Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, February 6, 2024


Page 1


Court of Appeal:

Two ‘Friends With Benefits’ Lacked a ‘Dating Relationship’

Majority Says Substantial Evidence Supports Judgment for Defendant in Action for Domestic Violence


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Div. Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal yesterday affirmed a judgment in favor of the defendant, sued in an action for domestic violence, holding that it was reasonable for the trial court to conclude that a man and a woman who occasionally had sex—referred to as being “friends with benefits”—did not meet the requisite of being engaged in a “dating relationship.”

Justice Martha K. Gooding authored the majority opinion, in which Justice Joanne Motoike joined. Acting Presiding Justice Maurice Sanchez dissented.

Gooding wrote:

“We are asked here to determine whether a relationship characterized in modern parlance—and by the plaintiff in this case—as “friends with benefits” constitutes a dating relationship under Family Code section 6210, so as to support a tort claim for domestic violence. Whether such a dating relationship exists is inherently a fact-intensive inquiry, not susceptible to resolution based on shorthand labels or descriptors. We therefore do not hold a “friends with benefits” relationship is necessarily a dating relationship or that it can never be one. We simply conclude, on the specific record before us, substantial evidence supports the trial court’s finding that the relationship between plaintiff M.A. and defendant B.F. was not a dating relationship within the meaning of the relevant statutes.”

The cited code section provides:

“ ‘Dating relationship; means frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affection or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations.”

The Miriam Webster online dictionary defines a “friend with benefits” as “a friend with whom one has casual sexual relations without commitments.”

Causes of Action

Madeline Arnold sued Bryan Anthony Flores for sexual battery and domestic violence. Orange Superior Court Judge Richard J. Oberholzer sustained a demurrer without leave to amend to the cause of action for a sexual battery.

The remaining cause of action stemmed from Flores allegedly jerking Arnold’s head, causing an injury. As Arnold recited in her complaint (with paragraph numbers omitted) they were in Flores’s car on July 24, 2017, driving to his mother’s apartment to have sex, when this occurred:

“…Defendant asked Plaintiff ‘Do you like it if I pull your hair’?

“Before Plaintiff could respond that she did not (as she is extremely sensitive about her hair being pulled). Defendant grabbed Plaintiff by the back of her head and neck, and violently whipped her head around in several different directions. Defendant continued driving while doing so.

“While Defendant was forcefully whipping Plaintiffs head in different directions. Plaintiff heard the sound of the bones cracking in her neck.”

The pleading says:

“The next day. Plaintiff visited a doctor, who diagnosed her with substantial injuries related to the incident in the car the previous day. including but not limited to concussion, muscle spasms, cervical whiplash, and cervicalgia.”

Judgment for Defendant

After a court trial, Oberholzer held for the defendant on the cause of action for domestic violence, explaining:

“Plaintiff did not prove the elements necessary for the plaintiff to show that the relationship fits the category of a dating relationship and therefore [is] actionable as a domestic violence cause of action.”

Gooding said that “substantial evidence supports the trial court’s finding that the interactions between M.A. and B.F. were not ‘frequent, intimate associations’…within the plain meaning of those terms,” noting:

“Over the course of 19 months, M.A. and B.F. saw each other in person a total of eight times. A reasonable trier of fact could certainly conclude this did not amount to frequent associations.

“Our holding does not mean another trier of fact could not find that parties in a ‘friends with benefits’ relationship were in a dating relationship for purposes of the domestic violence statutes. Given our society’s evolving understanding of personal relationships, it is virtually impossible to craft a bright-line test to definitively identify a relationship that is — or is not — a dating relationship under Family Code section 6210. The obvious exceptions are on the margins: A true one-night stand or a long-term business relationship with no indicia of a personal, intimate nature, on the one hand, and a relationship of many months in which the parties regularly go out in public together, engage in intimate activities, but do not refer to themselves as boyfriend and girlfriend, on the other. Family Code section 6210 requires the relationship consist of ‘frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affection or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations.’…The trier of fact in each case must consider the evidence, the credibility of the evidence, and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from it. We cannot substitute our judgment for that of the trial court on matters of credibility.”

Sanchez’s Dissent

Sanchez protested in a dissent:

“The majority’s opinion, in effect, raises the bar for domestic violence victims by narrowly construing the definition of a “dating relationship.” This approach disregards the Legislature’s intent to broaden the definition of domestic violence in order to protect victims, who are made particularly vulnerable because of their intimate, albeit nontraditional, relationships with their perpetrators. In my opinion, Family Code section 6210 should be interpreted to encompass many types of modern relationships, which are continuously evolving due to the influence of various factors, including social media, and to provide greater protection to victims of domestic violence, not less.”

He quoted a 2007 law review article as saying:

“It is incumbent upon...courts to do more for teenaged victims of dating violence by extending protection to all victims of abuse.”

Gooding responded in a footnote that, while recognizing “the seriousness of domestic violence and appreciate the need to protect victims of domestic violence,” the suggestion that the “courts must do more” must be rejected, explaining:

 “That task falls to the Legislature, and if it chooses to further define the term dating relationship it certainly may do so. Our task is to apply the law as adopted by the Legislature. We note M.A. had remedies available to her under the law to seek redress for her injuries, including tort claims against B.F. for assault and battery.”

The case is M.A. v. B.F., 2024 S.O.S. 509.



Copyright 2024, Metropolitan News Company