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Poland v. Poland

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, DIVISIONS I, II, III

March 15, 2017



          Worsham Law Firm, P.A., by: Richard E. Worsham, for appellant.

          Gill Ragon Owen, P.A., by: Sharon Elizabeth Echols and Christopher L. Travis, for appellee.

          KENNETH S. HIXSON, Judge.

         Appellant Christopher Chad Poland (Chad) appeals from an order of protection that prohibited him from contacting his wife and limited his contact with his daughter for a period of one year. Chad's wife is appellee Meredith Poland (Meredith), to whom he has been married for fourteen years. The parties have one ten-year-old daughter. Chad's only argument on appeal is that there was insufficient evidence to support the order of protection because there was a lack of evidence that he committed domestic abuse against either his wife or his daughter. We affirm.

         When a petition for a protective order is filed under the Domestic Abuse Act, the trial court may provide relief to the petitioner upon a finding of domestic abuse. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-15-205(a) (Repl. 2015). Pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-15-103(3)(A), "domestic abuse" is defined as "[p]hysical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, or assault between family or household members."

         Our standard of review following a bench trial is whether the trial court's findings are clearly erroneous. Simmons v. Dixon, 96 Ark.App. 260, 240 S.W.3d 608 (2006). A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Id. Disputed facts and determinations of credibility are within the province of the factfinder. Id.

         This case was initiated by Meredith against Chad on December 30, 2015, when she filed a petition and affidavit for an order of protection. Meredith's affidavit alleged that beginning in September 2015 the parties' marriage had become tumultuous, with Chad frequently yelling at her and berating her. Meredith documented several confrontations brought on by Chad, which culminated on December 11, 2015. During this confrontation, Chad yelled and screamed at Meredith, and she and her daughter wanted to leave. After Meredith went outside to make a phone call, Chad locked her out of the house. Meredith called the police. When the police arrived, they arranged for Meredith and the daughter to leave the home.

         Based on these allegations, the trial court entered an ex parte temporary order of protection against Chad on December 30, 2015, temporarily prohibiting him from contacting Meredith or his daughter. A final hearing was held on January 13, 2016.

         On January 13, 2016, the trial court entered a final order of protection, effective for one year. By this time, Meredith and her daughter were living in the family home, and Chad had moved out and was living with his parents. In the final order, the trial court found that Meredith and the daughter were in immediate and present danger of domestic abuse. Chad was prohibited from contacting Meredith, and he was excluded from her residence and place of employment. Chad was also restricted from contacting his daughter, with the exception of reasonable phone and text contact, along with supervised visitation every other weekend to be supervised by Chad's parents.

         At the final hearing, Meredith stated that the parties' marriage had become intolerable and that they were going through a divorce. Meredith testified about numerous incidents where Chad had berated, physically assaulted, and threatened her. According to Meredith, Chad had hit her legs while she was in bed, which caused bruising. Meredith also testified that Chad owned two guns, which were usually within his reach, and that she was afraid of him. She said that on several occasions Chad waved a gun at her. This happened twice between September and December of 2015. This would happen during his screaming episodes, and Meredith testified that, on one occasion, Chad said that maybe he would just go ahead and shoot everybody. According to Meredith, there were also times when he would raise his fist at her. She further stated that, "as for my daughter, he has threatened to whip her ass."

         Vicki Garcia, one of the parties' neighbors, testified on behalf of Meredith. Vicki stated that during the latter months of the parties' marriage she witnessed unsettling arguments where Chad would scream at Meredith and berate her. Vicki had twice called the police to report disturbances, and she expressed concern for the safety of both Meredith and the parties' daughter.

         Chad testified on his own behalf, and he acknowledged a difficult marriage over the past few months after he suspected that Meredith had been cheating on him. He acknowledged saying a "few choice words" to Meredith, but he denied ever threatening, berating, or abusing her. He indicated that Meredith's allegations were all fabricated and that she had no reason to be afraid of him.

         In this appeal, Chad argues that the order of protection should be reversed because there was insufficient evidence that he committed domestic abuse as defined in the Domestic Abuse Act. He contends that he did not assault or cause bodily injury to anyone, nor did he inflict imminent fear of physical harm or bodily injury. Although he may have been verbally aggressive and controlling at times, Chad posits that this was insufficient to sustain a protective order where there was an absence of any physical violence or threats of violence. Chad asserts that Meredith was being untruthful and used the domestic-abuse proceedings as leverage to obtain possession of the parties' house and limit his contact with his daughter. Chad also contends that, even were we to conclude that he ...

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