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Thomas v Morris

Thomas v. Morris 2009 W. Va. LEXIS 119
Facts:
Ms. Thomas and Mr. Morris had a romantic relationship that lasted twelve years, which Ms. Thomas ended in December of 2007. Some time thereafter Mr. Morris tried to renew the relationship with Ms. Thomas, and began excessively calling her, sending her gifts and flowers, and showing up at her place of business unannounced. Ms. Thomas allegedly refused all of his advances. On July 13,2008, Mr. Morris came to Ms. Thomas home and blocked her vehicle in the driveway with his vehicle. When no one answered the door Mr. Morris began to bang on the windows and doors for the next two hours. He also allegedly took a metal pipe and hit the front door several times. Eventually, when Mr. Morris was at the front door Ms. Thomas escaped through the back door and fleed to a neighbor's house approximately one quarter mile away.

Procedural Posture:
Ms. Thomas filed for a protective order in the Family Court of Kanawha County. On September 3, 2009 the case was remanded to the Family Court of Clay County as that was the county in which the events took place. On that same date the Family Court denied the order. Ms. Thomas appealed that order to the Circuit Court of Clay County. On September 27 , 2008 the Circuit Court remanded stating that the Family court was to "first decide the case exclusively by determining whether Ms. Thomas has, by a proponderence of evidence, provensic an incident of domestic violence as defined by West Virginia 48-27-202; second, the family court shall specifically determine and rule on whether...Ms. Thomas was held, confined or detained against her will.
Without hearing any futher evidence the family court again denied the protective work. The court order stated that Ms. Thomas failed to prove by a propenderence of evidence that Respondent committed domestic violence or abuse as defined by West Virginia Code 48-27-202 (1) through (5). Ms. Thomas again appealed the ruling. The Circuit Court affirmed the decision of the family court on January 13, 2008 stated that Ms. Thomas failed to prove that acts of domestic violence. Ms. Thomas appealed to the Wes Virginia Supreme Court which reviewed the case on September 9, 2009.

Holding:
The West Virginia Supreme Court reversed the Circuit Court and entered an order to have a protecive order entere for against Mr. Morris.

Critical Analysis:
First, the Supreme Court held that the Circuit Court applied the wrong standard of review of the Family Court ruling. The Supreme Court held that the Circuit Court did not even make an independent analysis of 48-27-202(3) and (5) but instead applied an abuse of discretion standard to the Family Court findings. The Supreme Court held that a proponderence of evidence proved that Ms. Thomas was in fear from Mr. Morris actions, and that she felt trapped by his vehicle. The last assignment of error had to do with the Circuit Court's reading of the statute. The Circuit court held that in order for the statute to be met there must be an actual threat of physical harm. However, the Supreme Court held that the statute does not require a finding of "physical harm" but only a showing of "threat of harm." Again the Supreme Court held that the record clearly showed that Mr. Morris had threatened Ms. Thomas by repeated phone calls, appearances to her work and homeplace, and the incidence that took place on July 13, 2008.


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