Iowa Court of Appeals Finds Plaintiff Failed to Establish ‘Assault’ Where Only Evidence is Plaintiff’s Being ‘Uncomfortable,’ ‘Nervous,’ Upset,’ and ‘Paranoid.’

Posted on: June 10th, 2016

Nicholas Diffenderfer and April Ewold are divorced and have two minor children. The couple’s marriage dissolved after a history of arguments and physical fights. After their divorce, Ewoldt remarried. In May of 2015, Ewoldt and Diffendefer got into an argument regarding Diffendefer’s visitation rights. Diffendefer believed it was his day to assume physical care of the children. After his son’s baseball session, Diffendefer attempted to take his son’s hand. Ewoldt told Diffendefer they needed to go home so their son could change clothes. Ewoldt picked up their son and prevented Diffendefer from taking him. Diffenderfer attempted to grab his son from Ewoldt’s arms,  but she blocked him with her upper arm and elbow. Ewoldt put their son in her car and drove away. Diffenderfer then called the police and told them his wife was kidnapping his child. Ewoldt testified the incident made her “nervous,” “very upset,” and “very uncomfortable.”

On June 8, 2015, Ewoldt and Diffenderfer got into another argument at their son’s baseball game. Ewoldt arrived to the baseball game with her husband and children. Diffenderfer was also at the baseball game. Ewoldt approached Diffenderfer and asked him to leave. Diffenderfer refused to leave and Ewoldt called the police.

After the incident, Ewoldt filed an application for a protective order and a temporary order was entered. A hearing on the petition took pace, in which Ewoldt and Diffenderfer testified to the two incidents. The district court found Diffenderfer committed a domestic abuse assault against Ewoldt and issued a protective order.

On appeal, the Iowa Court of Appeals found Ewoldt failed to establish assault. Under Iowa law, an assault is, “Any act which is intended to cause pain or injury to, or which is intended to result in physical contact which will be insulting or offensive to another, coupled with the apparent ability to execute the act,” or, “Any act which is intended to place another in fear of immediate physical contact which will be painful, injurious, insulting, or offensive, coupled with the apparent ability to execute the act.” Iowa Code § 708.1(2)(a),(b). In reviewing the record, the Court held, “being uncomfortable, nervous, upset, or paranoid does not satisfy the elements of the statute.” The Court found the district court improperly issued the protective order, and reversed and remanded for dismissal.

 Ewoldt v. Diffenderfer, No. 15-1208 (Iowa May 25, 2016).

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