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The court ordered that there be a hearing to permit plaintiff the opportunity to present witnesses to support his contention that there was a dating relationship. However, in the absence of an explicit indication of special meaning, words of a statute are to be given their ordinary and well-understood meaning. This bonding was forged over a several month period involving the typical conduct of young people who are exploring the limits of each other's feelings for one another.
The issue as to whether to reinstate the TRO was reserved until after the testimony. While it is clear that the relationship had not reached the level of a lifetime commitment, it need not have to for the purpose of establishing the minimum conduct to establish a dating relationship required by the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.
Thus, on this dating issue, both sides' witnesses were conveying the facts as they understood them.
In some respects while the testimony of the two sides on the surface seemed inconsistent, and indeed much of it was, the court observes that often the various witness were relating their observations of the parties under differing circumstances and locations.
On February 24, 2003, a hearing was conducted to ascertain both whether this court had jurisdiction and whether an act of domestic violence had occurred that would then warrant a final restraining order. The conundrum in this case lies in the fact that the words “dating relationship” provoke a different “common usage” from one person to the next, and therefore any attempt to discern a universal meaning for the phrase is problematic. Plaintiff's mother stated that defendant had visited at her home with her son several times, sometimes having dinner, and that defendant was the first female friend her son had brought home to meet the family in four years.
At the hearing, plaintiff was not represented by counsel, but defendant did have counsel at her side. In this case it can certainly not be said that the Act is unambiguous on its face. Plaintiff's mother also testified that she saw her son and defendant “hugged up” with his arm around her upstairs in her computer room and holding hands.
While none of these factors may be individually dispositive on the issue, one or more of the factors may be more or less relevant in any given case depending on the evidence presented.
Both parties presented numerous witnesses during these proceedings.Defendant's counsel filed a brief in opposition, but did not appear for oral argument. While her testimony occurred after the hearing concerning the dating relationship, it is still fair to point out that she denied any relationship with the plaintiff.The court granted the motion principally on the basis that it felt that plaintiff, who was pro se at the time of the original hearing, did not understand the sequestration of witness process and as a pro se was not prepared to defend against the motion of defendant that argued no dating relationship existed between the parties. After examining this matter in light of the “factors” discussed above, the following findings in addition to those above are made: As exhibited above the parties had a social interpersonal bonding between them that went far beyond mere fraternization.Because of this finding, which excluded plaintiff from any one of the protected relationships required by the statute, plaintiff was ineligible for relief under the domestic violence statute. As it pertains to New Jersey's Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, the Supreme Court has held that because the Act is remedial in nature, it is to be liberally construed to achieve its salutary purposes. In interpreting exactly what was contemplated by inclusion of the term “relationship”, the first step in the analysis would be to look at other classes of people protected by the Act. A review of the laws of other jurisdictions in this regard demonstrates that nearly identical language exists in the statutes of several states. In Michigan, a dating relationship is defined as “frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affectional involvement.” See Mich. Defendant's witnesses, who included her sister, her mother, and her father, testified strongly that defendant was not dating plaintiff and in fact already had a boyfriend.The complaint was dismissed and the TRO was dissolved accordingly. The Act provides protection to those who have a child in common with one another, people who anticipate having a child in common with one another, pregnant spouses, former spouses, and any other person who is a present or former household member. States that include some form of “dating relationship” as a protected class in their domestic violence statutes include Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, Illinois, and Vermont. However, defendant's sister, while pointing out that defendant has had a boyfriend, David, for two years, admitted that plaintiff and defendant were “friends” but not dating, a point her other witnesses did not acknowledge though they professed to know defendant well.
The testimony of plaintiff's witnesses began on March 17, 2003, and concluded March 31, 2003. Even though plaintiff and defendant only held themselves out as a dating couple to plaintiff's family and friends, that is sufficient.