Wednesday, December 15, 2010

PFA - standing - dating relationship, mutually close, romantic bond

Evans v. Braun - Pa. Super. - December 14, 2010

Applicable to the instant case is the fact that “family or household member” is defined as including “current or former sexual or intimate partners.” 23 Pa.C.S. § 6102(a). Instantly, Evans sought relief under the PFA Act alleging that she and Braun were “sexual or intimate partners.” While the PFA Act does not specifically define that phrase, we examined the meaning of this language in Scott. We began by analyzing the intent of the legislators in enacting the PFA Act, stating:

As we have already made clear, their intent was to prevent domestic violence and to promote peace and safety within domestic, familial and/or romantic relationships. … [T]he persons who undoubtedly fit the Act's definition of family or household members- e.g., spouses, parents, children, relatives, paramours, and persons who undertake romantic relationships-typically share some significant degree of domestic, familial and/or intimate interdependence. There is often an obvious emotional bond. Frequently, these individuals interface in very practical areas of private life - a mutual residence, common family obligations and/or shared involvement in the affairs of day-to-day living. Even in a dating relationship, where the functional interdependence might not be as substantial as in a family, the participants have elected some measure of personal interaction. This interaction often involves emotional or private concerns not unlike those found in family settings, albeit not normally as extensive or as intense. In sum, the persons protected by the Act as family or household members have a connection rooted in blood, marriage, family-standing, or a chosen romantic relationship.Scott, 928 A.2d at 315.

With this rationale in mind, we construed the word “partners” “to mean those persons who mutually chose to enter relationships.” Id. at 316. This interpretation, we concluded, “give[s] effect to the provisions of the statute in a way that promotes its purpose of preventing violence among people with a domestic, familial or romantic bond, past or present.” Id.

Applying our reasoning in Scott instantly, we conclude that Evans presented sufficient evidence to prove that she and Braun “mutually chose” to enter a “dating relationship” which involved a “romantic bond,” albeit short-lived. See id. at 315-16. Evans testified at the final PFA hearing that she and Braun “dated twice.” N.T. PFA Hearing, 1/21/10, at 5. She stated that after going to a play on their second date, Braun drove her back to his house because he wanted her to meet his son. Id. at 8. On the night that Braun threatened her with a gun at Dilly’s, Evans stated that she invited him to the bar-restaurant to apologize. Id. at 12. She explained why she was apologizing, stating:

[I was apologizing] [b]ecause I had been very straightforward with him, said some things that he might have interpreted to be unkind. I lost my husband a year and a half ago. I’ve been going very slow, trying to go very slow in relationships. And he’s very pushy and wanted things that I was not ready for. Id. at 12.

After Evans testified, she called Ms. Harnish to the stand. Ms. Harnish claimed that on the night Braun threatened Evans at Dilly’s, Evans confided in Ms. Harnish about Braun. See id. at 24-26. During this conversation, Evans told Ms. Harnish that Braun had told her that he loved her. Id. at 26.

Based on this testimony, we conclude that there was sufficient evidence presented that Braun and Evans mutually chose to enter a dating relationship which, pursuant to Scott, qualifies as a “sexual or intimate partnership” under the PFA Act. As noted in Scott, dating relationships such as this may not have a “functional independence … as substantial as in a family” but, nonetheless, Evans and Braun “elected some measure of personal interaction.” See Scott, 928 A.2d at 315.

Furthermore, we note that our conclusion is supported by the fact that “the Act was passed because the criminal law was sometimes an inadequate mechanism for dealing with violence that arose in the intimate environs of domestic life.” Scott, 928 A.2d at 315. In this case, criminal law proved to be an ineffective avenue for Evans to seek protection from Braun. Despite the fact that Braun twice showed Evans a gun and made threatening comments like “he could put a very big hole in her,” and “he still had the gun, and was not afraid to use it,” the police did not pursue a criminal investigation or charges against Braun. See T.C.O. 2-3. Instead, they directed Evans to WIN. Arguably, this is precisely the type of scenario that the Legislature intended the PFA Act to address, which bolsters our conclusion that Evans had standing to seek protection under that statute.

In sum, therefore, the trial court did not commit an error of law in concluding that Evans qualified as a member of the class of people protected by the PFA Act. Accordingly, the court did not err in denying Braun’s motion for a directed verdict, nor in granting Evans a final PFA order against Braun.

Order affirmed.

Judge Cleland files a dissenting statement.