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.”
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.