C. A. v. G. L., 121520 CTCA, AC 43139

Docket Nº:AC 43139
Opinion Judge:LAVINE, J.
Party Name:C. A. v. G. L.[*]
Attorney:Cody A. Layton, with whom was Drzislav (Dado) Coric, for the appellant (defendant).
Judge Panel:Lavine, Elgo and Alexander, Js.
Case Date:December 15, 2020
Court:Appellate Court of Connecticut

C. A.

v.

G. L.[*]

No. AC 43139

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 15, 2020

Argued September 17, 2020

Procedural History

Application for a civil protection order, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New London and tried to the court, Knox, J.; judgment granting the application, from which the defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

Cody A. Layton, with whom was Drzislav (Dado) Coric, for the appellant (defendant).

Lavine, Elgo and Alexander, Js. [**]

OPINION

LAVINE, J.

The defendant, G. L., appeals from the judgment of the trial court granting a civil protection order in favor of the plaintiff, C. A.1 On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court erred in finding that reasonable grounds existed to believe that he committed, and would continue to commit, acts of stalking constituting grounds for the issuance of a civil protection order. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The parties are longtime neighbors who live one floor apart in a condominium association (association). For nearly two decades, they have had a contentious relationship. At all relevant times, the defendant was engaged in litigation against the plaintiff and other members of the association. On May 1, 2019, the plaintiff filed an application for a civil protection order, pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-16a, 2 alleging that the defendant had threatened her on April 22 and 23, 2019. She subsequently withdrew this application on May 13, 2019. On May 17, 2019, however, after speaking to the police, the plaintiff again filed an application for a civil protection order.

The court held an evidentiary hearing on the plaintiff's application on May 28, 2019.3 At the conclusion of the hearing, the court granted the application and ordered that the defendant ‘‘not assault, threaten, harass, follow, interfere [with], or stalk'' the plaintiff for a six month period.4

The court found that the parties had a difficult ongoing relationship and that the defendant was ‘‘not an easy neighbor to have, '' citing ‘‘the fact that some of [his] neighbors had to come testify.'' The court found that ‘‘every time that [the defendant is] present, [the plaintiff] feels threatened. . . . Whether it is how you raise your voice. Whether you're following her in the course of a communication. Whether she just appears and you engage her in an angry dialogue.''

The court further found that the defendant's aggressive behavior was ‘‘actually increasing and escalating with regard to [the plaintiff].'' His ‘‘anger . . . with regard to the litigation is escalating well beyond the litigation, in that, [the plaintiff] has cause to be concerned by [the defendant's] threatening behavior, which seems to be persisting over a course of time, but actually has persisted more recently . . . .'' In finding that the defendant's threatening behavior was escalating recently, the court relied on several threatening statements that he had made to the plaintiff, as well as the fact that the plaintiff had called the police on May 17, 2019.

The court found that the defendant had threatened the plaintiff on April 23, 2019, by stating that he was ‘‘coming for'' her.[5] The plaintiff installed security cameras around her condominium unit on May 1, 2019, to which the defendant objected. The defendant left notes and documents, concerning the litigation that he had initiated against the plaintiff, on the plaintiff's door on a daily basis. The plaintiff occasionally posted messages relating to the litigation on the defendant's door. In granting the motion, the court highlighted the fact that ‘‘[the plaintiff] actually called the police [on May 17, 2019], because of her concerns of [the defendant's] threatening behavior.'' The plaintiff filed her application for a civil protection order that day. On her return from the courthouse, the plaintiff overheard the defendant say that ‘‘[the plaintiff had been] harassing people for years with [her] tits and . . . cocktail uniform.'' At that point, the plaintiff dreaded going home and began carrying Mace.

The day before the hearing, on May 27, 2019, the plaintiff overheard the defendant talking to a neighbor about ‘‘all the things he was going to do to me . . . and one's going to be, I'm going to lose my job.'' The defendant did not know that the plaintiff could hear him when he made the statement. After the defendant made the statement, the plaintiff and the defendant had a heated exchange.

After the plaintiff rested at trial, the defendant moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiff had not established, pursuant to the definition of stalking set forth in § 46b-16a (a), ‘‘two or more wilful acts perform[ed in] a threatening predatory or disturbing matter, '' and characterizing the matter as ‘‘neighbors quibbling over issues . . . with [the] condo association.'' The court denied the defendant's motion.

Ultimately, the court found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the defendant had ‘‘committed acts constituting grounds for issuance of a protective order under [§ 46b-16a], and that [he would] continue to commit such acts or acts designed to intimidate or retaliate against the applicant.'' The court thereupon found that the plaintiff had met her burden and issued a civil order of protection pursuant to § 46b-16a for a period of six months, until November 28, 2019. This appeal followed.

The defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to warrant the court's issuance of a civil order of protection against him. The defendant claims that his statements and messages to the plaintiff did not constitute ‘‘two or more wilful acts [performed] in a threatening, predatory, or disturbing manner that caused [the plaintiff] to reasonably fear for her physical safety.'' For that reason, the defendant claims that the court abused its discretion in granting the order of protection. We do not agree.

We begin our analysis by setting forth the relevant legal principles and applicable standard of review. ‘‘We apply the same standard of review to civil protection orders under § 46b-16a as we apply to civil restraining orders under General Statutes § 46b-15. Thus, we will not disturb a trial court's orders unless the court has abused its discretion or it is found that it could not reasonably conclude as it did, based on the facts presented. . . . In determining whether a trial court has abused its broad discretion . . . we allow every reasonable presumption in favor of the correctness of its action. . . . Appellate review of a trial court's findings of fact is governed by the clearly erroneous standard of review. . . . A finding of fact is clearly erroneous when there is no evidence in the record to support it . . . or when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. . . . Our deferential standard of review, however, does not extend to the court's interpretation of and application of the law to the facts. It is axiomatic that a matter of law is entitled to plenary review on appeal.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Kayla M. v. Greene, 163 Conn.App. 493, 504, 136 A.3d 1 (2016).

‘‘The court's discretion, however, is not unfettered; it is a legal discretion subject to review. . . . [D]iscretion imports something more than leeway in [decision making]. . . . It means a legal discretion, to be exercised in conformity with the spirit of the law and in a manner to subserve and not to impede or defeat the ends of substantial justice . . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Harris v. Neale, 197 Conn.App. 147, 157, 231 A.3d 357 (2020). ‘‘We do not examine the record to determine whether the trier of fact could have reached a conclusion other than the one reached . . . as [t]he conclusions which we might reach, were we sitting as the trial court, are irrelevant.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Rostain v.

Rostain, 214 Conn. 713, 715-16, 573 A.2d 710 (1990).

Section 46b-16a provides in relevant part: ‘‘Any person who has been the victim of . . . stalking may make an application to the Superior Court for relief under this section . . . . If the court finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent has committed acts constituting grounds for issuance of an order under this section and will continue to commit such acts or acts designed to intimidate or retaliate against the applicant, the court, in its discretion, may make such orders as it deems appropriate for the protection of the applicant.''

Section 46b-16a (a) defines stalking as ‘‘two or more wilful acts, performed in a threatening, predatory or disturbing manner of: Harassing, following, lying in wait for, surveilling, monitoring or sending unwanted gifts or messages to another person directly, indirectly or through a third person, by any method, device or other means, that causes such person to reasonably fear for his or her physical safety.''

‘‘The standard to be applied in determining the reasonableness of the victim's fear in the context of the crime of stalking is a subjective-objective one. . . . As to the subjective test, the situation and the facts must be evaluated from the perspective of the victim, i.e., did she in fact fear for her physical safety. . . . If so, that fear must be objectively reasonable, i.e., a reasonable person under the existing circumstances would fear for his or her physical safety.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Russell, 101 Conn.App. 298, 319, 922 A.2d 191, cert. denied, 284 Conn. 910, 931 A.2d 934 (2007).

‘‘[A]n...

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