Thomas v. Williams (Lawyers Weekly No. 15-07-0669, 13 pp.) (Linda McGee, C.J.) Appealed from Mecklenburg County District Court (Elizabeth Trosch, J.) N.C. App.
Holding: Even though the parties dated for less than three weeks, they had a “dating relationship” within the meaning of G.S. § 50B-1.
We affirm the trial court’s domestic violence protective order.
According to § 50B-1(b)(6), “a dating relationship is one wherein the parties are romantically involved over time and on a continuous basis during the course of the relationship. A casual acquaintance or ordinary fraternization between persons in a business or social context is not a dating relationship.”
The primary question this court must resolve is how long a “continuous” “romantic” relationship must exist in order for it to exist “over time.” This court has used “over time” to describe everything from the span of minutes or hours to months or years.
Since G.S. Chapter 50B is remedial in nature, to the extent that the term “over time” is ambiguous, we construe it broadly.
Given that the last sentence in G.S. § 50B-1(b)(6), regarding “casual acquaintance[s]” and “ordinary fraternization,” appears to expressly exclude from the definition of “dating relationship” only the least intimate of personal relationships, we do not believe that the term “over time” – construed broadly – categorically precludes a short-term romantic relationship, such as the one in the present case, from ever being considered a “dating relationship” for the purpose of § 50B-1(b)(6).
We agree with courts in other jurisdictions that the question of what constitutes the minimum conduct to establish a dating relationship is fact sensitive and thus warrants a factor approach rather than a definitional approach.
Here, the parties dated each other for less than three weeks, which appears to exceed the “minimal social interpersonal bonding” of casual acquaintances or of contacts through ordinary fraternization. Plaintiff testified that she ended her relationship with defendant after less than three weeks because she was “very afraid” of defendant and instructed defendant to never contact her again, at which point defendant began contacting plaintiff repeatedly and over a prolonged period of time. We find it notable that defendant felt strongly enough about his relationship with plaintiff to extend their two-to-three-week-long relationship into essentially a two-to-three-month-long breakup by continuing to contact plaintiff in direct contravention of plaintiff’s and a police detective’s demands that he cease.
After reviewing these factors, we believe there was sufficient competent evidence to establish that the parties’ relationship fit within the General Assembly’s intended definition of “dating relationship.”
Plaintiff presented evidence of the content of only one of defendant’s voicemails: “You put me through hell. Now it’s your turn.” Nevertheless, there was sufficient other evidence for the trial court to find that defendant placed plaintiff in fear of continued harassment and caused her substantial emotional distress.