Thompson v. D'Errico: Order your transcript for your appeal!

The Facts

            The plaintiff, Linda Thompson, filed a domestic violence petition against the defendant, Christopher D’Errico requesting an order of protection. After an evidentiary hearing, the Court issued a final order of protection, and made findings that the defendant had on a daily basis sent text messages to the plaintiff using “extraordinarily foul language”, that the defendant had made reference to a having a loaded shotgun, and that a family friend had to interfere to stop the defendant from putting his hands around the plaintiff neck. The defendant moved for reconsideration, arguing that the evidence did not support a finding that he posed a credible threat to the plaintiff’s safety. The trial court conducted a further hearing, and issued an order detailing the text messages sent by the defendant at extremely inconvenient hours, using such language as “bills asshole die bitch,” sent in the days leading up to the filing of the domestic violence petition. The court found these texts to be a “credible present threat, considering the defendant’s previous threat of the loaded shotgun and the defendant’s previous attempt to put his hands around the plaintiff’s neck.”

The Appeal

The defendant appealed the order, arguing that:

(1) his non-threatening foul language is protected by the First Amendment;

(2) there is no evidence to support the plaintiff’s allegations against him;

(3) the text messages might have been sent by a third party having access to his phone;

(4) the trial court erred by admitting evidence of certain text messages; and

(5) the evidence does not support the finding of a credible present threat to the plaintiff’s   safety. 

The Holding

            The evidence supported a finding of a credible threat to the plaintiff’s safety. The Supreme Court came to this conclusion because the defendant, who was the appealing party, failed to provide a transcript, and absent a transcript, the court must assume that the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court’s ruling. The court refused to consider other questions presented on appeal for this same reason, finding that the defendant had failed to demonstrate that he had preserved issues for appeal without a transcript evidencing his objections to evidence.

            The First Amendment does not protect the defendant’s non-threatening foul language because the definition of harassment, which requires repeated communications with offensively coarse language that is made with the purpose to annoy or alarm, is narrowly tailored to the illegal communication it seeks to prevent.

The Takeaway

            Provide a transcript for your appeal. The transcript is the written record of what happened during your hearing or trial. Without a transcript, the Supreme Court has no way of knowing whether you brought an issue to the attention of the trial court for consideration. For example, did you object when the other side submitted a tax return to the judge? If your appeal alleges that the trial court improperly allowed the tax return into evidence, the Supreme Court needs to confrim that you objected and preserved that issue for their review. Similarly, without a transcript, the Supreme Court must assume that the conclusions or findings reached by the trial court were supported by the evidence. In this case, the defendant failed to provide a transcript, and many of his arguments brought before the Supreme Court, including whether the trial court had sufficient evidence to reach the conclusion that he presented a credible threat to the plaintiff’s safety, failed for that reason. The results might have been different if he had ordered and paid for the transcript.

            As the Occupy Wall Street movement recently learned, free speech as limits. The statute defining harassment requires a repeated course of conduct, where communication occurs at extremely inconvenient hours or with extremely coarse language. The calls must also be made with the purpose to annoy or alarm. Harassment cannot be conjured from a single call made to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Here, the defendant sent repeated texts, at inconvenient hours, and with extremely coarse language. The texts were clearly designed the alarm the plaintiff, rather than expressive conduct made for a legitimate purpose. This communication is the exact type of illegal behavior the statute is designed to prevent.

UCCJEA Now Effective

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) went into effect on December 1, 2010 in New Hampshire. Following the lead of 46 other states, the UCCJEA replaces the old UCCJA, which is still the law in Massachusetts and Vermont. The act affects almost every case that involves parental rights and responsibilities, including divorce, parenting petitions, child abuse and neglect, guardianships of minors, termination of parental rights, and domestic violence petitions where minor children are involved.   

 

Important points about the new law:

  • Requires that once the “home state” of the child has been determined, and child custody orders have been issued, that state has “exclusive continuing jurisdiction” for so long as the child or either parent reside there.
  • Eliminates the confusing “best interests” standard included in the UCCJA, which some courts interpreted as a mandate to consider best interests factors over and above jurisdictional matters.
  • Adds enforcement tools including a role for public authorities, such as prosecutors, to enforce custody orders and the ability for the court to issue a emergency relief such as a warrant to take possession of a child should the court be concerned that the parent with control over the child may flee.

The new law brings about a slew of new and revised forms. For petitioners, forms such as a Petition for Divorce, Petition for Guardianship over Minor, or a Domestic Violence Petition have been modified to include required information. For respondents, the court has developed a separate form titled a UCCJEA Affidavit to complete in response to an initial petition.

 

Navigating the requirements of the UCCJEA can be overwhelming for those involved in cases of parenting rights and responsibilities. It is important to retain competent legal counsel to assist you. Contact Crusco Law Office, PLLC for more information.

Hemenway: Personal jurisdiction is not required for NH court to issue domestic violence protective orders

The New Hampshire Supreme Court recently held in the case of Michelle Hemenway v. Edmund J. Hemenway, Jr. that a New Hampshire court may issue protective orders against an out of state defendant, even when the defendant committed acts from another state. This case affirms the right of the plaintiff to seek domestic violence protective orders in New Hampshire where he or she resides or is sheltered.

As background to the case, the parties resided in Florida until 2008 when Michelle moved to NH with the parties children. Michelle filed for, and subsequently received a restraining order in the Derry Family Division, pursuant to RSA 173-B. She alleged that in 2008 Edmund became verbally abusive and threatened her and her children both in Massachusetts and in Florida.

Edmund filed a special appearance contesting the jurisdiction of the family division to enter final protective orders against him. He argued on appeal that the court lacked both subject matter and personal jurisdiction over him because the underlying acts occurred in Florida and Massachusetts, not New Hampshire.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction

The court ruled that subject matter jurisdiction had been statutorily granted to the family division and that there was no territorial limitation in the statute (as there is with criminal threatening, etc in the criminal code) that would have prevented Michelle from bringing the petition where she either permanently or temporarily resides. “The fundamental logic of that statutory provision is unassailable: a victim of domestic abuse who seeks a place of refuge must be able to engage the protections of the law of the jurisdiction in which she is sheltered.”

Personal Jurisdiction

The court found that the only acts Michelle relied on in her petition occurred outside of New Hampshire. Therefore, Michelle had “failed to demonstrate facts sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction over the defendant.” However, the court held that since the protective order did not impose affirmative obligations on Edmund, instead only issuing orders protecting Michelle, personal jurisdiction is not required.  

The court recognized the principles of two landmark United States Supreme Court cases to explain the relationship between the courts and the residents of their states. Both Pennoyer v. Neff and Williams v. North Carolina provide that even if an offending party does not reside in the victim’s state, that state’s courts are not prevented from issuing orders relative to the status (whether marital status as in the above two cases or safety status as in this case) of its inhabitants. 

To require such a ruling would leave a domestic violence petitioner with two untenable choices: 1) return to the state where the abuse occurred; or, 2) “wait for the abuser to follow the victim to New Hampshire and, in the event of a new incident of abuse, seek an order from a New Hampshire court.” These two choices are clearly at odds with the purpose of RSA 173-B and New Hampshire’s interest in protecting the victims of domestic violence.

Crusco Law Office, PLLC Law Clerk Dan McLaughlin contributed to this post.