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Williams v. Williams

Supreme Court of North Dakota

January 22, 2018

Jennifer Michelle Williams, Petitioner
v.
Aron Lyle Williams, Respondent and Appellant

         Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Susan Lynne Bailey, Judge.

          Jennifer Michelle Williams, petitioner; no appearance.

          Victoria C. Jones (argued) and Leslie Johnson Aldrich (appeared), Fargo, N.D., for respondent and appellant.

          OPINION

          TUFTE, JUSTICE.

         [¶ 1] Aron Williams appeals from a two-year disorderly conduct restraining order prohibiting him from having contact with Jennifer Williams. We reverse and remand for the district court to address Aron Williams' claim that he was engaged in constitutionally protected activity.

         I

         [¶ 2] Aron and Jennifer Williams were married in April 2015, have two minor children together, and resided in Jamestown. They separated in April 2016 and are in the process of obtaining a divorce in Stutsman County. After the separation, Jennifer Williams moved to West Fargo. In June 2016, Jennifer Williams filed for a temporary domestic violence protection order against Aron Williams in Cass County, but the parties stipulated to dismissal of the order and the district court in the divorce action ordered that exchanges for Aron Williams' parenting time with one of the children occur at Rainbow Bridge in Moorhead, Minnesota. In December 2016, Jennifer Williams moved to modify the provisions of an interim order on child support, attorney fees, spousal support, and parenting time in the Stutsman County divorce proceedings. On January 13, 2017, the district court granted the motion and ordered exchanges of the children to occur at the West Fargo Police Department.

         [¶ 3] On January 30, 2017, Jennifer Williams filed a petition for a disorderly conduct restraining order against Aron Williams in Cass County, alleging he committed several acts intended to adversely affect her safety, security, and privacy. Although Jennifer Williams testified about several acts of alleged disorderly conduct, the district court indicated the only incidents it would consider were those that occurred after the January 13, 2017, amended interim order was entered in the divorce action. Jennifer Williams testified that during an exchange on January 19, 2017, Aron Williams told her "to go suck on your own vagina for a while" after she asked him if one of the children was buckled into a car seat. She also alleged that during an exchange on January 29, 2017, he blocked her vehicle in with his vehicle and "yell[ed]" to the child that "I know you don't love your mother... do you want to come home with daddy?" Aron Williams' attorney argued that Aron's words constituted constitutionally protected free speech, and the parties argued the constitutional issue before the court.

         [¶ 4] The district court ruled from the bench:

What I've observed from the witnesses and have heard from the witnesses is a history of domestic violence, victimization of the Plaintiff and intimidation of the Plaintiff by the Defendant. Words, acts, and gestures that are intended to adversely affect the safety, security or privacy of another person constitute disorderly conduct. I find that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Respondent has engaged in disorderly conduct. Specifically blocking her, yelling at her--and I'm focusing on the January incidents of exchanges. They are volatile, it's not a peaceful exchange, it's upsetting to the child, it's upsetting to the Plaintiff. There is not calm and it's just a risky situation and I'm going to error in safety for both the Plaintiff and for the children that are involved in these exchanges.... I base my decision on conduct that occurred in Cass County and occurred since the entry of the Stutsman County prior order.

         The written disorderly conduct restraining order does not provide any further analysis, but merely prohibits Aron Williams from having contact with Jennifer Williams for a two-year period.

         II

         [¶ 5] Aron Williams raises two procedural issues that he claims prohibited the Cass County district court from exercising jurisdiction over the petition for the disorderly conduct restraining order.

         [¶ 6] First, Aron Williams argues the Cass County proceeding was barred by res judicata based on the temporary domestic violence order which was issued in June 2016 and the January 13, 2017, amended interim order issued in the Stutsman County divorce proceedings. However, "[t]he doctrine of res judicata only prohibits relitigation of a claim or issue resolved by a final decision." Saakian v. N.D. Workers Comp. Bureau, 1998 ND 227, ΒΆ 17, 587 N.W.2d 166. The June 2016 order was dismissed without prejudice by stipulation of the parties, so no final order exists. Regarding the January 13, 2017, amended interim ...


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