Family court’s denial of domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) was error as Father had no First Amendment right to harass Mother. Natalie F. and Jan F. are the parents of two young children. Natalie sought a DVRO, claiming that Jan had made false police reports to conduct welfare checks on the minors on seven occasions and had been sending her and her attorney harassing messages. The family court denied the request, noting that it would not restrain Jan from contacting the police as he might have sincere concerns about the children’s welfare and because he had a First Amendment right to communicate regarding litigation matters. Natalie appealed and the appellate court reversed and remanded for an evidentiary hearing. The definition of abuse is not limited to the actual infliction of physical injury or assault. It includes disturbing the peace of the other party, which is conduct that, based on the totality of the circumstances, destroys the mental or emotional calm of the other party. The First Amendment does not guarantee the right to harassment. Here, if Natalie’s evidence is accepted at face value, then it compels a finding in her favor as it showed that Jan was attempting to exercise control over her by using the police department. Jan harassed Natalie by making baseless claims to the police, which caused unnecessary welfare checks. Because the family court denied Natalie’s request before allowing Jan the opportunity to respond to her allegations, the matter must be remanded for an evidentiary hearing.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B322439.PDF