Have you had a permanent injunction for protection against domestic violence, dating violence or repeat violence entered against you? Did you know that even though your injunction supposedly is “permanent” you can nonetheless get it dissolved under certain circumstances? The recent First District Court of Appeal case of James Hobbs v. Lesley Hobbs illustrates how it can be done.
Mr. and Ms. Hobbs lived in Pensacola. In June of 2000, while separated and going through their second divorce, Mr. Hobbs stopped by his former residence and found Ms. Hobbs in bed with another man. Mr. Hobbs pushed Ms. Hobbs. She pushed back and punched him in the face. Mr. Hobbs left the home. He returned a few hours later with a police officer to retrieve a gun he kept at the home.
Ms. Hobbs petitioned for an injunction for protection against domestic violence. She described the incident at her home and alleged Mr. Hobbs had stalked her. The petition for injunction was granted. Ms. Hobbs soon moved away from the area.
Eighteen years later, Mr. Hobbs applied for a concealed weapons license. He learned that the injunction remained in place when his application was denied. Mr. Hobbs then sought to dissolve the injunction.
Ms. Hobbs’ testimony at the injunction hearing was Mr. Hobbs never contacted her after the injunction was entered and he had never violated the injunction. She maintained the only reason Mr. Hobbs had not violated the injunction was because she moved away from Pensacola after the divorce. In 2018, Ms. Hobbs moved back to the area. She testified she felt safe returning to Pensacola because of the permanent injunction. But after she returned, Ms. Hobbs claimed that third parties reported Mr. Hobbs was still “crazy about her” and talked about her.
Mr. Hobbs testified he knew nothing about Ms. Hobbs’ relocation or whereabouts in the years following the 2000 incident. Mr. Hobbs did not realize that the injunction remained in effect after the marriage was legally dissolved. He testified he never tried to contact Ms. Hobbs after the injunction issued. He further testified he had no desire to contact Ms. Hobbs or appear at her home or work locations.
The trial court denied Mr. Hobbs’ request to dissolve the permanent injunction based on Ms. Hobbs’ fears. Mr. Hobbs appealed.
The court first noted a trial court may grant an injunction for protection against domestic violence when the party seeking the injunction is a victim of domestic violence or has a reasonable belief that he or she is in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence. When determining whether the petitioner’s fear is objectively reasonable, the trial court considers the current allegations, the behavior of the parties in the relationship, and the history of the relationship.
But after an injunction has been entered, either party to the injunction may move to modify or dissolve the injunction at any time. In this regard, the court noted “[b]ecause permanent injunctions are open-ended and everlasting, they must be subject to dissolution when the circumstances that justified such an injunction are no longer operative.” To dissolve an injunction, the movant must “show changed circumstances.” To show that the circumstances have changed, the movant must “demonstrate that the scenario underlying the injunction no longer exists so that continuation of the injunction would serve no valid purpose.” In determining whether an injunction continues to serve a valid purpose, the trial court must consider whether the victim “reasonably maintain[s] a continuing fear of becoming a victim of domestic violence.”
Applying these legal standards, the appellate court concluded the trial court erred in denying the motion to dissolve the injunction. In doing so, the court found the evidence was legally insufficient to show that Ms. Hobbs’ continuing fear of domestic violence was objectively reasonable.
First, the court noted Mr. Hobbs alleged a significant change in circumstances since the injunction was entered. Nineteen years earlier, the parties were going through a contentious divorce and Ms. Hobbs had young children living in the former marital home. By 2019, however, the parties’ marriage had been long dissolved and the parties’ children were adults. Mr. Hobbs was 63 years old. He had not contacted Ms. Hobbs in person, by phone, email or text message in almost two decades. Nor did he try to contact Ms. Hobbs after learning she had returned to the Pensacola area or after being served with her Petition.
Nonetheless, Ms. Hobbs contended she was still afraid of Mr. Hobbs. She testified at length about the original incident in 2000, the months leading up to the incident, and the fear she experienced afterwards. But Mr. Hobbs never violated the injunction and Ms. Hobbs admitted Mr. Hobbs had not contacted her. The court thus found Mr. Hobbs’ conduct in the twenty years following the entry of the injunction rendered Ms. Hobbs’ subjective fear of being in imminent danger objectively unreasonable.
The court therefore concluded the evidence was legally insufficient to show Ms. Hobbs had reasonable cause to believe she was in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence. The court noted the possibility of future contact between the parties is not, without more, sufficient to conclude that the circumstances underlying the injunction remain the same, stating Ms. Hobbs’ “merely speculative fear of future violence” is legally insufficient “to justify the never-ending existence of an injunction.” For this reason, and because Mr. Hobbs showed the requisite change in circumstances so that the injunction no longer served a valid purpose, the court reversed the order denying the motion to dissolve the injunction.
If you’ve had a permanent injunction for protection against domestic violence, dating violence, or repeat violence entered against you, you may be eligible to have it dissolved. I’m a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer who can help you have the best chance of getting rid of your injunction. Call me for a free consultation to discuss your case in Macclenny, Fernandina Beach, Yulee, Jacksonville, Greencove Springs, Middleburg, St. Augustine or surrounding areas.