Court of Appeal:
DVRO Need Not Be Based on Fear That Is Reasonable
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district declared yesterday that courts need not utilize an objective “reasonable person” standard in determining whether a party’s non-violent conduct has been so upsetting as to justify issuance of a domestic violence restraining order.
Justice Brian S. Currey of Div. Four authored the opinion. It upholds an order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark A. Juhas under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (“DVPA”) requiring that Christopher E. Usude stay away from his former wife, Parris C. Jacobs, that he change the beneficiary of his $4 million insurance policy on her life from himself to a charity of her choice, and pay her attorney fees in the amount of $200,000.
His conduct consisted of the use of opprobrious language in emails to her—threatening in one to burn or give away all of his gifts to her—and unexpectedly coming to her apartment in North Carolina where she had undertaken an internship. Juhas found that Usude was “was very disrespectful” to his then-wife.
When she came to Los Angeles from North Carolina to fetch her belongings, she had police accompany her.
Jacobs’s fears were objectively unreasonable, Usude maintained on appeal, calling for a reversal of the five-year order.
Family Code §6320(c)
At issue was the meaning of Family Code §6320(c) which says:
“‘[D]isturbing the peace of the other party’ refers to conduct that, based on the totality of the circumstances, destroys the mental or emotional calm of the other party.”
“This provision contains no language suggesting that a reasonableness standard governs whether someone ‘disturb[ed] the peace of the other party.’…When defining other behaviors that constitute ‘abuse’ under the DVPA, however, the Legislature has expressly and unambiguously stated when a reasonableness standard applies….Consequently, by omitting similar language from its definition of ‘disturbing the peace of others[,]’ the Legislature deliberately chose not to limit the DVPA’s reach to conduct that would destroy the mental or emotional calm of a reasonable person.”
The jurist said the record “contains substantial evidence to support a finding that Christopher disturbed Parris’s peace and engaged in conduct amounting to coercive control.”
Jacobs testified that Usude rushed her into signing the application for the insurance policy and that she thought it was for $1 million and would not have assented if she had realized it was for $4 million.
Juhas ruled that maintaining the policy was a form of abuse. Agreeing, Currey said:
“[T]he trial court could reasonably find Parris was afraid of Christopher. It could also find Parris’s discovery of the Life Insurance Policy’s $4 million death benefit increased her fear because she learned Christopher had a significant financial incentive to kill her, and that she feared for her safety as a result…. Given the particular facts in this case, we discern no error in the trial court’s finding that Christopher’s continued status as beneficiary of the Life Insurance Policy disturbed Parris’s peace…and therefore was a form of abuse.”
The justice went on to say that Juhas “appropriately fashioned a remedial order tailored to Parris’s needs based on the facts of this case, and enjoined Christopher from engaging in the specific conduct that it had found to constitute an ongoing disturbance of Parris’s peace.”
The case is Parris J. v. Christopher U., B313470.
Representing Usude was Pasadena attorney Gregory R. Ellis. Jacobs’s lawyers were Alexis Coll-Very and Sylvia Ewald of Goodwin Proctor and Shuray Ghorishi, Cory Hernandez, and Jennafer Dorfman Wagner of Family Violence Appellate Project.
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