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Parocha v. Saga Parocha

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

May 21, 2018

Megan Maya Parocha, Petitioner
Richard Francis Saga Parocha, Respondent

          Certiorari to the District Court Boulder County, District Court Case No. 17CV30006

          Attorney for Petitioner: Bruce Wiener Boulder, Colorado No appearance on behalf of Respondent.

          Attorneys for Amici Curiae Safe Shelter of St. Vrain Valley, Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center, Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center, Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Project Safeguard, and Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence: Lyons Gaddis Kahn Hall Jeffers Dworak & Grant, P.C. Eve I. Canfield Longmont, Colorado


          HART JUSTICE

          ¶1 Megan Maya Parocha fled from New Jersey to Colorado to escape her abusive spouse. Her husband, who knew that she had come to join her family in Colorado, contacted her almost daily. When she expressed reservations about returning to New Jersey, the frequency and tone of such contact intensified. He called her, emailed her, and texted her repeatedly, and she felt threatened. When Megan Parocha sought a civil protection order, her husband claimed that Colorado courts had no jurisdiction to offer her this protection because he was an absent non-resident. We disagree.

         ¶2 This case presents us the first opportunity to address whether and when a civil protection order is available to a victim of alleged domestic abuse who comes to Colorado seeking refuge from a non-resident.[1] We begin by examining Colorado's long-arm statute, section 13-1-124, C.R.S. (2017), before turning to constitutional due process considerations. We hold that an out-of-state party's harassment of, threatening of, or attempt to coerce an individual known by the non-resident to be located in Colorado is a tortious act sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction under our long-arm statute. We also hold that such conduct creates a sufficient nexus between the out-of-state party and this state to satisfy the requisite minimum contacts such that the exercise of jurisdiction to enter a protection order comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

         ¶3 Because we conclude that the county court had both statutory and constitutional authority to exercise jurisdiction over Megan Parocha's out-of-state husband for the limited purpose of entering a permanent civil protection order, we reverse the district court's order and remand for further proceedings as necessary.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶4 Three months after moving from New Jersey to Colorado with the parties' minor child, Petitioner Megan Maya Parocha ("Wife") sought a civil protection order against Respondent Richard Francis Saga Parocha ("Husband"). Following an ex parte hearing held on December 6, 2016, the county court issued a temporary civil protection order. On December 20, 2016, the court held a second hearing to determine whether issuance of a permanent protection order was appropriate. Husband appeared at the second hearing with counsel and raised the argument that the Colorado court could not legally exercise jurisdiction over him because he lacked minimum contacts with the state. Because there was a factual dispute about the sufficiency of Husband's contacts with Colorado, the court proceeded with a hearing on that question.

         ¶5 At the hearing, Wife testified to a "cycle" of domestic abuse in the marriage. Specifically, Wife alleged that in the months before she came to Colorado, Husband had raped her; threatened to punch her; threatened to take their child; locked her out of their home; broken the door of their bathroom when she was in the shower with the door locked; and grabbed her out of bed by the hair, ripping a chunk of her hair from her scalp. She further testified that he exercised extreme control over their finances. Husband disputed Wife's allegations of violence, but testified that their relationship involved bouts of fighting. Husband also acknowledged Wife's reports of alleged domestic abuse in New Jersey to Husband's employer, the local Coast Guard.

         ¶6 Both Husband and Wife testified that because of their fighting, in the fall of 2016, Wife declared her intent to travel to Colorado with their child to seek refuge with her family. Husband drew up a document stating that Wife could take the child to Colorado for three months. The parties also both testified that, during the months she was in Colorado, Husband contacted Wife daily-often several times a day- purportedly to speak to their one-year-old child. As the three-month period that Husband had agreed to let Wife stay in Colorado was coming to a close, Wife told Husband that she wanted to stay with her family and did not want to return to New Jersey. His response to that revelation was to tell her in a series of FaceTime phone calls, emails, and texts on December 5, 2016, that he would "make" her come back to New Jersey. It was those statements, perceived by Wife as threats, which prompted her to apply for the civil protection order.

         ¶7 At the conclusion of the permanent protection order proceedings, the county court determined that it could exercise personal jurisdiction over Husband pursuant to Colorado's long-arm statute. The county court deemed Wife's testimony credible with respect to "each of the alleged incidents of abuse." The county court referred to the parties' courtroom demeanor and the consistency between Wife's testimony at the temporary protection order hearing and permanent protection order hearing. On those bases, the county court found that Wife had suffered domestic abuse at Husband's hands, as defined by section 13-14-101(2), C.R.S. (2017). The county court found that Wife was the victim, for example, of various "acts of coercion, including financial control, property control, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and threatened physical abuse." The county court then made the following additional findings relevant to jurisdiction:

As to whether [Husband] engaged in any tortious acts here in Colorado, the Court finds that he did. He specifically agreed that [Wife] and [the parties' daughter] would live here in Colorado for at least three months; and then he had frequent contact with [Wife], some of which, in the context of the abuse she suffered while they lived together, she experienced as harassing and threatening, including [the December 5, 2016 communications].

         ¶8 Based on these factual determinations, the county court concluded that Husband's December 5, 2016 contacts with Wife constituted tortious acts as contemplated by Colorado's long-arm statute. Accordingly, the county court issued a permanent protection order prohibiting Husband from having certain contact with Wife. That order was narrowly tailored to permit limited communications between the ...

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