DVPOs and Personal Jurisdiction
Many victims of domestic abuse who flee their abuser have to leave the state where the abuse occurred for a number of reasons. If you find yourself in this difficult situation and have moved to North Carolina, what does that mean for your ability to get a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO)? As it happens, it can make all the difference.
In North Carolina, courts can only hear claims for DVPOs if the plaintiff demonstrates that the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Personal jurisdiction is the right of that particular court to make decisions and enter orders about that person. If a court is to have personal jurisdiction, the court must comply with two different tests: the North Carolina long-arm statute and the Constitutional right to due process.
In a DVPO case, the North Carolina long-arm statute gives North Carolina courts personal jurisdiction over residents of North Carolina. It also grants jurisdiction over people who don’t live in the state but are “engaged in substantial activity within this State,” or if the case arises out of “substantial activity within this State by the defendant.”
For the court to have personal jurisdiction over a defendant who doesn’t live in the state, according to the Due Process clause of the US Constitution, that person must have at least minimum contacts with that state. But “minimum contacts” is pretty ambiguous – what counts? North Carolina courts look at five things: how many contacts there are, what kind of contacts and how strong they are, the connection of the contacts to the issue in the case, the interest of the state in having a say in the case, and the convenience of the parties.
For example, in 2020, the North Carolina Supreme Court heard Mucha v. Wagner (852 S.E.2d 214 (2020)). Mucha and Wagner dated while Mucha was in school in South Carolina. Mucha broke up with Wagner and asked him not to contact her again, then she moved back to North Carolina at the end of her semester.
The day Mucha moved, Wagner called her 28 times, leaving messages and causing Mucha to have a panic attack. Mucha filed for a DVPO. Wagner argued that the court didn’t have personal jurisdiction over him because he had no minimum contacts with North Carolina and he didn’t intentionally direct any behavior toward the state, since he didn’t know Mucha had moved to North Carolina. The Court of Appeals ruled that he had directed sufficient behavior toward NC by making the calls because he had reason to know that Mucha was in NC at the time.
The Supreme Court didn’t agree. Instead, the Court held that, since Mucha had moved only hours before, the calls had been directed at Mucha on her cell phone, not necessarily directed at the state, and Mucha could have been somewhere other than where she usually lived when he called, then there wasn’t enough to establish personal jurisdiction.
If you are in North Carolina and want to file for a DVPO against someone in another state, you must show that the court has personal jurisdiction. These determinations are very fact specific, so be prepared to show that the person has connections with North Carolina, such as family in the state, property in the state, calls directed at you while you were established in North Carolina when the person knows you’re there, frequent visits to the state, doing business in the state, and any other contacts that rely on the laws and protections of North Carolina. An experienced family law attorney can help you determine if your facts may be enough to get your DVPO.
 Mannise v. Harrell, 791 S.E.2d 653, 660 (2016).
 N.C.G.S. § 1-75.4.
 Int’l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945).
 Cooper v. Shealy, 100 N.C. App. 729, 734, 537 S.E.2d 854, 858 (2000)