By: Curtis Wiberg
On May 21, 2018, the Colorado Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of Parocha v. Parocha, 2018 CO 41. The case involved a wife who fled an abusive relationship in New Jersey, with her infant daughter, to reside in Colorado with her family. Once here in Colorado, the husband continued making harassing and threatening calls from New Jersey to the wife. The question before the Colorado Supreme Court was whether Colorado could exercise jurisdiction against an out of state party, and issue a restraining order, solely on the basis of threatening and harassing contact received by the wife in Colorado, notwithstanding the fact that husband had not been physically present in Colorado. The court ruled that the actions of husband in sending communications that were harassing and threatening to his wife in Colorado constituted acts that gave the Colorado courts authority to issue a protection order in Colorado against her Husband. As such, the Colorado Supreme Court has given victims of domestic violence an important protection not explicitly existent previously.
The more detailed factual background is as follows: wife alleged that the marriage had a lengthy and serious history of the abuse, which involved, among other things, husband sexually assaulting her, him pulling out chunks of her hair when dragging her out of bed, him threatening to punch her, threatening to take the parties’ child, breaking down a bathroom door that she had locked behind her, and him exercising extreme control over her finances. Clearly a pattern of domestic violence existed from which the wife needed protection. When wife informed husband she was leaving him, husband had agreed that wife could only leave New Jersey for a period of 3 months to live with family in Colorado. When in Colorado, husband called or Face-Timed wife multiple times per day. At the end of the 3 months, wife informed husband that she was not coming back to New Jersey, prompting husband to threaten to “make” her return. The amounts of calls and texts increased, as did the hostility in the tone of the communications by husband to wife, prompting her to seek a restraining order in the Colorado courts under section C.R.S. 13-14-101 et. seq.
Husband objected to the issuance of a restraining order not only on the substantive allegations, but also on a procedural issue alleging that Colorado did not have the authority (also known as jurisdiction) to enter orders over him, since he had not committed any act while he himself was in Colorado. Husband’s procedural objection is rooted in the due process clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution that recognizes that it is unconstitutional to seek court orders against an individual or entity in a state where that individual or entity does not have sufficient contacts within that state.
Courts generally have stated, though, that if an individual or entity has crossed a line, known as “minimum contacts” where a person or entity could reasonably expect their conduct creates significant enough consequences in a state so as to submit to the jurisdiction of that state, then it is no longer unconstitutional for that state to exercise jurisdiction over that individual or entity.
As applied to this case, and in a question never previously, specifically considered by Colorado appellate courts, can an out of state party expose themselves to a Colorado restraining order by making threatening and harassing communications to a party in Colorado?
In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s findings that the wife’s testimony of the history of domestic violence in the relationship was more credible than husband’s, and that her fear of the husband which prompted her to leave to Colorado was genuine. With that historical context, the Court believed wife’s claims of fear that husband’s subsequent, multiple daily communications to her in Colorado were both harassing and threatening (especially the communications that husband would “make” wife return to New Jersey). Further, the Court found that these communications to wife were of the nature that husband could reasonably expect that consequences in Colorado would occur, and that Colorado courts could act to address those consequences.
In other words, the Colorado Supreme Court has now confirmed that an out of state party is capable of committing acts of domestic violence (namely communicated threats of violence and/or economic coercion, and harassment) against parties in Colorado, even if that party has never set foot in Colorado. For any victim of domestic abuse in Colorado fleeing an abusive situation that existed in another state, that victim now potentially has recourse in Colorado courts if the abusive party continues his conduct via phone or social media. For victims of domestic violence, this Colorado Supreme Court opinion represents a significant assurance that Colorado courts will be a resource for them.
As an aside, if faced with the same type of situation as Ms. Parocha, avoid telephone communication with the abuser. Let the other side create evidence for you via text messages, emails, or repeated phone call attempts (which will happen when you don’t respond to them), all of which can be admissible evidence in court. Not all courts are willing to grant protection orders on a he-said/she-said basis and being armed with as much tangible evidence of the abusive or threatening acts is a good idea when proceeding to seek a protection order.