SENATE, No. 4095

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

220th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED NOVEMBER 30, 2023

 


 

Sponsored by:

Senator  ANTHONY M. BUCCO

District 25 (Morris and Somerset)

 

Co-Sponsored by:

Senators Stanfield and Diegnan

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Establishes protections from abusive and controlling litigation for victims of domestic violence. 

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

  


An Act concerning abusive and controlling litigation in domestic violence situations and supplementing P.L.1991, c.261.

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.    As used in this section:

     a.     “Abusive and controlling litigation” means litigation initiated, advanced, or continued by a person that is filed in bad faith and primarily for the purpose of delay; malicious injury; or harassing, intimidating, or maintaining contact with the other party.

     “Litigation” means any kind of legal action or proceeding including, but not limited to: filing a summons, complaint, demand, or petition; serving a summons, complaint, demand, or petition, regardless of whether it has been filed; filing a motion, notice of court date, or order to appear; serving a motion, notice of court date, or order to appear, regardless of whether it has been filed or scheduled; filing a subpoena, subpoena duces tecum, request for interrogatories, request for production, notice of deposition, or other discovery request; or serving a subpoena, subpoena duces tecum, request for interrogatories, request for production, notice of deposition, or other discovery request.

     “Victim of abusive and controlling litigation” means a person against whom abusive and controlling litigation has been initiated, advanced, or continued by an abusive and controlling litigant.

     b.    Upon a motion filed pursuant to this section, the court shall determine whether a person is an abusive and controlling litigant.  The court shall find that a person is an abusive and controlling litigant if the person:

     (1) has committed an act of domestic violence pursuant to the provisions of the "Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991," P.L.1991, c.261 (C.2C:25-17 et al.) or the provisions of a substantially similar statute under the laws of another state or the United States; and

     (2) in bad faith and primarily for the purpose of delay; malicious injury; or harassing, intimidating, or maintaining contact with the other party, initiates, advances, or continues litigation against the person who is the victim of the act of domestic violence; and

     (3) with regard to litigation initiated, advanced, or continued by the person allegedly engaging in abusive and controlling litigation, the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that:

     (a) claims, allegations, and other legal contentions in the litigation are without any reasonable basis in law or equity and could not be supported by a good faith argument for an extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, an existing order, or the establishment of a new order; or

     (b) allegations and other factual contentions in the litigation are made without evidentiary support; or

     (c) one or more issues that are the basis of the litigation have previously been the subject of litigation filed in the same or another court in this State or any other court of competent jurisdiction and the actions have been litigated and disposed of unfavorably to the alleged abusive and controlling litigant.

     c.     A motion may be filed at any time to determine whether a person is an abusive and controlling litigant by a party who is a victim of domestic violence pursuant to the provisions of the "Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991," P.L.1991, c.261 (C.2C:25-17 et al.), or on the court's own motion.  The motion may be filed orally while under oath, or in writing, in accordance with the rules of court.  In its discretion, the court may schedule a hearing to determine whether a person is an abusive and controlling litigant or, in lieu of a hearing, the court may rely on an affidavit in support of the motion. 

     d.    There shall be a rebuttable presumption that a person is an abusive and controlling litigant if:

     (1)   the litigation initiated, advanced, or continued by the person allegedly engaging in abusive and controlling litigation involves the same or substantially similar issues between the same or substantially similar parties which have been litigated within the past five years in the same court or any other court of competent jurisdiction; or

     (2) within the past 10 years, a court in this State or another jurisdiction has determined that the party allegedly engaging in abusive and controlling litigation has previously engaged in abusive and controlling litigation or similar conduct; or

     (3) within the past 10 years, the party allegedly engaging in abusive and controlling litigation has been found to have initiated, advanced, or continued litigation that was found to have been frivolous pursuant to section 1 of P.L.1988, c.46 (C.2A:15-59.1) or a similar rule or law in this State or another jurisdiction.

     e. Upon finding that a person is an abusive and controlling litigant, in addition to any other relief deemed appropriate, the court shall enter an order:

     (1) dismissing any matter or denying any relief requested pursuant to pending abusive and controlling litigation initiated, advanced, or continued by the abusive and controlling litigant;

     (2) awarding reasonable attorneys’ fees, expenses, and costs of responding to the abusive and controlling litigation, including those associated with a motion filed pursuant to this section;

     (3)   identifying the victim of the abusive and controlling litigation and providing that the victim shall not be required to respond any pending or future litigation, unless directed to do so by the court; and

     (4) prohibiting the abusive and controlling litigant from initiating, advancing, or continuing litigation involving the victim of the abusive and controlling litigation, except upon leave of court granted upon application submitted in accordance with the rules of court.

     g. If the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the litigation does not constitute abusive and controlling litigation, the court shall enter written findings and the litigation shall proceed.

     f.     Nothing in this section shall be deemed to restrict an abusive and controlling litigant from filing, initiating, advancing, or continuing litigation that does not violate the provisions of this subsection. 

 

     2. This act shall take effect on the first day of the fourth month next following the date of enactment. 

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     This bill establishes protections from abusive and controlling litigation for victims of domestic violence. 

     Specifically, this bill provides additional protections for victims of domestic violence who suffer continued abuse in the form of abusive and controlling litigation.  “Abusive and controlling litigation” is defined under the bill to mean litigation initiated, advanced, or continued by a person that is filed in bad faith and primarily for the purpose of delay or malicious injury, or harassing, intimidating, or maintaining contact with the other party

     While current law provides relief for citizens in this State who are subjected to baseless or “frivolous” litigation, the relief is limited to certain types of litigation, and typically limits the relief to an award of attorneys’ fees and costs.  Current law does not provide specific protections for victims of domestic violence who are subjected to ongoing litigation filed in bad faith by their abuser in an attempt to maintain contact with them or cause financial or emotional harm.

     This bill establishes a process for the court to determine whether a person is an abusive and controlling litigant.  Under the bill, the process is initiated upon motion of a victim of domestic violence or on the court’s own motion.  A person is deemed an abusive and controlling litigant if the person has committed an act of domestic violence pursuant to the provisions of the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991”; initiates, advances, or continues litigation against their victim in bad faith and primarily for the purpose of delay; malicious injury; or harassing, intimidating, or maintaining contact with the victim; and the court finds, by a preponderance of the evidence that:

·        claims, allegations, and other legal contentions in the litigation are without any reasonable basis in law or equity and could not be supported by a good faith argument for an extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, an existing order, or the establishment of a new order; or

·        allegations and other factual contentions in the litigation are made without evidentiary support; or

·        one or more of issues that are the basis of the litigation have previously been the subject of litigation filed in the same or another court in this State or any other court of competent jurisdiction and the actions have been litigated and disposed of unfavorably to the alleged abusive and controlling litigant.

     The provisions of the bill provide that there is a rebuttable presumption that a person is an abusive and controlling litigant if:

·        the litigation initiated, advanced, or continued by the person allegedly engaging in abusive and controlling litigation involves the same or substantially similar issues between the same or substantially similar parties which have been litigated within the past five years; or

·        within the past 10 years, a court has determined that person has previously engaged in abusive and controlling litigation or similar conduct; or

·        within the past 10 years, the party allegedly engaging in abusive and controlling litigation has been found to have initiated, advanced, or continued litigation that was found to have been frivolous.

     Upon finding that a person is an abusive and controlling litigant, the court is required to enter an order:

·        dismissing any matter or denying any relief requested pursuant to pending abusive and controlling litigation;

·        awarding reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, including those associated with a motion filed pursuant to this bill;

·        providing that the victim is not required to respond any pending or future litigation initiated by the abusive and controlling litigant, unless directed to do so by the court; and

·        prohibiting the abusive and controlling litigant from initiating, advancing, or continuing litigation involving the victim of the abusive and controlling litigation, except upon leave of court granted upon application submitted in accordance with the rules of court.

     Nothing in the provisions of the bill is to be deemed to restrict an abusive and controlling litigant from filing, initiating, advancing, or continuing litigation that does not violate the provisions of the bill.