In a recent case before the Superior Court of New Jersey, the defendant appealed from the trial court’s entry of a final restraining order (FRO) under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991. The case, E.A. v. G.D. (2019), involved a plaintiff and a defendant who had previously been involved in a romantic relationship. The plaintiff initially obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) after alleging that the defendant had engaged in various forms of harassment and criminal coercion. After the breakup, the plaintiff argued that the restraining order was necessary for her own protection. The trial court agreed, but the defendant appealed. The defendant made the appeal on a number of grounds, including an argument that there was insufficient evidence to support the FRO.

On appeal, the court ultimately affirmed the lower court’s ruling and found that the FRO was appropriate. We will tell you a bit more about the case.

Getting the Facts of the Case: E.A. v. G.D.

The plaintiff and the defendant previously dated one another. After the relationship ended, the defendant sent multiple text messages to the plaintiff and, according to the facts of the case, “posted revealing photographs of plaintiff and her personal information online, which led to people contacting her.” At the time of this behavior, the plaintiff was residing with her mother. The plaintiff sought an FRO, alleging that the defendant had engaged in three different types of unlawful behavior: criminal coercion, harassment, and cyber harassment.

In terms of harassment, the trial court looked to New Jersey’s definition of harassment, which includes engaging “in any . . . course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.” The trial court found that the series of text messages sent by the defendant to the plaintiff constituted harassment. The court specifically determined that “there’s absolutely no relevant purpose for . . . defendant to have sent most of these texts except to annoy, alarm or bother . . . plaintiff.”

The court also determined that the defendant had engaged in cyber harassment, emphasizing that posting explicit photos of the plaintiff online “was only meant to put her in fear, emotional harm.” The court relied on the New Jersey definition of cyber harassment, which includes an act in which a person “knowingly sends, posts, comments, requests, suggests, or proposes any lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person with the intent to emotionally harm a reasonable person or place a reasonable person in fear of physical or emotional harm to his person.”

Further, the lower court found that the defendant had also committed criminal coercion since he had “used the photographs depicting plaintiff in the nude to ruin her relationship with her parents and affect her future study in school.”

Evidence Necessary for a Final Restraining Order

To grant a FRO, a court uses a test from the case Silver v. Silver (2006). The test is a two-prong one. First, the plaintiff must prove, “by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that one or more of the predicate acts . . . has occurred.” Those acts in this case included harassment, cyber harassment, and criminal coercion. Second, a FRO must be “necessary to protect the plaintiff from future acts or threats of violence.”

On appeal, the court determined that “there is no basis to disturb the trial judge’s factual findings or legal conclusions.” The court reasoned that the trial judge heard testimony and had the ability to assess the credibility of the evidence, and that there was “sufficient evidence in the record to support both Silver prongs.”

Contact a New Jersey Family Law Attorney

If you have questions about restraining orders under New Jersey law, a New Jersey family law attorney can help. Contact Jessica Mazur at jmazur@hoaglandlongo.com or call (732) 545-4717 for more information.