Case Law Update: DVPO

By Rebecca K. Watts 

Quackenbush v. Groat, COA19-415, decided May 5, 2020 (DVPO)

Plaintiff filed a complaint for domestic violence protective order, to which she attached 12 pages of detailed allegations against Defendant. At the hearing, Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. Defendant argued that the Court of Appeals decision in Martin v. Martin dictated a certain level of specificity in the pleadings, and that the pleading here failed because the attached pages were not referenced in the form complaint. Defendant did not argue that he did not receive the attachment pages or that he was unable to respond to the allegations (he had, in fact, filed an answer in which he responded to the allegations)—he simply argued that because the form complaint itself did not include language such as “see attached,” there was no way to tell whether the attachments were indeed part of the verified pleading. The trial court determined that based upon the Martin decision, plaintiff’s complaint should be dismissed because plaintiff’s allegations were not sufficiently specific to afford defendant due process. Plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order dismissing the complaint. In its opinion the Court said that: (1) the Martin case did not control and (2) the complaint did make allegations sufficient to state a claim. More specifically:

  1. Martin v. Martin was decided on December 18, 2018. The hearing in this case took place on December 19, 2018. On February 8, 2019, a petition for rehearing was granted in Martin and on July 16, 2019, a new decision was issued in Martin. The new decision in Martin superseded the decision relied upon by the trial court. Additionally, the issue in Martin was not dismissal for failure to state a claim; the issue in Martin was whether a plaintiff may present evidence of incidents for which defendant had not received notice before trial and whether a trial court may base its DVPO solely on that evidence.
  2. A 50B complaint is subject to notice pleading rules.  Although the better practice would be for a plaintiff to note on the complaint that there are additional pages attached, that is not required. It was clear here that the attachments were intended to be part of the complaint—the pages included handwritten numbers at the top that corresponded to the numbered allegations in the form complaint. All of the attached pages were part of the complaint, and the complaint listed sufficient detail to state a claim for relief.