A California Appellate Court has ruled that a Trial Court’s consideration of Wife’s claim of domestic violence in making its spousal support order does not preclude Wife from pursuing a separate tort action against Husband for that same domestic violence. In the case of Boblitt v. Boblitt, Wife moved in with Husband in February of 1983, and from the very first day, Husband began verbally abusing her. Eventually, verbal abuse escalated to physical abuse; Husband broke Wife’s jaw in December of 1984. The abuse did not end when they were married in December of 1989, but continued up to and beyond Wife’s filing for divorce in January of 2004.
In January 2007, Wife filed a statement of issues in the divorce case, which contained detailed descriptions of Husband’s physical and emotional abuse and Wife’s claim that her ability to work had been impaired by those injuries. Three days later, Wife filed a separate tort action against Husband, seeking damages for domestic violence, assault and battery, breach of fiduciary obligations, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
In April of 2008, Family Law Trial Court issued a statement of decision and judgment on reserved issues in the divorce case, stating that in making its spousal support order, it considered, among other factors, Wife’s claims of domestic violence. In another section of that statement, Family Law Trial Court stated that Wife had been allowed to testify about every domestic violence incident up to the date of trial, found some incidents unbelievable, and found that Husband had behaved in intimidating manner and had done some things he should not have. Family Law Trial Court noted that it was remedying detrimental effect of Husband’s actions on Wife’s business by awarding eight months of spousal support, conditioned on no contact between the parties. Family Law Trial Court denied Wife’s request for award of funds for past and future medical bills, counseling, and pain and suffering, noting that such an award would be inappropriate. After moving unsuccessfully for a new trial, Wife appealed.
Around December of 2008, Husband moved for a judgment on the pleadings in Wife’s tort action, claiming that all the causes of action could have been or were tried in the parties’ divorce case (including domestic violence and Wife’s request for reimbursement of medical bills, and for pain and suffering), which barred their re-litigation. In opposition, Wife contended that the tort action was not precluded because the divorce judgment was not final (appeal was still pending) and domestic violence issues were not litigated in the divorce case. Trial Court granted Husband’s motion on grounds of res judicata or collateral estoppel, and subsequently dismissed Wife’s action.
Claiming that Trial Court erred in granting Husband’s motion, Wife appealed, and in a partially-published opinion, a California Court of Appeals has now reversed and remanded the case back to Trial Court with directions. The Appellate Court has ruled that (1) Wife has not waived her arguments because they present questions of law and are not based on disputed facts; (2) Wife’s domestic violence claims are not precluded by res judicata or collateral estoppel because they are not based on the same primary right (spousal support request is not based on primary right to be free from personal injury); (3) Family Law Trial Court’s denial of Wife’s request for award of funds for medical bills and pain and suffering did not preclude separate tort action for domestic violence claims because Family Law Trial Court had no authority to award damages; and (4) Husband failed to carry his burden of showing that domestic violence claims were litigated in the divorce case. The Appellate Court has further ruled that Trial Court erred by granting Husband’s motion, and thus, has reversed the dismissal, and has remanded the case back to Trial Court with directions to vacate the order granting Husband’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and to enter a new order denying that motion. In the unpublished part of the opinion, the Appellate Court has ruled that the divorce judgment could not have preclusive effect on Wife’s tort action because it was not final when Husband filed his motion for judgment on the pleadings.