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Malatka v. Helm

September 29, 2010


(Santa Cruz County Super. Ct. No. CV156768), The Honorable Paul M. Marigonda.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rushing, P.J.



Plaintiff Aviva Malatka has obtained an order restraining one of her neighbors, defendant Christine Helm, from verbally harassing her and her husband. (Code Civ. Proc., § 527.6.)*fn1 The initial order was filed on May 18, 2007, after hearings on April 20 and May 18, 2007. An amended order adding plaintiff's husband was filed on June 12, 2007.

Rather than appealing from the restraining order, defendant filed a motion to dissolve or modify it. After a hearing on September 25, 2007, the court modified the restraining order, implicitly denying the request to dissolve it. A modified order was filed on October 17, 2007.

On appeal from the latter order, defendant asserts that the trial court erred at the May 18 hearing by refusing to consider declarations she had submitted and by denying her motion to strike one witness's testimony. Plaintiff contends that these issues should have been raised in an appeal from the initial order and are not reviewable in an appeal from a modification of that order. On the eve of oral argument, defendant filed a motion to dismiss this appeal as moot and to reverse the judgment. We will affirm the challenged order after explaining why defendant's contentions are neither reviewable nor meritorious.


A. The Written Request for a Restraining Order and Opposition

On April 6, 2007, plaintiff obtained an ex parte court order temporarily restraining defendant from harassing plaintiff and her husband. Defendant lived across the street from them. Plaintiff's application for the order included a declaration that defendant had cursed and threatened her since they became neighbors in 2002, most recently on April 2, 2007. One of their earliest confrontations in 2003 involved defendant expressing displeasure about plaintiff and her husband cutting down a tree on their property, as the tree had been part of defendant's view for years. Defendant knocked on plaintiff's door later that day and offered an apology, but plaintiff was dismissive. There were other confrontations over time. On April 2, 2007, while plaintiff was unloading her groceries from her car, among other things defendant yelled that plaintiff was a "fucking bitch," "the Capitola whore," and a "fucking cunt," and said, "I will fuck you up, bitch."

Plaintiff's declaration also recited that another neighbor, Al Sehorn,*fn2 had obtained a temporary restraining order against defendant in August 2001. Defendant had been cutting his flowers and harassing his family. Plaintiff also said that she once saw defendant and her son struggling over a shotgun in the middle of the street.

A hearing was scheduled for April 20, 2007. Defendant filed written opposition on April 18, 2007. Her declaration admitted that she said something inappropriate in connection with the tree, but said it was plaintiff who cursed her when she offered an apology. She denied some other alleged confrontations had occurred. She admitted that, on the final occasion, she told plaintiff off after plaintiff again dismissed her.

Defendant's opposition included declarations from Al Sehorn and Kathleen Keil. Sehorn stated that defendant is a "great neighbor[]." Sehorn denied saying to plaintiff what her declaration reported. Keil stated she is a "good neighbor." She did remember defendant and her son having words over a gun that he inherited.

Defendant submitted a request by Sehorn for dismissal without prejudice on September 5, 2001, of an action seeking a harassment injunction against defendant.

B. The April 20, 2007 Hearing

On April 20, 2007, plaintiff appeared with counsel. At the outset of the hearing, the court identified the problem of not having enough time in the morning and plaintiff's attorney being unavailable in the afternoon. Plaintiff testified consistently with her declaration.

Jorge Michael, called by plaintiff, testified that he used to be a neighbor of plaintiff and defendant. Once defendant came to complain about them removing a tree on plaintiff's property that was damaging Michael's car. She said she enjoyed looking at the tree, and they had no right to remove it. He overheard defendant direct profanity at plaintiff.

Defendant said she had no cross-examination for Michael, but asked, "Am I allowed to call him back if I need to talk to them after we discover more?" The court answered affirmatively.

Cindy Clanton, called by plaintiff, testified that she had heard defendant using the kind of language described by plaintiff over a dozen times since 2003. Defendant yelled at and cursed her one day and told her she could not park her car on the street. Clanton told her she would call the police if she would not leave the property. Clanton heard defendant using profanity at plaintiff. On cross-examination, defendant elicited that defendant once called the police on Clanton claiming that Clanton had damaged rocks placed by defendant on a neighborhood easement. Defendant said that she was finished with her cross-examination, and plaintiff proceeded with redirect examination.

Before plaintiff's husband was able to testify, the court interrupted the proceedings, explaining there was no more time that day. There was consideration of another date. Defendant said that May 7 would not work, because "due to the testimony that I've heard, I'm going to call in some other witnesses." The hearing was set for May 18. When asked if she wanted Mr. Michael to come back, defendant said, "Well, I have to--I have to think about what was said and come up with some good questions[.] I'm not an attorney." Mr. Michael said he would be in Australia.

Mr. Michael was recalled to the stand. Defendant established that he had not had a problem ...

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