Look only at respondent behavior in PPO dispute

In a contempt proceeding, a court should only consider the behavior of the respondent of a personal protection order (PPO), the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled.

The decision clarifies the analysis in such situations, Judge Kirsten Frank Kelly wrote. The respondent in the case, Dawn Kabanuk, had argued that she was provoked into violating PPO against her.

In In re: Kabanuk, Kabanuk’s sister-in-law, Mary Nordstrom, had obtained the PPO against her and her husband, Kenneth. All three were at the Oakland Circuit Court for a show cause hearing in which Kabanuk’s brother (and Nordstrom’s husband) Ronald violated a visitation order. During the event, Kabanuk was accused of confronting Nordstrom in front of a hallway full of witnesses and court personnel and saying, “I have one thing to say to you. You’re a f***ing bitch and I hate you.”

Kabanuk denied the incident happened that way, claiming that Nordstrom provoked her, and alleged that Nordstrom was wrongly using the PPO “as a sword rather than a shield” under People v. Freeman.

The court determined the Freeman language was dicta, and clarified that it only referred to poorly written PPOs, and not PPOs in general, and that the PPO holder “is under no obligation to act in a certain way.”

Instead, a court must look only to the behavior of the individual against whom the PPO is held. Here, Dawn does not argue that the PPO was carelessly worded or incorrectly entered; rather, she argues that by placing herself in the courthouse when Dawn and Kenneth were bound to be there, Mary was inviting a confrontation.

We do not find Mary’s conduct to be relevant in evaluating whether Dawn was in violation of the PPO. When evaluating whether there has been a violation of a PPO, the proper focus is on the behavior of the individual against whom the PPO is held (Dawn), not the behavior of the one who holds the PPO (Mary).

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