Morris v. Morris

Decision Date06 December 2013
Docket Number2110741.
PartiesMatthew D. MORRIS v. Elizabeth W. MORRIS.
CourtAlabama Court of Civil Appeals

144 So.3d 328

Matthew D. MORRIS
Elizabeth W. MORRIS.


Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama.

Aug. 30, 2013.
Rehearing Denied Dec. 6, 2013.

[144 So.3d 331]

James G. Curenton, Jr., Fairhope, for appellant.

Taylor D. Wilkins, Jr., and Robert W. Waller, Jr., of Wilkins, Bankester, Biles & Wynne, P.A., Bay Minette, for appellee.

On Application for Rehearing

MOORE, Judge.

The opinion of December 21, 2012, is withdrawn, and the following is substituted therefor.

[144 So.3d 332]

In the proceedings below, Elizabeth W. Morris filed claims of false imprisonment and assault and battery against her former husband, Matthew D. Morris. After a trial, the Baldwin Circuit Court (“the trial court”) entered a judgment on the jury's verdict, awarding Elizabeth $75,000 in compensatory damages and $125,000 in punitive damages, for a total damages award of $200,000. Matthew filed a motion for a new trial, pursuant to Rule 59, Ala. R. Civ. P., which the trial court denied. Matthew then appealed the judgment to the Alabama Supreme Court, which transferred the appeal to this court, pursuant to Ala.Code 1975, § 12–2–7(6). After this court's issuance of our opinion on original submission reversing the trial court's judgment and directing the trial court to grant Matthew's motion for a new trial, Elizabeth filed an application for rehearing, which was heard orally before this court on June 4, 2013.


Elizabeth and Matthew were formerly married. After Elizabeth had given birth to two children, the parties separated in early fall of 2006, with Elizabeth and the children remaining in the marital home. On November 17, 2006, Matthew, after telephoning Elizabeth over 20 times, arrived at the marital home late at night, apparently in an attempt to reconcile with Elizabeth. According to Elizabeth, Matthew ended up staying all night, at times snorting Adderall that had been prescribed for Elizabeth.

The next day the parties ate breakfast together and traveled to a local shopping center to purchase clothing for the parties' children. After Elizabeth dropped off the parties' older child at her parents' home for an overnight visit, she returned to the marital home where Matthew remained. In the early morning hours of the next day, Elizabeth hid her Adderall, which, Elizabeth testified, infuriated Matthew. According to Elizabeth, Matthew, while in a rage, placed her in a headlock and struck her repeatedly, causing her to bleed. Afterwards, when Matthew realized he had “crossed the line,” he told Elizabeth that she would have to do what he said until he could figure out what to do.

Elizabeth testified that Matthew then turned off all the lights, shut the blinds, and ordered Elizabeth to go to the laundry room, where he found a sock and tried to tie it around, or stuff it into, Elizabeth's mouth. Matthew then had Elizabeth crawl to her bedroom closet, where she began to experience anxiety attacks. Matthew gave Elizabeth some prescribed anxiety medication, but her symptoms did not abate. Matthew then instructed Elizabeth to crawl to the bathroom, where he poured cold water over her in an attempt to curb the panic attack. When Elizabeth continued to suffer, Matthew stated that he would take her to the emergency room. At that point, Matthew stripped Elizabeth of her bloody clothes and put clean clothes on her. He then drove Elizabeth to the emergency room, warning her that if she told anyone what had happened he would kill her and reminding her that he had their daughter.

Elizabeth spent several hours in the emergency room, during which time she did not report, in fact she actually denied, any domestic violence. Matthew picked up Elizabeth upon discharge, and they returned to the marital home. Elizabeth testified that, some time later, she seized an opportunity to grab her cellular telephone while Matthew was not looking and she telephoned her mother, who lived nearby, to ask for help. She then returned to the kitchen, where Matthew was about to snort crushed Adderall, and she blew the drugs off the table. Matthew again became enraged, threw her to the

[144 So.3d 333]

ground, and stomped on her three times, twice on her leg and once on her neck. While she lay on the floor screaming in pain from a broken leg, Matthew walked quickly out the door, passing Elizabeth's mother and the parties' son who had just arrived.

Matthew did not deny that he snorted Adderall, but he denied the other aspects of Elizabeth's account of the events leading up to her injury. As for how Elizabeth hurt her leg, Matthew testified that, while he was in the kitchen, Elizabeth had come up behind him in a rage and they both fell to the floor. According to Matthew, when he tried to pick her up, Elizabeth pulled him down on top of her and began to kick him in the groin, causing him to fall on her. He testified that when he saw Elizabeth's mother getting out her automobile with an upset look on her face, he left because he did not want to confront her. At that time, according to Matthew, he did not know that Elizabeth had broken her leg, but, he said, he later assumed that the break had occurred when he fell on her.

After leaving the marital home, Matthew drove his vehicle through a red light, striking the automobile of an off-duty corrections officer. He later pleaded guilty to a felony in relation to that accident; he also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence for his altercation with Elizabeth.

Evidentiary Issues

Matthew argues that the trial court erred in precluding him from introducing evidence indicating that Elizabeth had falsely accused her own father of raping her, had falsely accused other of her paramours of abusing her, had been convicted of shoplifting on multiple occasions, and had long abused prescription drugs. Matthew argues that all the foregoing evidence tends to prove that Elizabeth lacked credibility and that the jury should have been allowed to consider that evidence when determining whether Elizabeth's account of the events leading to her injuries was believable. At the outset of the trial, Elizabeth filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude most of the foregoing evidence, pursuant to Rule 403, Ala. R. Evid. (“Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.”).1 The trial court conditionally granted the motion.

During the trial, Matthew's counsel introduced evidence indicating that, during her hospital stay for her anxiety attack, Elizabeth had denied on an admission form that she was in an abusive relationship or that she feared for her physical safety. Elizabeth admitted that she had lied on that form, explaining that she had only been being “compliant” and further clarifying that she had been embarrassed about her situation, having grown up in a home free of domestic violence and having never been in a prior relationship involving domestic violence. Matthew's counsel then inquired as to whether Elizabeth had ever told anyone that her father had molested her. Elizabeth replied that she had not. When Matthew's counsel attempted to question her on that point further, Elizabeth's counsel objected and the trial court ultimately sustained the objection.

Matthew had earlier proffered the testimony of Julia Ogburn, who had stated that, while on a trip to the Bahamas, Elizabeth had confided in Ogburn that Elizabeth's father had raped Elizabeth, that Ogburn had later confronted Elizabeth's

[144 So.3d 334]

father and mother about the accusation, and that they had both laughingly denied the accusation, stating that Elizabeth was lying. The trial court also received a proffer that another witness would also testify that Elizabeth had conveyed the same information to him. Matthew's counsel argued that the rape accusation was unfounded and that the evidence tended to prove that Elizabeth had lied in the past about male family members harming her. Matthew's counsel contended that the jury should assess that evidence when weighing the credibility of Elizabeth's allegations against Matthew, especially considering that they were the only two witnesses to the event that had led to her broken leg.

In Ex parte Loyd, 580 So.2d 1374 (Ala.1991), our supreme court ruled that a defendant who had been convicted of sodomy had been prejudiced during his trial by not being permitted to introduce evidence indicating that his alleged victim had falsely accused, or had threatened to falsely accuse, others of sexual misconduct. The supreme court ruled that the proffered evidence, in which the victim admitted that she had falsely alleged sexual misconduct against other men in the past, tended to show the victim's “manipulative use of false charges and threats of sexual misconduct to achieve her desires.” 580 So.2d at 1376. The court held that the evidence was relevant to whether the defendant had committed the crime of which he was accused or “whether the victim was merely continuing her habit of making threats and false accusations to manipulate persons around her.” Id. In Peeples v. State, 681 So.2d 236, 238 (Ala.1995), our supreme court explained that it had held in Loyd that a victim's prior allegations of sexual abuse that are demonstrated to be false are generally admissible in criminal actions involving similar allegations.

In this civil action, Elizabeth was not attempting to prove that Matthew had sexually assaulted her, so the evidence of the allegedly false rape allegation against her father was not relevant to whether Matthew had committed the acts of which Elizabeth complained or whether Elizabeth was merely continuing a habit of making false accusations of sexual misconduct. The evidence was more in the nature of an attempt to impeach Elizabeth as to prior bad acts. Rule 608(b), Ala. R. Evid., provides, in pertinent part:


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