Eric S. v. Tiffany S.
The violation of a domestic restraining order issued pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §46b-15 is a civil contempt and the sanctions that may be imposed are limited to civil contempt remedies. Eric S. commenced a marriage dissolution action against Tiffany S. She separately filed an application for relief from abuse against the plaintiff pursuant to C.G.S. §46b-15. The court granted the defendant's application for a domestic restraining order and extended it several times. The plaintiff was arrested and incarcerated briefly for attempting to purchase a gun and separately for showing up at the parties' minor child's school. Alleging these violations of the restraining order, the defendant filed a motion for contempt and sought, inter alia, the plaintiff's incarceration. The court found the plaintiff in contempt and ordered him to pay the defendant $7500 in attorneys' fees. Both parties appealed. The plaintiff's appeal was dismissed. The defendant argued on cross-appeal that the court improperly characterized the violation of the restraining order as a civil contempt and limited the sanctions to civil contempt remedies. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. No case law in Connecticut holds that a C.G.S. §46b-15 contempt hearing is a quasi-criminal proceeding. The family court's finding of a civil contempt was not transformed into a criminal contempt simply because the plaintiff's behavior subjected him to both a criminal prosecution and a civil proceeding in the family court for violation of a §46b-15 domestic restraining order. Because the trial court properly determined that the plaintiff's violation of the restraining order was a civil contempt, the sanctions that may be imposed are limited to civil contempt remedies. While incarceration may be imposed in a civil contempt proceeding under certain circumstances, as the trial court recognized, the contemnor still must have the opportunity to purge himself because it is a civil contempt. Here, incarceration would not have been coercive, but a purely punitive sanction for a previous domestic restraining order violation, with no opportunity for the plaintiff to purge himself of the civil contempt. The defendant unsuccessfully claimed that such incarceration as punishment was a permitted sanction given the language and legislative history of C.G.S. §46b-15(g). It provides that "the court may impose such sanctions as the court deems appropriate" if it finds a party in contempt of a §46b-15 restraining order.