CHOCIEJ V. RICHBURG, 2023-NCCOA-________ (2023).
Facts: Plaintiff and Defendant dated. On May 31, 2021, there was a fight between the couple, and Defendant broke Plaintiff’s nose with his fists and/or forehead. Another fight broke out between the couple in the bedroom, wherein Defendant used his belt and household items, such as a lamp, to hit Plaintiff. This caused black-eyes and bruising on Plaintiff. The police were called, but Defendant fled.
Eventually, the police arrested him in July 2021 and charged him with assault on a female. After the arrest, Defendant called Plaintiff’s work and reported that Plaintiff had wrongfully disclosed his confidential medical records to a third party. This resulted in Plaintiff’s termination by her employer. That same day, Plaintiff sought a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO). At the hearing, there was ample evidence of the assaults and damage done to Plaintiff by the Defendant.
The trial court also took into consideration the time between the assaults and Plaintiff’s filing for the DVPO as well as the timing of the filing with her termination. In the trial court’s denial of a DVPO, it specifically noted that the court did not believe that Plaintiff would have sought a DVPO if she had not been terminated, essentially saying that the filing was in retaliation to Defendant’s whistleblowing. Plaintiff appealed.
Did the trial court err in denying entry of a DVPO?
Domestic violence in North Carolina is defined as: the commission of one or more of the following acts upon an aggrieved party or upon a minor child residing with or in the custody of the aggrieved party by a person with whom the aggrieved party has or has had a personal relationship, but does not include acts of self-defense: (1) Attempting to cause bodily injury, or intentionally causing bodily injury; or (2) Placing the aggrieved party or a member of the aggrieved party’s family or household in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or continued harassment, as defined in [N.C. Gen. Stat. §] 14-277.3A, that rises to such a level as to inflict substantial emotional distress; or (3) Committing any act defined in [N.C. Gen. Stat. §§] 14- 27.21 through . . . 14-27.33.
Here the analysis is simple. Plaintiff and Defendant were dating. There were two incidents of intentional bodily injury perpetrated by the Defendant. The law states that if there is domestic violence, a DVPO is mandatory. There was no need to discuss fear. There was no discretion based upon motivation for the filing. The evidence and findings plainly found domestic violence, and that required the entry of a DVPO.