GARY I. STUART, JR. Petitioner Below, Appellant,
OLIVA STUART, Respondent Below, Appellee.
Submitted: January 27, 2017
Below-Family Court of the State of Delaware File No.
CK15-02155 Petition No. 16-08585
VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices.
L. Valihura, Justice
22nd day of March 2017, upon consideration of the
parties' briefs and the record below, it appears to the
appellant, Gary I. Stuart, Jr. ("the Husband"),
filed this appeal from the Family Court's August 15, 2016
order accepting the Commissioner's April 12, 2016 order
denying the Husband's petition for an order of protection
from abuse ("PFA"). We find no error or abuse of
discretion in the Family Court's decision. Accordingly,
we affirm the Family Court's judgment.
March 7, 2016, in the midst of the parties' divorce
proceedings, the appellee, Oliva Stuart ("the
Wife"), filed a petition for a PFA order along with a
motion for an emergency ex parte order. The Wife
sought a PFA order on behalf of herself and the parties'
three minor children. A Family Court Commissioner granted the
Wife's motion for an emergency ex parte order.
The emergency ex parte order prohibited the Husband
from contacting the Wife, granted the Wife exclusive use of
the parties' residence, and granted the Wife temporary
custody of the parties' children.
March 22, 2016, the Husband filed a petition for a PFA order.
The Husband sought a PFA on behalf of himself and the
parties' children. On April 12, 2016, after several
continuances, a Family Court Commissioner held a hearing on
the parties' PFA petitions. After hearing testimony from
the Husband and the Wife, the Commissioner denied the
Husband's PFA petition and granted the Wife's PFA
May 5, 2016, the Husband filed a request for review of the
Commissioner's denial of his petition for a PFA
order. In an order dated August 15, 2016, the
Family Court accepted the Commissioner's denial of the
Husband's petition for a PFA order. This appeal followed.
When a party files a timely request for review of a
Commissioner's order, a Family Court judge must conduct
an independent, de novo review of the record in
order to determine whether the portions of the
Commissioner's order to which an objection has been
raised should be accepted, rejected, or modified in whole or
in part. This Court's standard of review in an
appeal from the Family Court judge's order extends to a
review of the facts and the law as well as to the inferences
and deductions made by the judge. Issues of law are reviewed
de novo. If the issues on appeal implicate rulings
of fact, we conduct a limited review of the factual findings
to assure that they are sufficiently supported by the record
and are not clearly wrong. To obtain a PFA order, a petitioner
must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the
respondent has committed an act of domestic
appeal, the Husband first argues he was not allowed to gather
new evidence from his house that would have supported his PFA
petition. The Husband attached multiple emails to his PFA
petition in which he described times the Wife or her family
abused him, but noted there was additional documentation of
abuse at his house that he wanted his counsel to obtain. The
Husband submitted additional emails at the PFA hearing and
again noted that there was additional documentation of the
Wife's abuse at their house. According to the Husband,
the documents at the house were similar to what he had
already submitted-his descriptions of abuse by the Wife or
her family. In his appeal of the Commissioner's order,
the Husband stated he had new evidence of abuse he was unable
to retrieve from his house before the PFA hearing.
Applying Family Court Rule 53.1(e), the Family Court
concluded that the additional documents did not constitute
newly discovered evidence and that the circumstances did not
justify reopening the record in the interest of justice. As
the Family Court noted, the Husband failed to specify the
information contained in the additional documents. There was
no indication that the additional documents were not
cumulative or duplicative of the documents already offered by
the Husband. There was also no sign that the additional
documents would have probably changed the outcome of the PFA
hearing. The Family Court did not err, therefore, in
concluding that the Husband's objection regarding the
additional documents lacked merit.
Husband next argues that he was prevented from
cross-examining the Wife about alleged lies in her PFA
petition. The record reflects that the Husband was
represented by counsel on the Wife's PFA petition against
him, but represented himself on his PFA petition against the
Wife. The Husband's counsel cross-examined the Wife about
her PFA petition.
Husband cross-examined the Wife about matters relating to his
petition and the Wife's petition. After the Commissioner
sustained the Wife's objection to the Husband's
cross-examination about an incident raised in the Wife's
petition that had been the subject of cross-examination by
the Husband's counsel, the Husband stated he had no
further questions. The record reflects that the Husband and
his counsel had ample opportunity to ...