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Jensen v. Ruflin

Court of Appeals of Utah

September 8, 2017

Craig Alan Jensen, Appellee,
v.
Timothy Ruflin, Appellant.

         Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Paul G. Maughan No. 154906899

          James C. Lewis, Attorney for Appellant.

          Craig Alan Jensen, Appellee Pro Se.

          Judge Gregory K. Orme authored this Opinion, in which Judges J. Frederic Voros Jr. and Jill M. Pohlman concurred. [1]

          ORME, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Timothy Ruflin appeals the district court's decision overruling his objection to a protective order entered against him. We agree with the district court that the protective order was not barred by either the doctrine of res judicata or the Cohabitant Abuse Act's limitations on mutual protective orders. Further, we conclude that the court acted within its discretion when denying Ruflin's request to continue the hearing on his objection. Accordingly, we affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 On October 21, 2015, Ruflin spotted his brother-in-law, Craig Alan Jensen, and resolved to pick a fight. On that day Ruflin's mother's house was being reroofed, and Ruflin sat with her on her porch while they waited for the work to be completed. As they sat, they noticed that not far down the road a white truck was approaching "very slowly." Both immediately recognized that the truck belonged to Jensen. As Jensen often would, he acknowledged his mother- and brother-in-law by tapping his horn as he passed by. His mother-in-law waved back. Ruflin offered a less cordial gesture.

         ¶3 Jensen had not made it more than a "house or house and a half up the street" before he slammed on his brakes, sped backward, and came to a stop in front of the porch. He got out of his truck and an altercation ensued. It is unclear who threw the first punch. In its oral findings, the district court would later refer to the incident as a "mutual confrontation." Likewise, the reasons for the brothers-in-laws' mutual hostility are rather murky. What is clear, however, is that Jensen emerged from the fight with a stab wound.

         ¶4 Not long after the incident, Ruflin petitioned the district court for a protective order against Jensen. The court set the matter for hearing on November 30, 2015, before Commissioner Blomquist. After hearing from both parties, Commissioner Blomquist issued a protective order directing that Jensen was not to "commit or threaten to commit any form of violence against" Ruflin, that he was not to "contact . . . or communicate" with Ruflin "in any way, " and that he was to "[s]tay away from" the homes of both Ruflin and Ruflin's mother. Contrary to Ruflin's repeated representations in his opening brief, however, Commissioner Blomquist's order was far from the first protective order issued in this case.

         ¶5 In fact, by the time Ruflin obtained his protective order against Jensen, Jensen had already obtained three separate protective orders against Ruflin, albeit temporary ones.[2] Jensen filed an initial petition for a protective order against Ruflin the day after the incident, and the district court scheduled a hearing before Commissioner Casey on November 5, 2015. On the day Jensen's petition was filed, the court entered a temporary protective order against Ruflin that was scheduled to expire automatically on the petition's hearing date. Ruflin did not appear at that hearing. The court therefore scheduled a second hearing two weeks later and entered a second temporary protective order, which, like the first, was scheduled to expire on the date of the hearing. Once again, Ruflin did not appear. The court then scheduled a third hearing and issued a third temporary order, and Ruflin finally appeared before Commissioner Casey on December 3, 2015.

         ¶6 At this third hearing, after receiving "argument and evidence, " Commissioner Casey concluded that a permanent protective order should indeed issue against Ruflin. The terms of Commissioner Casey's protective order (the Order) largely mirrored those of Commissioner Blomquist's order against Jensen.

         ¶7 On December 17, 2015, Ruflin filed a "partial objection" (the Objection) to the Order in the district court pursuant to section 78B-7-107 of the Cohabitant Abuse Act.[3] See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-7-107(1)(f) (LexisNexis 2012). While the Objection was untimely under that section, which provides that objections must be filed "within 10 days of the entry of the [commissioner's] recommended order, " id., the district court did not dismiss it on that basis. Ruflin thereafter filed two separate amendments to the Objection-one on December 22, 2015, and another on January 6, 2016. Finally, on January 25, 2016, he requested that the matter be submitted for decision. The court scheduled an evidentiary hearing on the Objection for February 16, 2016 (the Objection Hearing).

         ¶8 With a little more than a week to go before the Objection Hearing, Ruflin secured new legal counsel, and new counsel entered an appearance on February 8, 2016. That attorney withdrew from the case the very next day, however, and another attorney, Ruflin's current counsel, immediately entered an appearance on his behalf. By then, the Objection Hearing was only six days away.

         ¶9 After entering his initial appearance, Ruflin's new attorney filed a motion to continue the Objection Hearing. In the motion, counsel argued that a continuance was proper because he was new to the case and had not been given adequate time to prepare, that there were "[e]yewitnesses to the attack . . . [who] must be located and subpoenaed, " and that in any event Jensen could not establish that he would be prejudiced by the continuance. Counsel added that he had only just returned from a "scheduled vacation in St. George." Finally, ...


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