Law School Case Brief
Watts v. Watts - 2014-Ohio-1901 (Ct. App.)
Civil protection orders (CPO) are intended to prevent violence before it happens. Where a trial court grants a CPO based on a petitioner's fear of imminent serious physical harm, the critical inquiry under R.C. 3113.31 is whether a reasonable person would be placed in fear of imminent (in the sense of unconditional, non-contingent), serious physical harm. Threats of violence constitute domestic violence for the purposes of R.C. 3113.31 if the fear resulting from those threats is reasonable. The reasonableness of the fear should be determined with reference to the history between the petitioner and the respondent. Courts use both a subjective test and an objective test in determining the reasonableness of the petitioner's fear. The subjective test inquires whether the respondent's threat of force actually caused the petitioner to fear imminent serious physical harm. By contrast, the objective test inquires whether the petitioner's fear is reasonable under the circumstances.
After a long-term marriage, Plaintiff-Appellee Freda M. Watts filed a complaint for divorce from her husband, Defendant-Appellant Larry D. Watts. Plaintiff also filed a Petition for Domestic Violence Civil Protection Order (DVCPO), testifying the physical and emotional violence that was inflicted on him by defendant in numerous occasions. On several instances, she reported the violent incidents to the authorities. On trial, the Watts' two daughters recounted the physical abuse their mother sustained from their father during their parents’ marriage. Defendant testified and denied committing any abuse upon his wife. The court granted an order of protection. Defendant sought appellate review.
Did the trial court err when it granted a civil protection order to plaintiff?
The decision whether to grant a civil protection order lies within the sound discretion of the trial court. A judgment supported by some competent, credible evidence will not be reversed by a reviewing court as against the manifest weight of the evidence. A reviewing court must not substitute its judgment for that of the trial court where there exists some competent and credible evidence supporting the judgment rendered by the trial court. The trial court determined there was credible evidence to show a history of domestic violence between the parties. The evidence in the record shows the most recent incident of domestic violence occurred in 2011. After that time, the wife removed herself from the situation by filing for divorce and moving to a different county. The wife also testified that unless the trial court granted the DVCPO, she would remain fearful that the husband would continue to harass her or even seriously injure her. The trial court could determine that plaintiff's fear of harm was reasonable based on her history with defendant. Based on the record presented, the appellate court concluded that there was credible evidence in the record to show plaintiff proved by a preponderance of the evidence that she feared imminent serious physical harm by defendant and her fear was reasonable under the circumstances.
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