in the Court of Appeals 13 February 2019.
by Defendant from Order entered 24 January 2018 by Judge
Brian DeSoto in Pitt County No. 17 CVD 1868 District Court.
Duke Law Firm NC, by W. Gregory Duke, for
brief filed by Plaintiff-Appellee
appeals from entry of a Domestic Violence Protective Order.
Defendant contends that the trial court erred by entering the
Domestic Violence Protective Order because (1) text messages
he sent to Plaintiff did not constitute harassment as the
messages served a legitimate purpose; (2) there was no
evidence that Plaintiff suffered from substantial emotional
distress; and (3) the trial court's conclusion of law
that Defendant committed acts of domestic violence was
erroneous and not supported by adequate findings of fact.
Defendant's arguments lack merit and we affirm.
Background and Procedural History
Christy King Bunting and Defendant Michael Joe Bunting were
divorced in 2008 after ten years of marriage. Two children
were born of the marriage.
is a long and detailed history of domestic violence by
Defendant against Plaintiff, with entry of multiple domestic
violence protective orders ("DVPO") against
Defendant, dating back to 2008. On 29 May 2008, the court
entered an ex parte DVPO against Defendant which
remained in effect until 9 June 2008. The court found that
Defendant threatened to kill Plaintiff if she tried to take
their children from him after Plaintiff told Defendant that
she wanted a divorce. This DVPO allowed communications
between Defendant and Plaintiff only if the communications
concerned the welfare of their children and were communicated
through a third party.
July 2008, the court entered a DVPO against Defendant which
remained in effect until 29 May 2009. The court found that
Defendant threatened to kill Plaintiff. This DVPO allowed
communications between Defendant and Plaintiff only if the
communications concerned the welfare of their children and
were communicated through a third party. On or about 16
December 2008, Defendant and Plaintiff entered into a Consent
Order which included provisions for custody of the children.
filed a Motion for Contempt Against Defendant for violating
the 8 July 2008 DVPO,  which was heard on or about 23 June 2009.
On or about 1 July 2009, Defendant was arrested and charged
with violating the 8 July 2008 DVPO. Defendant's
violations took place over the course of three days, from 5
May 2009 through 7 May 2009, during which time Defendant
threatened Plaintiff and told Plaintiff, "I will kill
you;" refused to return the oldest child to Plaintiff
after Plaintiff allowed Defendant extra visitation with the
child; called Plaintiff between 15-20 times and left voice
messages for Plaintiff, cursing her and telling her that the
children hated her; and kidnapped the youngest child, hid
from the police for three days, and told Plaintiff she would
not get the child back. On 2 July 2009, the court entered an
Order for Contempt, granting Plaintiff's 23 June 2009
motion for contempt and advising Defendant that he could
purge his contempt by, inter alia, "ceas[ing]
and desist[ing] any and all future behavior that would
constitute a violation of the Domestic Violence Protective
August 2009, Defendant was found guilty of violating the 8
July 2008 DVPO which was in place at the date and time of his
offenses on 5 May 2009 through 7 May 2009. The court again
ordered Defendant to comply with the DVPO and not to assault
or threaten Plaintiff. On 25 September 2009, the court issued
an order denying Defendant's motion to return weapons
surrendered under a domestic violence protective
October 2009, the court entered a second Order for Contempt
against Defendant. The court ordered Defendant to refrain
from making derogatory comments about Plaintiff in the
presence of the children and "to cease engaging in
behaviors that have a negative impact on the emotional health
of the children . . . ." The order further required
Defendant to "immediately engage the services of a
medical or psychological professional[, ] . . . [and] to
obtain counseling to aid him in dealing with [his] anger and
frustration issues and in controlling his impulsive
January 2010, the court entered an ex parte DVPO
against Defendant which remained in effect until 6 February
2010. The court found that Defendant "repeatedly sent
voicemails to the [P]laintiff containing threatening
language" and "threatened to shoot the
[P]laintiff." The court also found that Defendant was
"previously involuntarily committed . . . for
threatening suicide." The court ordered Defendant to
stay away from "any place the [P]laintiff is" and
to stay away from the children's school. This order
allowed communications between Defendant and Plaintiff only
if the communications concerned the welfare of their children
and were communicated through a third party.
May 2010, the court entered a DVPO against Defendant which
remained in effect until 26 January 2011. The court found
that Defendant threatened to seriously injure or kill
Plaintiff, and concluded that there was a danger of serious
and immediate injury to Plaintiff. The court ordered
Defendant to "comply fully with all prior custody orders
between the parties." The court included an attachment
Email or Text communication between the parties for the sole
purposes of facilitating the exchange of the minor children,
to share necessary information about the minor children, or
in case of an emergency involving the minor children DOES NOT
VIOLATE THE "NO CONTACT" PROVISION OF THE [DVPO].
Communication between the parties on any subject other than
that of the minor children SHALL BE PROHIBITED AND DOES
CONSTITUTE A VIOLATION OF THE "NO CONTACT"
court further ordered the parties to communicate exclusively
via email or text message, and banned the use of third
parties, with the exception of their respective attorneys, to
communicate with one another.
June 2010, Defendant was arrested and charged with violating
the 20 May 2010 DVPO. On 16 June 2010, after Defendant
committed another violation of the 20 May 2010 DVPO, a third
Order for Contempt was entered against Defendant. The court
found that Defendant "has continued to make derogatory
comments about the Plaintiff or the Plaintiff's parenting
skills in the presence of the minor children[, ] . . . [and]
has engaged in such harassment and behaviors that have caused
the Plaintiff to fear for her personal safety and that of the
children . . . ." On 15 September 2010, Defendant pled
guilty to two violations of the DVPO and received an 18-month
suspended sentence. Defendant was again ordered to comply
with all terms and conditions of the DVPO then in place.
February 2011, the court renewed the DVPO against Defendant
until 26 January 2012. The court added a provision which
allowed Defendant to attend the children's school
activities; however, the court reaffirmed the prohibition
against Defendant having contact with Plaintiff at a school
activity, and barred Defendant from speaking with or
approaching the children at a school activity.
August 2011, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Modify Custody to
Terminate or Require Defendant's Visitation to be
Supervised. This motion was based on "Defendant's
continued violation of this Court's orders and because of
the ongoing psychological and emotional damage to the minor
children caused by the Defendant's behavior."
Defendant, who was incarcerated at this time, requested two
continuances and the court granted both. The court continued
the hearing until 15 November 2011 and ordered Defendant to
have no written or verbal contact with the children or with
Plaintiff until the 15 November 2011 hearing. While
incarcerated for violating the 1 February 2011 DVPO,
Defendant continued to ...