MN Supreme Court: Orders for protection can be based on years-old domestic abuse allegations

Overturning a Court of Appeals ruling, the Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday added more muscle to the state’s Domestic Abuse Act by ruling that an order for protection can be issued on the basis of past allegations of domestic abuse.

The court ruled in the case of Tracy Thompson, who had sought an order for protection in September 2015 against her ex-husband, John Schrimsher, based largely on allegations of domestic abuse several years earlier, including being kicked, choked, knocked over, and slapped, some of which occurred while she was pregnant. Schrimsher denied the allegations.

While the district court issued the protective order, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the lower court, ruling that “a finding of past domestic abuse alone is insufficient to support the issuance of an OFP without a showing of a present intent to cause or inflict fear of imminent physical harm.”

The state’s Supreme Court ruled that’s wrong.

Writing for the majority of the court, Justice David Lillehaug noted the district court found that the past incidents of domestic abuse continued to “terrorize” the woman.

Here, the district court did not abuse its discretion by granting an OFP. Thompson testified to a general pattern of abuse occurring from 2010 to 2012. Thompson further testified to multiple specific incidents of kicking, choking, and slapping, including an occasion during which Schrimsher dragged her down a hallway, threw her onto a bed, and attempted to handcuff her. This testimony led the district court to find that Schrimsher “mentally, physically, and sexually abused” Thompson. As the court of appeals noted, “the district court found credible the testimony that there existed a past history of domestic abuse.”

Lillehaug rejected Schrimsher’s argument that allowing an order for protection based on past allegations would create an “absurd result” because a single incident of domestic abuse from years earlier could result in the protective order.

“Schrimsher far overstates this risk,” Lillehaug wrote. “Under the
Act, OFPs are never granted automatically. Instead, once a petitioner has ‘allege[d] the existence of domestic abuse,’ the district court ‘shall order a hearing.’ After this hearing, ‘the court may provide relief.’”