Minnesota, United States, Court Rules That Prior Relationship May Be Subject to Orders for Protection
Monday, April 13, 2009 11:52 AM

The Court of Appeals for the U.S. state of Minnesota ruled on 7 April 2009 that individuals may, under some circumstances, file Orders for Protection against partners from prior relationships. The Court held that “[a] former relationship may qualify as a significant romantic or sexual relationship under the Domestic Abuse Act.”

In the case at hand, Ms. Sperle filed an Order for Protection (OFP) against her former boyfriend, Mr. Orth, after he sent her an email threatening her life in February 2008. The District Court, which has jurisdiction to grant or deny OFPs, dismissed her case because the parties were not family members nor in a current romantic relationship. Although the OFP was denied, the lower court did warn Mr. Orth not to come in contact with Ms. Sperle while the case was pending.

The Court of Appeals reversed the decision, holding that although the Domestic Abuse Act’s language “does not expressly include former relationships,” various clauses, when read together, compel the District Court to look at past relationships when determining whether to grant an Order for Protection. (Sperle v. Orth at 3.) The Court stated, “If we construe “significant romantic or sexual relationship” to include only current relationships, victims of domestic abuse will be forced to choose between remaining in abusive relationships in order to qualify for protection under the Domestic Abuse Act or ending the relationship and foregoing the ability to petition for an OFP. It would be absurd and unreasonable to require victims of domestic abuse to remain in abusive relationships in order to qualify for relief under the Domestic Abuse Act.” (Sperle v. Orth at 3.)

To determine if a past relationship was a significant or sexual relationship, the district courts must look at four factors, as laid out in the Domestic Abuse Act subdivision 2(b)(7): “the length of time of the relationship; type of relationship; frequency of interaction between the parties; and, if the relationship has terminated, length of time since the termination.” The Court of Appeals remanded the case so the district court could determine whether any of these factors existed in the relationship between the parties and whether Sperle can be granted relief under the Domestic Abuse Act.

To read the case in full, click here [PDF, 9 pages].

Compiled from: Sperle v. Orth, --- N.W.2d ----, 2009, WL 911019, (Minn. App. 2009).