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Moreno v. Naranjo, 465 Mass. 1001, 987 N.E. 550 (2013)

Although the appeal was dismissed as moot, in Moreno v. Naranjo, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that it is the duty of a judge, under M.G.L. ch. 209A, to extend an abuse prevention order for a time reasonably necessary to protect the plaintiff, and not to rely on considerations irrelevant to the plaintiff’s need for protection, such as the defendant’s visitation.

The plaintiff and the defendant, Juan Naranjo, were involved in an intimate relationship and had a child together. In the past, plaintiff obtained abuse prevention orders against the defendant. After the expiration of a previous order and an incident of abuse, the defendant moved out of state but sent the plaintiff a text message indicating he would "see [her] soon." The plaintiff sought and obtained an ex parte 209A abuse prevention order in a district court. The order granted the plaintiff custody of the child. At a hearing on the merits, the court extended the order for six months rather than one year.

 At the time of review, the abuse prevention order had expired and the plaintiff had not applied for an extension. Although the matter was deemed moot, the Supreme Judicial Court addressed the issue nonetheless. From a transcript of the district court hearing, it was "abundantly clear" that the primary reason for the six month extension was the court’s concern about the defendant’s visitation with the parties’ child. At no time did the court express that the order would be extended for six months out of a concern for the plaintiff’s safety. Although a judge has discretion to extend a 209A within the statutory limit, that discretion must be guided by the time reasonably necessary to protect the plaintiff. Nothing in the statute authorizes a court to limit the duration of 209A out of a concern for the defendant’s visitation rights.  

The Supreme Judicial Court held that "[t]he defendant’s visitation rights are simply not an appropriate consideration in a c. 209A extension hearing." Although the Supreme Judicial Court dismissed the case as moot, it emphasized that it was an abuse of discretion for the district court to limit the restraining order to six months out of a concern as to how it would affect the defendant’s visitation.