UPDATE 8/16/2023: Manatt is pleased with the decision from the California Court of Appeal overturning the denial of Jennifer’s domestic violence restraining order and remanding for a new hearing on the DVRO and her request for spousal support. Today the Court granted Manatt’s request to publish the opinion, which now sets a valuable precedent for future survivors of domestic violence. Read the full opinion here.
Manatt filed an amicus brief on behalf of the California Women’s Law Center (CWLC) in support of a survivor of intimate partner violence in a case seeking appellate review of the trial court’s denial of her request for a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO).
The plaintiff, referred to as Jennifer, had initially filed for a DVRO in April 2022, claiming she had suffered physical, financial, verbal and emotional abuse by her husband. After filing the initial DVRO paperwork, Jennifer submitted supplemental declarations disclosing additional evidence of her husband’s abuse, including incidents of sexual abuse, but was prohibited from testifying about those additional incidents in court. The trial court subsequently denied the plaintiff’s DVRO and, before hearing testimony from the defendant, granted the opposing counsel’s oral motion for summary judgment without having filed summary judgment papers.
In the brief, Manatt explained the many complications that survivors of intimate partner violence face when requesting assistance from a court to obtain legal protection. From a procedural standpoint, survivors do not always have the benefit of counsel when pursuing DVROs and can lack the knowledge and ability required to navigate the judicial system.
Moreover, courts “may expect a survivor to tell [their] story in what they deem to be a clear, logical, and trustworthy manner: chronologically and, as was the case here, up-front and in writing.” But how survivors recount their stories may be affected by the very abuse they seek protection from, including physical injuries to the brain and psychological trauma. Further, facing their abuser in court may cause survivors to experience flashbacks or overwhelming emotion, which could hinder their ability to tell a coherent or logical story.
In addition to how a survivor may act in seeking a DVRO, the brief detailed ways abusers may try to justify their behavior, including blaming substance use, the survivor’s inability to leave the relationship or emotional credibility, all of which may make them present in a way that does not meet a judge’s preconceived expectations of an abuser and make them seem more credible.
Finally, the brief detailed how the post-separation time period is often a period of increased danger for survivors of intimate partner violence, citing to social science research that has “determined that even accounting for individual characteristics of the victims, the single factor of separation demonstrates the strongest correlation for an increased risk of abuse.”
“Given the dynamics affecting how and when survivors of intimate partner violence describe their abuse, survivors’ attempts to obtain the potentially life-saving protections that DVROs were designed to provide are often unfairly frustrated with devastating consequences,” the brief said. “This Court has the opportunity to correct and prevent that from happening to Jennifer.”
The Manatt team included Benjamin Shatz, Andrew Satenberg, Stephanie Roeser, Ryan Patterson, and Lauren Chee.
Read the full amicus brief here.