When abuse occurs between two unmarried people who are not related to each other and who have never had children together, California Family Law Courts only have power to issue a restraining order if the individuals have a “dating relationship”. Most people can figure out when people are dating or not, but it can be a close call. That was the situation in the case of Phillips v. Campbell decided this week by the California Court of Appeal.
In Phillips, the party who lost at the trial level, James Campbell, appealed , arguing that the judge was wrong to find that he had a dating relationship with the woman in question, Amy Phillips. Rather, Campbell said the two were merely best friends. Indeed, the two people had been friends for several months. They spent time together, dined out on occasion, and Campbell stayed at Phillips’ home for several days. Phillips sent a message to Campbell, saying that he had a strong emotional ‘hold’ on her. She complimented him on a kiss that he had given her. She said in an email, “[t[hat hug in the doorway and your hand on my lower back felt good” and “the moments we were close (either wrestling on the couch, or when you were laying in bed with me), seemed more platonic, versus romantic”. Phillips also noted “[t]he time we’ve both invested to build our relationship over the past 7 months . . . strengthening our love and respect for each other”.
On the other hand, there was no evidence that the parties had sexual relations. Looking at it one more way, though, Campbell admitted that he had sent nude photographs of himself to Phillips.
Later on, Phillips rebuffed Campbell’s advances. Campbell responded by accusing her of “leading [him] on” while she was dating someone else”. He further stated “What do u call telling me u love me but ur . . . [with] someone else?” Naturally, with these type of statements and others, it became difficult for Campbell to argue at the trial court level that the parties never had a dating relationship.
The definition of a dating relationship is found in Family Code section 6210, which describes the interaction as one that means “frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affection or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations”.
Of course, there may be a simpler way to find out if one is involved in a dating relationship and that is to ask the time honored question, “is this a date?”. Unfortunately, however, by the time the answer really matters, there may be some sort of problem, from annoying behavior to physical violence. In the Phillips case, Phillips eventually broke off whatever relationship the parties may have had. Thereafter, Campbell showed up at Phillips’ home at 3:30 a.m. and started banging on the door and windows.
Campbell “repeatedly harassed respondent by sending text messages to her, posting her personal information and photos of her on Facebook, posting videos of her on YouTube, and sending ‘private messages to individuals sharing personal information about [her]'”. In text messages to Phillips, Campbell referred to her as a “‘psycho evil witch'” and “‘a compulsive liar'” who had “‘lied'” about him and “‘destroyed [his] life'”.
Accordingly, the trial court, located in San Luis Obispo County, found that there was a dating relationship and “interaction from [Campbell] to [Phillips] (that) qualifies for a domestic violence restraining order”. The order, which was entered on February 26, 2015, prohibited Campbell from harassing or contacting Phillips and required him to stay at least 500 yards away from her person, residence, and workplace.
As with all restraining orders, this one prohibited Campbell from owing or using or possessing firearms. Campbell represented himself on appeal, but lost, 3-0. The Court of Appeal decision was written by Justice Kenneth Yegan. He was joined by Justices Arthur Gilbert and Steven Perren. The trial judge was Commissioner Gayle Peron.
The Court of Appeal Decision was certified for publication, which means that its holding are binding on all trial courts in California and may be cited by attorneys as well as trial court judges and commissioners.