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Sunderland v. Zimmerman

Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, Division I

January 7, 2019

SAGE NIKOLE SUNDERLAND, Petitioner/Appellee,

          Mandate Issued: 05/15/2019


          Jarrod Heath Stevenson, STEVENSON LAW FIRM, P.L.L.C., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Petitioner/Appellee,

          Tyler L. Gentry, GUNGOLL, JACKSON, BOX, & DEVOLL, P.C., Enid, Oklahoma, for Defendant/Appellant.

          Kenneth L. Buettner, Judge.

         ¶1 Defendant/Appellant Michael David Zimmerman (Mr. Zimmerman) appeals the entry of a protective order against him. Petitioner/Appellee Sage Nikole Sunderland (Ms. Sunderland), the ex-girlfriend of Mr. Zimmerman, sought the protective order after their tumultuous relationship came to an end. After denying Mr. Zimmerman the opportunity to conduct discovery prior to the final hearing, the trial court granted the final protective order against him. We hold that the trial court abused its discretion by disallowing Mr. Zimmerman the opportunity to conduct discovery in accordance with the Oklahoma Discovery Code. We therefore reverse and remand with instructions to allow discovery.

         ¶2 Mr. Zimmerman, a resident of Alva, and Ms. Sunderland, a resident of Stillwater, met in Alva during the summer of 2017 and began a romantic relationship. When Ms. Sunderland's college classes resumed in the fall of 2017, the relationship became long-distance and the two traveled between Stillwater and Alva in order to see one another. According to the record, Mr. Zimmerman and Ms. Sunderland's relationship was fraught with jealousy and discord for nearly the entire duration.

         ¶3 While dating, Mr. Zimmerman and Ms. Sunderland agreed to "share" their GPS location with one another on a continuous basis. The couple also maintained an "open phone policy," where both parties would regularly inspect the social media interactions of the other by looking through the contents of each other's cellular phones. These "inspections" would result in disagreements between Mr. Zimmerman and Ms. Sunderland, during which jealous behavior and a lack of emotional restraint were often exhibited. Name-calling, use of foul language, and threats of breaking off the relationship were characteristic of these arguments.

         ¶4 Despite the recurrent tension between the couple, the relationship continued into late fall of that year. The disagreements eventually culminated in a final series of heated interactions on November 6, 2017. The evidence presented at trial indicates that on November 6, Ms. Sunderland became angry when Mr. Zimmerman abruptly ceased communications with her. Late that night, Ms. Sunderland drove from her place of residence in Stillwater to Mr. Zimmerman's home in Alva. En route, Ms. Sunderland continued to attempt to contact Mr. Zimmerman, indicating a state of extreme emotional distress. Upon her arrival in Alva, Ms. Sunderland learned that Mr. Zimmerman was not at his home, but was actually at the home of his ex-wife, along with his minor children. Further angered by this fact, Ms. Sunderland entered Mr. Zimmerman's house without his permission and proceeded to ransack his home.

         ¶5 Following this incident, around 1:00 A.M. on November 7, Ms. Sunderland contacted her parents and disclosed to them the volatile nature of her relationship with Mr. Zimmerman. Her parents consequently advised her to file a protective order against Mr. Zimmerman. Ms. Sunderland agreed and filed a Petition for Protective Order that morning. After an ex parte hearing, an Emergency Order of Protection was issued that same day, November 7, 2017. A full hearing on the Petition was set for November 15, 2017.

         ¶6 Both parties appeared with counsel at the November 15 hearing. Mr. Zimmerman requested a continuance, which the trial court granted and set the final hearing for December 8, 2017. Mr. Zimmerman submitted discovery requests to Ms. Sunderland on November 21, 2017, but she refused to respond to the requests. On November 28, 2017, Mr. Zimmerman filed a Motion to Shorten Time to Respond to Discovery, or, in the Alternative, Motion for Continuance. A telephonic hearing on the Motion was conducted December 5, 2017, in which the trial court denied the Motion. Mr. Zimmerman's Motion to Reconsider Ruling of December 5, 2017, was similarly denied, and Mr. Zimmerman did not receive discovery prior to the December 8, 2017 hearing.

         ¶7 At the December 8 hearing, Ms. Sunderland presented her own testimony, as well as text messages, pictures, and audio recordings of conversations with Mr. Zimmerman. Counsel for Mr. Zimmerman objected to the admission of the visual and audio evidence, stating Ms. Sunderland had failed to provide the evidence in response to discovery requests. Mr. Zimmerman also presented his own testimony, pictures, text messages, and an attempted partial transcription of an audio recording presented by Ms. Sunderland. Following the hearing, the trial court entered a five-year final Order of Protection against Mr. Zimmerman, which included the requirement that Mr. Zimmerman attend a 52-week batterer prevention program. Ms. Sunderland was also awarded attorney fees in the amount of $6, 780.

         ¶8 Mr. Zimmerman now appeals from the trial court's issuance of the final Order of Protection and award of attorney fees. On appeal, Mr. Zimmerman argues (1) that the trial court abused its discretion by denying him the opportunity to conduct discovery, and (2) that the trial court's issuance of the five-year final protective order was not supported by the evidence.

         ¶9 Protective orders granted to victims of domestic abuse, stalking, or harassment are governed by the Protection from Domestic Abuse Act (the Act). 22 O.S.Supp. 2013 § 60.2. Proceedings under the Act are reviewed for abuse of discretion. Curry v. Streater, 2009 OK 5, ¶ 8, 213 P.3d 550. Under an abuse of discretion standard, an appellate court should examine the record on appeal and reverse only if the trial ...

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