By Attorney Nichole A. Collins, PFA Attorney, Harrisburg, PA
I have represented numerous defendants in Protection from Abuse filings before the court. Often times, the allegations are not always false and can be substantiated to a degree. The courts will often times, and rightly so, err on the side of caution and enter a final order that prohibits contact between the defendant and the plaintiff. However, I have run into situations where the plaintiff has filed a PFA simply to harass the defendant. The plaintiff has engaged in a 'bad faith' filing.
On this topic, the statute governing the entry and dismissals of PFA's is clear:
Remedies for bad faith.--Notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon finding that an individual commenced a proceeding under this chapter in bad faith, a court shall direct the individual to pay to the defendant actual damages and reasonable attorney fees. Failure to prove an allegation of abuse by a preponderance of the evidence shall not, by itself, result in a finding of bad faith.
It's important to note that the court will want to hear evidence of 'bad faith.' Not just that the allegations in the PFA petition were not proven, but that the plaintiff was aware that they were unsubstantiated or false. Are the allegations clearly, plainly and palpably false? There must have been an intent on the plaintiff's part to misuse the PFA process to the detriment of the defendant. If such can be shown with evidence, the court may award the defendant damages (eg: missed compensation for work) and attorney's fees.
If you have been presented with a PFA filing and order scheduling a hearing, do not wait until the last minute to contact counsel. Speak to an experienced attorney regarding the PFA process. You may call Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.