Angarita v. Edwards, COA20-846

Docket NºNo. COA20-846
Citation278 N.C.App. 621, 863 S.E.2d 796
Case DateAugust 03, 2021
CourtCourt of Appeal of North Carolina (US)

278 N.C.App. 621
863 S.E.2d 796

William J. Parra ANGARITA, Plaintiff,
v.
Marguerite EDWARDS, Defendant.

No. COA20-846

Court of Appeals of North Carolina.

Filed August 3, 2021


William J. Parra Angarita, pro se.

Marguerite Edwards, pro se.

JACKSON, Judge.

¶ 1 The issue in this case is whether the trial court erred or abused its discretion in granting a civil no-contact order against a pro se litigant. We conclude that the trial court committed no error or abuse of discretion and affirm the order.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

¶ 2 William Parra Angarita ("Plaintiff") and Marguerite Edwards ("Defendant") are next-door neighbors on Dominion Village Drive in Charlotte, North Carolina. Beginning sometime in February or March of 2020, Defendant began to suspect that someone was breaking into her house. On 7 March 2020, she reported the suspected break-ins to the police. She began to suspect Plaintiff was the perpetrator and reported his name to the police. According to Plaintiff, he has never been contacted by the police. Defendant has a security system and multiple cameras installed but has no video evidence of Plaintiff breaking into her house. Defendant claims to be suffering lasting health consequences due to the alleged break-ins.

¶ 3 From time to time, Plaintiff's children would accidentally throw soccer balls into Defendant's fenced, locked yard. On 23 March 2020, Plaintiff received a phone call from Defendant requesting that his children stop throwing balls into her yard. During this call, Defendant used "harsh language" towards Plaintiff's children. Defendant called Plaintiff again on 6 April 2020, this time threatening to call the police and making offensive, racist statements about Plaintiff and his family.

¶ 4 A series of escalating interactions ensued. Following a verbal altercation about the balls, Defendant threatened to have Plaintiff arrested, and Defendant alleges that at some point Plaintiff "came to her front door and rang her door bell several times in a rage." Defendant responded by posting a sign on her door that accused Plaintiff of breaking into her house and notifying the homeowners’ association of the alleged break-ins.

¶ 5 Throughout these events, Defendant sent Plaintiff at least eight text messages with "derogatory, defamatory, and incendiary language," including some express or implied threats. Defendant also yelled accusations and racist remarks at Plaintiff's family from her property. Plaintiff's wife and sister-in-law testified that Defendant shouted accusations and racist remarks directly at them on multiple occasions. Plaintiff states that the behavior of Defendant has caused significant stress for him and his family.

¶ 6 On 8 July 2020, Plaintiff filed a complaint in Mecklenburg County District Court, seeking a permanent civil no-contact order against Defendant under N.C. Gen. Stat § 50C-2, and requesting that the court bar Defendant from "verbally abusing any family members living in [Plantiff's] household and to stop yelling and shouting from her property towards ours," among other remedies. Defendant was served with the complaint on 18 July 2020. On 28 July 2020, Defendant filed (but apparently did not serve upon Plaintiff) an answer to the complaint and a written motion to dismiss.

863 S.E.2d 800

¶ 7 A hearing was held on 4 August 2020 before the Honorable Paulina Havelka. Neither Plaintiff nor Defendant was represented by an attorney. During the hearing, testimony was heard from Plaintiff, Plantiff's wife, and Plaintiff's sister-in-law, who described the harassment they had faced from Defendant over the past year. Defendant also testified at the hearing, stating her belief that Plaintiff was continually breaking into her house, tampering with her belongings, and "doing criminal activities for unknown reasons." At several points, both Plaintiff and Defendant attempted to introduce documentary exhibits (such as a notarized statement from their neighbors, or emails from the local police department) but the court refused to admit the exhibits after ruling they were inadmissible hearsay.

¶ 8 At the conclusion of the parties’ testimony, the trial court granted Plaintiff a permanent no-contact order against Defendant pursuant to § 50C-7. The trial court concluded that

[Plaintiff] has suffered unlawful conduct by [D]efendant in that: Defendant continuously harasses Plaintiff and Plaintiff's household. Posts letters on Defendant's door with an arrow stating Plaintiff is a "dangerous criminal." In open court Defendant stated "Plaintiff smells" and does so while in her yard at Plaintiff and Plaintiff's family.

¶ 9 In its order, the trial court checked boxes indicating that Defendant: (1) shall not "visit, assault, molest, or otherwise interfere with" Plaintiff; (2) "cease harassment" of Plaintiff; (3) "not abuse or injure" Plaintiff; and (4) not contact Plaintiff "by telephone, written communication, or electronic means" for a period of one year. The trial court also added an additional handwritten order that Defendant "shall obtain a mental health evaluation," with a review hearing scheduled for 8 December 2020.

¶ 10 On 5 August 2020, Defendant contacted the clerk of court and told her that she was having difficulty reading the court's written order due to its legibility. Later that same day, the court issued an "amended" no-contact order, that was otherwise identical with the exception of checking an additional box that "the Defendant cease stalking the Plaintiff." Defendant filed a timely written notice of appeal from the court's amended order on 14 August 2020.

II. Analysis

¶ 11 In her pro se appeal, Defendant raises five arguments, contending that: (1) the trial court erred by misquoting her in the findings section of the no-contact order; (2) the trial court was "exceptionally hostile" to Defendant during the hearing; (3) the trial court erred by making an improper amendment to the no-contact order; (4) the trial court erred by assigning her a mental health evaluation; and (5) the trial court erred by failing to consider her motion to dismiss. We disagree and hold that the trial court committed no error or abuse of discretion.

A. Preservation

¶ 12 As a threshold matter, we must address whether Defendant has properly preserved her arguments for appellate review. Our Appellate Rules provide that

[i]n order to preserve an issue for appellate review, a party must have presented to the trial court a timely request, objection, or motion, stating the specific grounds for the ruling the party desired the court to make ... It is also necessary for the complaining party to obtain a ruling upon the party's request, objection, or motion.

N.C. R. App. P. Rule 10(a)(1).

¶ 13 In interpreting this Rule, we have long held that "where a theory argued on appeal was not raised before the trial court, the law does not permit parties to swap horses between courts in order to get a better mount in the appellate courts." State v. Holliman , 155 N.C. App. 120, 123, 573 S.E.2d 682, 685 (2002) (internal marks and citations omitted). Accordingly, where a defendant "impermissibly presents a different theory on appeal than argued at trial, [the] assignment of error [is] not properly preserved" and is "waived by [the] defendant." Id. at 124, 573 S.E.2d at 686.

¶ 14 Here, Defendant has failed to preserve two issues—the trial court's failure

863 S.E.2d 801

to consider her motion to dismiss, and the trial court's alleged "undue hostility" during the hearing—because Defendant did not raise either of these issues before the trial court.1 However, in our discretion we nevertheless choose to review all of Defendant's arguments, as none of the issues raised by Defendant show any error by the trial court.

¶ 15 We have previously addressed a similar scenario in Seafare Corp. v. Trenor Corp ., wherein the pro se defendants raised a number of issues on appeal that had not been raised before the trial court. Despite this waiver, we nevertheless reviewed the defendants’ assertions of error, explaining:

Defendants next assign error to the admission of much of plaintiff's evidence. Defendants failed, however, to object to the admission of any evidence .... An unrepresented party is not relieved of the duty to object to evidence in order to preserve the issue for appeal. Nevertheless, we have considered defendants’ arguments set forth in their brief and conclude there was no prejudicial error.

Seafare Corp. v. Trenor Corp. , 88 N.C. App. 404, 413, 363 S.E.2d 643, 650-51 (1988) (internal marks and citations omitted).

¶ 16 Likewise, despite Defendant's failure in the present case to preserve her arguments for appellate review, we exercise our discretion under Rule 2 to consider these arguments and conclude that the trial court committed no error. See N.C. R. App. P. 2.

B. Misquotation

¶ 17 Defendant first argues that the trial court erred by misquoting her in the findings section of the no-contact order. We disagree and discern no error in the trial court's findings of fact. We review a trial court's findings of fact only to establish that they were supported by competent evidence:

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