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TWO PFA’S FROM ONE INCIDENT GET DIFFERENT RESULTS

Posted in Practice Issues, Protection from Abuse

A recent case in Centre County, Pennsylvania considered whether a PFA filed in one county will dictate what happens to a PFA citing the same incident, but filed in a different county. The Centre County Court of Common Pleas denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss on the basis that the plaintiff’s PFA stands on its own merits as to whether the plaintiff was justifiably in fear of defendant and warranted a PFA.

The defendant was granted her own PFA against the plaintiff in Erie County. The defendant argued that the Erie County action basically determined who was at fault. However, the Centre County court denied her motion to dismiss on the basis that they were not, in fact, the “same case” despite arising from the same incident. The Centre County Court found that the plaintiff had her own burden to reach on the PFA; if the plaintiff had a justifiable fear of the defendant, the Court had the authority to enter a PFA against the defendant. Even though the defendant was the protected party in the Erie County action, the judge could still find the facts warrent an order of protection in the plaintiff’s favor.

This is not a situation where res judicata or “coordinate jursdiction” applies.  Coordinate jurisdiction is the premise that judges sitting on the same case can’t overrule each other. Cross-claims for PFA are common in many cases, the difference in this situation being that instead of the actions being under one caption in one county, the plaintiff in Centre County followed the rules of civil procedure and was able to file a PFA in her home county. Having not filed a cross-petition in Erie County, she would have the chance to fully and independently adjudicate her claim for protection against defendant.

This case is an important reminder that coordinate jurisdiction is not going to prevent a PFA on the same incident being filed in a different jurisdiction. It may be worth considering the merits of filing a cross-action to the other side’s PFA or if there is a tactical reason to file an independent action in another Court.

Kristine Hopkins v. Rene Hopkins, 2013-2476.