Dating Relationship But No Family Violence

“Sandra Franklin and Shontinier Benton-Elam maintained a long-term conflict between the two of them because Franklin persisted in carrying on an affair with Benton-Elam’s husband, Byron Elam. The two women regularly employed techniques to get their points across that would not be taught in finishing schools of the highest caliber.” Thus begins the opinion in Franklin v. Benton-Elam, No. 06-13-00126-CV (Tex. App. – Texarkana Apr. 30, 2014) (mem. op.).

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Family Violence Protective Order

Franklin filed suit to obtain a family violence Protective Order against Benton-Elam. The trial court granted Franklin injunctive relief, including enjoining Benton-Elam from

(1) stalking or physically harming Franklin, (2) communicating with Franklin in a threatening or harassing manner, both directly or through another person, (3) going within twenty-five yards of Franklin’s residence, and (4) going to or near Franklin’s place of employment.

But the trial court denied Franklin’s request for a family violence Protective Order. Franklin appealed, arguing that she was entitled to a Protective Order because family violence had occurred.

The Family Violence Evidence

The court of appeals reviewed the conflicting evidence before the trial court, which included:

  • Yelling, name-calling and insults at the Sonic drive-in
  • A “rampage” at the beauty salon
  • Rolling on the ground fighting in the Dollar General parking lot
  • Vandalizing a car
  • Admonitions by the police
  • An arrest for disorderly conduct
  • Making “snarls and snares” in church
  • Showing graphic photos “demonstrating Byron’s infidelity”

In its findings, the trial court generally discounted Franklin’s versions of what happened but nevertheless granted her injunctive relief, denying her request for a Protective Order.

A Dating Relationship, But No Family Violence

The trial court found that Franklin did prove that she had a dating relationship, per Texas Family Code section 71.0021, because she was dating Benton-Elam’s husband. But the trial court found that no dating violence had occurred. Further, the trial court found that violence was not likely to occur in the future, given that Benton-Elam had not been to Franklin’s house since 2010 and that except for the “mutual confrontation” at the Dollar General store, even Franklin’s evidence was that she had not been physically harmed by Benton-Elam for three years.

Decision Not Arbitrary or Unreasonable

The court of appeals affirmed, observing:

As the trier of fact, the trial court is the sole judge of the weight and credibility of the evidence and is entitled to resolve any conflicts in the evidence and to choose which testimony to believe. The fact-finder may choose to believe one witness over another, and we, as the reviewing court, may not substitute our judgment for that of the fact-finder. Rather, we must simply ask whether, “based on the elicited evidence, the trial court made a reasonable decision, or whether it is arbitrary and unreasonable.”

(CitingĀ City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 819 (Tex. 2005); Golden Eagle Archery, Inc. v. Jackson, 116 S.W.3d 757 (Tex. 2003); Walker & Assocs. Surveying, Inc. v. Austin, 301 S.W.3d 909 (Tex. App. – Texarkana 2009, no pet.); and Thompson v. Thompson O’Rear, No. 06-03-00129-CV (Tex. App. – Texarkana Jun. 8, 2004, no pet.) (mem. op.)).

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