What Is A Motion In Limine In A Restraining Order Trial?
A motion in limine is a motion filed by your lawyer during a trial that asks the court to limit or prevent specific evidence from being offered at trial, including a final restraining order hearing. In L.C. v. M.A.J., L.C. filed a domestic violence complaint under the Prevention Against Domestic Violence Act of 1991 on May 16, 2016. In her complaint, L.C. claimed there was a history of domestic violence, including physical abuse, as well as present domestic violence, such as harassing communications to L.C. and L.C.’s employer. After a short hearing that same day, L.C. was granted a temporary restraining order. The final restraining order hearing was held on May 31, 2016. At the final restraining order hearing, M.A.J.’s attorney presented the judge with a motion in limine, which was not backed by a sworn statement. The motion in limine filed was a motion to dismiss L.C.’s domestic violence complaint. M.A.J.’s motion did not cite a particular rule for the basis of his argument, but M.A.J. later argued that his motion was based on Rule 4:6-2(e), which allows the judge to dismiss a case when a complaint does not state a claim for which relief may be permitted. However, M.A.J.’s motion to dismiss did not discuss whether L.C. alleged all the required elements of a cause of action. M.A.J. discussed the specific facts claimed and argued that the communications L.C. alleged only pertained to parenting issues and did not establish harassment. The trial judge did not hear testimony, but heard from both attorneys and granted M.A.J.’s motion, and dismissed the case.
On appeal, the New Jersey Appellate Division reversed the Superior Court of New Jersey Family Part’s decision. The Appellate Division stated that it has consistently condemned the filing or contemplation of in limine motions that request a case’s termination. The court stated that the court rules do not permit filing motions that will end an action at the time of trial. The court explained that filing a motion in limine at the time of trial is only tolerated when it involves evidentiary matters, but even then, filing such a motion at the time of trial is frowned upon and should only be considered occasionally. The Appellate Division held that M.A.J. proceeded inappropriately by seeking an abrupt end to the domestic violence case.
The court reasoned that M.A.J. was not requesting a resolution to an evidentiary issue, but dismissal of the case. The court stated that motions to dismiss are especially condemned when the alleged victim’s well-being and safety are the main issue, such as in a domestic violence matter. Furthermore, the Appellate Division stated that due process requires that the victim in a domestic violence matter be given a fair opportunity to be heard, an opportunity to oppose the motion, and adequate notice that the motion was filed. The Appellate Division held that the trial judge’s decision robbed L.C. of the opportunity to respond to M.A.J.’s motion by granting the motion when the motion was presented the day of the final restraining order hearing. Therefore, the Appellate Division concluded that L.C.’s denial of her due process rights requires reversal.
Additionally, the Appellate Division found that the trial judge granted M.A.J.’s motion, not because the complaint failed to state a claim, but because M.A.J. and the judge believed L.C.’s factual claims failed to offer a sufficient framework for a final restraining order. The court stated that the trial court treated M.A.J.’s motion as a summary judgment motion and accepted that M.A.J. only communicated with L.C. the way he did because he was concerned for the parties’ ten-year-old child. The Appellate Division reasoned that the motion to dismiss should have been denied since M.A.J. did not provide a sworn statement to support his allegation that he was concerned for his child’s well-being. The Appellate Division also stated that L.C.’s complaint provided adequate detail to suggest that M.A.J.’s communications were meant to harass and assert power over her. The court stated that the trial court failed to construe L.C.’s claims in the light most favorable to her and consider the parties’ history of domestic violence in its totality.
The Appellate Division ultimately reversed the decision of the trial court because the trial court incorrectly granted M.A.J.’s in limine motion to dismiss. The Appellate Division remanded the case back to the trial court for a final restraining order hearing before a different judge and reinstated L.C.’s temporary restraining order.
Our law firm stands prepared to assist you or a loved one when confronting a restraining order.