Stale Domestic Violence Leads to Reversal of Order of Protection in Knoxville, Tennessee: Dulaney v. Chico

March 27, 2023 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Ms. Dulaney and Ms. Chico were in a romantic relationship and lived together.

In March 2020, an incident occurred where Ms. Chico slammed Ms. Delaney’s head against the wall and hid Ms. Delaney’s car keys, wallet, and phone to prevent her from leaving. They made up and continued to live together for the next 19 months.

In November 2021, Ms. Dulaney petitioned for an order of protection against Ms. Chico because of the events that occurred in March 2020, saying: “I am scared [Ms. Chico] will hurt me when she finds out I want to leave.”

At trial, Ms. Dulaney testified that while no physical violence occurred after the March 2020 incident, emotional abuse continued. She admitted that she and Ms. Chico hired a realtor to help them look for a house to buy in May 2021. She further admitted to giving Ms. Chico a handwritten card in September 2021 that said, “I love you forever and always.”

After Ms. Dulaney rested her case, Ms. Chico moved for a directed verdict because the only domestic abuse incident occurred more than one year before Ms. Dulaney filed the petition seeking an order of protection.

The trial court found the March 2020 incident was domestic abuse under Tennessee law, and it was reasonable to seek an order of protection. The trial court specifically found that Ms. Dulaney was placed in fear by the March 2020 incident and granted her a six-month order of protection.

Ms. Chico appealed, arguing it was error to grant an order of protection based on an isolated incident that occurred over 18 months before the victim sought relief.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.

The purpose behind orders of protection is to ensure that the law provides a victim of domestic abuse with enhanced protection from domestic abuse and to prevent further harm to the victim.

Domestic abuse includes inflicting, or trying to inflict, physical injury on an adult by other than accidental means, or placing an adult in fear of physical harm, physical restraint, or malicious damage to the personal property of the abused party when the victim and the alleged abuser are, among other things, adults who live together or who have lived together.

Any victim who has been subjected to, threatened with, or placed in fear of domestic abuse may seek an order of protection by filing a sworn petition alleging domestic abuse by the other party.

An order of protection is proper only where there is sufficient evidence that the victim needs the protection available.

The Court found that evidence lacking here:

We conclude that there was insufficient evidence to show that Ms. Dulaney needed the protection available. The incident of domestic violence occurred on March 5, 2020. Ms. Dulaney did not seek an order of protection until November 12, 2021. Ms. Dulaney testified that, in the intervening 18 months, she continued to live with Ms. Chico and that there were no incidents of domestic violence during that time period. In fact, Ms. Dulaney and Ms. Chico jointly contracted with a real estate company to help them purchase a home. Ms. Dulaney also supported Ms. Chico in her sobriety efforts. Even after the trial court entered a temporary order of protection, Ms. Dulaney tried to schedule a work shift at Ms. Chico’s primary work location. These actions, combined with the undisputed testimony that no further incidents of violence occurred after March 2020, demonstrate that Ms. Dulaney did not remain in fear of Ms. Chico and did not need an order of protection.

The Court reversed the trial court’s entry of an order of protection.

K.O.’s Comment: (1) There must be others, but this is the first opinion I recall where the Court analyzed the temporal relationship between the abuse and the petition for an order of protection and determined that it was reversible error to grant an order of protection based on the delay in seeking relief. Of course, there’s more to this case than just the passage of time; the parties’ continued cohabitation and loving relationship in the intervening 18 months played a substantial role in this outcome.

(2) Congratulations to counsel for the appellant, Joshua Hedrick, Esq., for excellent work in this appeal. When Josh was a high school student, I coached his mock trial team. So this means I get to take credit for the fine lawyer he’s become, right?

Source: Dulaney v. Chico (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, February 28, 2023).

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Stale Domestic Violence Leads to Reversal of Order of Protection in Knoxville, Tennessee: Dulaney v. Chico was last modified: March 26th, 2023 by K.O. Herston

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