33 A.3d 403 (D.C. 2011), 11-FM-766, A.R. v. F.C.

Docket Nº:11-FM-766.
Citation:33 A.3d 403
Opinion Judge:FISHER, Associate Judge:
Party Name:A.R., Appellant, v. F.C., Appellee.
Attorney:Stacy L. Anderson, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Irvin B. Nathan, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, and Donna M. Murasky, Deputy Solicitor General, were on the brief, for appellant.[*] F.C., pro se.
Judge Panel:Before FISHER and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and NEWMAN, Senior Judge.
Case Date:December 22, 2011
Court:Court of Appeals of Columbia District
 
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Page 403

33 A.3d 403 (D.C. 2011)

A.R., Appellant,

v.

F.C., Appellee.

No. 11-FM-766.

Court of Appeals of Columbia District.

December 22, 2011

Argued Nov. 30, 2011.

Page 404

Stacy L. Anderson, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Irvin B. Nathan, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, and Donna M. Murasky, Deputy Solicitor General, were on the brief, for appellant.[*]

F.C., pro se.

Before FISHER and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and NEWMAN, Senior Judge.

FISHER, Associate Judge:

The Superior Court dismissed A.R.'s petition for a civil protection order because she was not in an " interpersonal, intimate partner, or intrafamily" relationship with the respondent. See D.C.Code § 16-1001(12) (2011 Supp.) (definition of " petitioner" ). Because D.C.Code §§ 16-1001 and 16-1003 in combination make civil protection orders available to persons who allege stalking, sexual assault, or sexual abuse but have no prior relationship with the alleged offender, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I.

On February 25, 2011, A.R. filed a petition for a Civil Protection Order (" CPO" ) in the Domestic Violence Unit of the Superior Court and requested that a Temporary Protection Order (" TPO" ) be issued against F.C. At an ex parte TPO hearing held the same day, A.R. alleged that F.C. had sexually assaulted her. A.R. testified that she and the respondent had not been " boyfriend and girlfriend," nor were they " living together" or in an " intimate relationship." Rather, respondent was an acquaintance, " one of the best friends of

Page 405

[her] ex-boyfriend." After determining that the parties were not in an " interpersonal, intimate partner, or intrafamily" relationship, the trial judge concluded that there was no " relationship here that would make this an appropriate matter for Domestic Violence Court." For this reason, and without determining whether A.R.'s allegations against F.C. were true, the court dismissed the petition on legal grounds.[1] We likewise decide only the legal question before us, having no means or authority to evaluate the truth of petitioner's claims.

II.

When interpreting a statute, the judicial task is to discern, and give effect to, the legislature's intent. Grayson v. AT & T Corp., 15 A.3d 219, 237 (D.C.2011) (en banc). " The primary and general rule of statutory construction is that the intent of the lawmaker is to be found in the language that he has used." Tippett v. Daly, 10 A.3d 1123, 1126 (D.C.2010) (en banc) (quoting Peoples Drug Stores, Inc. v. District of Columbia, 470 A.2d 751, 753 (D.C.1983) (en banc)). " [I]ndividual words of a statute are to be read in the light of the statute taken as a whole, and where possible, courts should avoid constructions at variance with the policy of the legislation as a whole." District of Columbia v. Beretta U.S.A. Corp., 940 A.2d 163, 171 (D.C.2008) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

III.

Section 16-1003 (a) of the D.C.Code permits a " petitioner" to " file a petition for civil protection in the Domestic Violence Unit against a respondent who has allegedly committed or threatened to commit one or more criminal offenses against the petitioner...." [2] The broad sweep of this language is limited significantly by a companion provision which defines a " petitioner" as " any person who alleges, or for whom is alleged, that he or she is the victim of interpersonal, intimate partner, or intrafamily violence, stalking, sexual assault, or sexual abuse." D.C.Code § 16-1001(12) (2011 Supp.).

Focusing on this definition, the trial court held that § 16-1001(12) grants access to civil protection orders only to persons alleging an " interpersonal, intimate partner, or intrafamily" relationship with the respondent. In other words, the court concluded that these adjectives limit the reach of each of the following four terms— " violence," " stalking," " sexual assault," and " sexual abuse." Under this reading, a victim could not qualify for a civil protection order based on an allegation of stalking, sexual assault, or sexual abuse by a stranger or a mere acquaintance. Petitioner argues to the contrary that the statute permits...

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