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Protection From Abuse Action and Personal Jurisdiction

Many people in Pennsylvania are, fortunately or unfortunately, aware of what a Protection From Abuse Action (PFA) is. The PFA is essentially a restraining order against a household or family member which can remain in effect for up to three years.

Many victims of domestic violence utilize these orders to remain safe and free from contact from their abuser. Not only can these orders keep victims safe, but they also provide for criminal penalties should an abuser violate the order.

However, some people occasionally misuse the PFA process. Sometimes, when parents are separating, one parent tries to file a PFA against the other in order to obtain immediate custody of a child or children. Other times, someone may attempt to file a PFA in order to kick someone out of their house.

It is up to the Plaintiff and Defendant in the PFA action to prove their case. If a Plaintiff can prove he or she was abused as defined by the PFA Act by a preponderance of the evidence, then the Plaintiff will receive his or her PFA. If the Plaintiff cannot prove abuse, then the PFA will be dismissed.

In a recent case decided by the Pennsylvania Superior Court (Middle District), a PFA filed by a Plaintiff was dismissed because Pennsylvania did not have any personal jurisdiction over the Defendant. This case was captioned N.T. v. F.F., 2015 Pa. Super. 139 (2015). The Superior Court held that according to prior case precedent and the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, a defendant must have 'minimum contacts' with Pennsylvania in order for Pennsylvania to be able to exercise personal jurisdiction over him or her. If there are no 'minimum contacts', then Pennsylvania should not entertain a lawsuit against the Defendant because Pennsylvania lacks 'personal jurisdiction'. 848 A.2d 996 (2004).

In N.T. v. F.F., the Plaintiff filed a PFA against the Defendant, who resided in California. Defendant had never visited Pennsylvania, but had hired a private investigator to search for Plaintiff when she left California with their minor child, in order to serve the Plaintiff with custody paperwork. Plaintiff tried to argue that since Defendant hired a private investigator who found her in Pennsylvania, Defendant had 'minimum contacts' with Pennsylvania. The Superior Court rejected that argument, and held that this type of contact was 'too tenuous' and appeared unrelated to Plaintiff filing her PFA. The Superior Court specifically said "Nor has she shown that he could 'reasonably anticipate being haled into court in Pennsylvania' in light of the activities at issue here." 2015 Pa. Super. 139. Therefore, Plaintiff's PFA was dismissed.