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In re Marriage of Grissom

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

May 16, 2017

In re the Marriage of VALERIE and LOUIS GRISSOM. VALERIE GRISSOM, Appellant,
LOUIS GRISSOM, Respondent.

         APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of San Diego County No. D558422, Paula S. Rosenstein, Judge. Affirmed.

          Dennis Temko and Stephen Temko for Appellant.

          Judith Klein for Respondent.

          DATO, J.

         As part of marital dissolution proceedings, appellant Valerie Grissom sought a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) against her husband, respondent Louis Grissom, alleging he physically injured her during confrontations between them. On appeal, Valerie contends the court erred in concluding that, because her injuries were suffered during and as a result of physical confrontations she instigated, they did not constitute " 'abuse' " within the meaning of Family Code[1] section 6203, part of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (§ 6200 et seq.).

         Although section 6203 defines abuse to include an intentionally or recklessly caused bodily injury to the complainant, a finding of abuse is not mandated merely because the complainant shows he or she suffered an injury caused by the other party. Instead, fundamental and well-established principles allow a victim of physical aggression to employ reasonable force to defend his or her person or property against the aggressor, even when such reasonable force causes some bodily injury to the aggressor. The trial court properly recognized that a person who responds reasonably to an aggressor in this way does not commit abuse within the meaning of section 6203. Accordingly, we affirm the order.


         Valerie filed her petition for dissolution, requesting legal and physical custody of their son and seeking child support. At the same time, she filed an application for a DVRO, asking for a "Stay-Away" order protecting herself, her son, and her own mother from Louis. Valerie's application asserted, among other things, that Louis had inflicted physical injuries on her.[3] Louis filed written opposition to the DVRO and also requested joint legal and physical custody. He denied he was a violent person, instead asserting that Valerie was mercurial and abusive toward him. He supported his assertions by recounting many instances in which Valerie initiated aggression against him and his property.

         At the evidentiary hearing on Valerie's application for a DVRO, the evidence showed Valerie and Louis argued about many matters. Valerie testified that during some of the confrontations, she suffered physical injuries as the result of Louis physically assaulting her. She introduced photographs showing bruising to her arms, a bruise of her thumb caused when he bit her, a scraped knee, and a bruised arm and chin. She claimed Louis was the person who initiated the physical aggression on each of the incidents resulting in her injuries.

         Louis testified he never hit Valerie and did not have an anger problem, but that Valerie had struck him on several occasions. He explained that the first series of photographs introduced by Valerie, showing bruising to her arms and thumb as well as the scraped knee, appeared to reflect injuries she sustained during an August 2015 confrontation. The incident began when Valerie took Louis's work laptop and hid it from him. He described this as a "very typical tactic" she used to gain control when she was upset with him. She would take his cell phone or laptop and not reveal where she hid them until he yielded to her demands.

         On this particular occasion, however, Louis was able to find its hiding place (in their bedroom) without her assistance. Valerie got angry when he located the laptop and blocked the bedroom doorway. When Louis tried to leave the room, she physically grappled with him trying to take the laptop from his hands. He held the laptop behind his back to keep her from getting it, and she wrapped her arms around him trying to gain control of his arms and wrest the laptop away from him. After 15 to 20 seconds of struggling proved unsuccessful, Valerie became even angrier. She spat in his face, then covered Louis's mouth and nose with her hand. Louis felt he could not release the laptop because he feared she might damage it if she gained control over it.[4] When his efforts to twist his head around to free his mouth and nose from her grip were unsuccessful, he "nipped" her thumb to free his breathing passage. He did not bite hard, but claimed he used the least amount of pressure necessary to free his airways.

         As she continued struggling for the laptop, they fell onto the bed. Valerie hit her knee on the bed frame and she blamed him for the scraped knee, saying "Look at what you did." The fall and knee injury ended Valerie's struggle to get the laptop.

         The last series of confrontations before Louis moved out of their home occurred in November 2015. An argument that had begun earlier the preceding day spilled over into the early morning hours of November 24. Around 1:00 a.m., Louis was in the garage at his desk on the computer when Valerie entered and renewed the earlier argument. She snatched his cell phone from the desk, went around to the other side of the car, and began thumbing through the contents. Louis remained sitting at his desk and did not respond.

         Valerie returned to the desk. When she got near enough, Louis was able to quickly reach out and cleanly snatch the cell phone from her hand. Valerie aggressively tried to regain control of the phone while Louis held it away from her grasp. He told her to stop, to get off him, that she was hurting him and she needed to stop, ...

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