Domestic Violence Injunctions Will Be More Difficult to Obtain in 2020

In past blogs I’ve discussed the strict requirements for obtaining an Injunction for Protection against Domestic Violence.  A decision from the First District Court of Appeal today in Hart v. Griffis indicates injunctions will be tougher to obtain as we go forward into this new year.

Griffis involved a former wife and former husband who were married with five minor children. The former husband happened to be a state circuit court judge at the time.  The couple divorced in May 2013, but shared parental responsibility.

In the summer of 2018, the parties agreed for their children to attend school in Gilchrist County.  Shortly thereafter, however, the former wife objected to the arrangement. A family court judge then ordered the children to remain enrolled in Gilchrist County.

The judge / former husband later filed a Petition for Injunction for Protection Against Domestic Violence, claiming the former wife committed or threatened to commit domestic violence. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court found the former husband was a victim of domestic violence or had reasonable cause to believe he was in imminent danger of becoming a victim by the former wife. The trial court also found the former wife’s past conduct was intentional and willful with the intent to cause the judge/ former husband to be removed from office or to be subject to disciplinary proceedings that could impair his ability to remain on the bench.  The trial court therefore granted the petition for injunction.  The former wife appealed.

The First District initially noted anyone who is a victim of domestic violence or has reasonable cause to believe he or she is in imminent danger of becoming the victim of any act of domestic violence has standing to file a petition for an injunction for protection against domestic violence pursuant to Florida Statute section 741.30(1)(a) (2019). The court further noted domestic violence is defined as “any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member” under section 741.28(2).

In reviewing the judge / former husband’s petition, the court observed it alleged past incidents of assault and stalking. But, those alleged incidents of assault and verbal abuse occurred more than four years before the former husband filed his petition.  As such, the court found they had occurred too long ago to support the injunction, citing Curl v. Roberts o/b/o E. C., 279 So. 3d 765, 767 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019) which held incidents more than a year old are insufficient to support entry of a new injunction where there are no allegations of current violence or imminent danger.

The judge / former husband also alleged in his petition that the former wife had contacted both the court administrator and the State Attorney in 2018 to have him investigated and prosecuted, which constituted stalking. In evaluating those allegations, the court first noted stalking is defined in section 784.048(2) as the “willful[ ], malicious[ ], and repeated[ ] follow[ing], harass[ing], or cyberstalk[ing of] another person.” The court then noted section 784.048(1)(a) defines “harass” as “engag[ing] in a course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose.” Finally, the court stated “[a]n injunction against domestic violence requires malicious harassment that consists at the very least of some threat of imminent violence, which excludes mere uncivil behavior that causes distress or annoyance”, citing Wills v. Jones, 213 So. 3d 982, 984- 85 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016).

At the evidentiary hearing, the judge / former husband testified he had experienced severe emotional distress at the prospect of his former wife’s actions tarnishing or even ruining his judicial career.  But the court observed the former wife had a legitimate purpose because her communications related to her concerns over the children’s enrollment at a particular school or were otherwise reports to authorities. In this regard, the court noted that under its prior decision in Wills, 213 So. 3d at 985, “[e]ven ‘unfounded reports to authorities or requests for judicial relief, even if repeated or for malicious purposes, do not support the entry of an injunction against domestic or other violence.’”

The court further observed the court administrator testified the former wife’s communications with him and the Chief Judge were to report her allegations that the children were not lawfully enrolled in a particular school. Similarly, the record reflected the former wife had contacted the State Attorney in his official capacity to report the judge / former husband’s alleged fraud of enrolling the parties’ children in school in the wrong county. According to the court, these communications did not constitute stalking as a matter of law, even if they did cause the judge / former husband to experience anxiety.

While not condoning these communications and actions of the former wife, the court found the evidence did not support an injunction to be entered against her.  The court therefore reversed the trial court’s entry of an injunction.

If you’re contemplating obtaining a domestic violence injunction against someone or if you’ve been served with a petition for protection against domestic violence, it’s in your best interested to consult with a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer knowledgeable about current Florida law concerning domestic violence injunctions.  Call me for a free consultation to discuss how I can help you have the best chance of obtaining or avoiding a domestic violence injunction in Jacksonville, Orange Park, Fleming Island, Green Cove Springs, Middleburg, Keystone Heights, Fernandina Beach, Yulee, Callahan, Hilliard, Macclenny, or surrounding areas.

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