The term “motion in limine” refers to a legal action prior to a trial in both the civil and criminal settings. A limine motion is a request for the court to make legal determinations about specific evidence, which may result in the dismissal of the litigation. Unfortunately, limine motions are sometimes exploited by defendants who try everything in their power to get a case delayed or dismissed. In domestic violence cases, for example, a defendant may file a last minute limine motion as a last ditch effort to assert control over, or to make life difficult for the plaintiff. This is a common tactic for defendants who are involved in other legal actions with the plaintiff, such as a divorce or custody dispute.
Although evidence being uncovered or unavailable until right before the trial is certainly possible, it is a bit suspicious when such evidence is conveniently presented on the eve of trial. In addition, judges must consider whether an eve of trial motion should even be allowed, and if so, what types of evidence should be heard. A ruling on this issue by the Appellate Division was published last month, and their findings should offer a ray of hope to domestic violence victims who are dealing with particularly obsessive and vindictive abusers. In L.C. v. M.A.J., the plaintiff filed a request for a final restraining order from the defendant, who she alleged was harassing her and her employer with various communications. She also alleged that there had been a history of domestic violence, which included physical abuse and controlling behavior. On the day before the trial date, the defendant filed a limine motion, stating that his communications were about parenting issues, not harassment attempts.
The trial court granted his motion to dismiss the domestic violence hearing, which the appeals court condemned for several reasons. First, the trial court should be extremely conservative in allowing eve of trial limine motions as a general rule. Second, even if such motions are allowed, the only things that should be heard are preliminary or evidentiary issues. In L.C., the defendant failed to address any such issues, in which case there should have been no reason to even consider a dismissal of the plaintiff's complaint. Especially in the case of domestic violence, due process requires that the victim be given adequate notice to respond to the dismissal, which would be impossible for limine motions held the day before trial. In fact, if the defendant did have evidence compelling enough to dismiss the case, he should have waited till the following day, when he could have presented it at the actual hearing.
In addition to being sensible, the Appellate Division's ruling is respectful of an individual's right to due process, as well the court's duty to be vigilant of defendants who try to manipulate the system. For more information on your domestic violence rights and legal options, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.