also testified that pictures and text messages, specifically the text messages between D.R. and R.P.B. were missing from her cell phone.  D.R. could not provide the court with a reason why she believed that R.P.B. was hacking her devices other than that the problem began on October 30, 2015 and R.P.B. was last at D.R.’s home on October 31, 2015.  D.R. also testified that she had her computer analyzed by two experts, neither of which was present to testify.  D.R. also stated that she spoke with a Norton Antivirus representative who told D.R. that there were about twenty-five foreign IP addresses on her phone.  The trial judge, however, ruled that the testimony was inadmissible hearsay, which is information that is not part of one’s direct knowledge.

             The trial judge held that a FRO was necessary.  The judge applied the two-prong test from Silver v. Silver, which states that a predicate act, defined in N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19(a), has occurred, and that a FRO is required to protect the victim from future abuse or harm.  The trial judge found R.P.B. and his evidence to be credible, whereas D.R.’s evidence was not reliable.  The judge found the predicate act of harassment, under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a), because D.R. called and sent dozens of emails to R.P.B. about their relationship intending to annoy or alarm him.  The judge also found that granting a FRO was necessary to prevent R.P.B. from further abuse from D.R.  The court noted that D.R.’s behavior was fanatical and obsessive, especially since the emails to R.P.B. contained made-up claims. 

             D.R. appealed the granting of the FRO, and argued that there was not enough evidence for the court to grant the FRO.  D.R. also argued that she was unable to present her defense regarding the hacking and that the judge should have adjourned the case to allow her to bring her experts to testify.  Lastly, D.R. argues that the conversation with the Norton Antivirus representative was not hearsay.  On appeal, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division noted that it must follow the factual findings of the Family Part unless there is credible evidence that suggests the trial court’s determination was unjust.  The Appellate Division repeated the standard under the PDVA, stating that harassment is a predicate act under the Act.  The Appellate Division stated that an innocent act may be used to disguise the intent to harass, and that judges must infer intent from the evidence presented at trial.  The Appellate Division also repeated that two-prong Silver analysis, and held that there was adequate evidence to support the trial judge’s determination that D.R. harassed R.P.B.  The court found that there was plenty of evidence to indicate that D.R. sent R.P.B. about forty-five emails with the intent to harass him.  The Appellate Division found that the record indicates that the lower court was correct in holding that a FRO was necessary to protect R.P.B.  

            The Appellate Division also held that the lower court did not need to grant D.R. an adjournment to bring experts to testify because D.R. was provided with sufficient notice of the FRO trial.  The court found that no new allegations were brought at trial and that D.R. never sought an adjournment; therefore, the trial court did not need to grant an adjournment on its own.  Ultimately, the Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the trial court and held that the granting of the FRO was appropriate.