The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that freshmen students placed in a dorm room by their school aren't members of a "household" and so are ineligible to apply for abuse-prevention orders against their roommates.
The ruling comes in the case of two freshmen roommates at a college in Newton, one of whom went to Newton District Court and got an abuse-prevention order after, he alleged, his roommate hit him on the side of the head, left, then returned and beat him. It doesn't mean students have no recourse against violent roommates, just that they can't seek protection under Chapter 209a, which lets judges issue restraining orders against violent family or household members.
In its ruling today, the appeals court said that, at least in this case, the college roommates were not "family or household members" as defined by the domestic-abuse law.
The court first acknowledged that "the wide variety of relationships and living arrangements existing today calls for a more flexible approach in determining whether two parties qualify as persons 'residing together in the same household', but then continued, that, at least in this case, there was not enough evidence the two effectively formed a household, that they were more akin to strangers who just happened to be in the same space, thrown together by their university - which, like the students themselves, was not named in the ruling:
Although the parties may have been attending the university voluntarily, they were not living together voluntarily; they were assigned to the same dormitory room by the university. In addition, they had been roommates for only a short time (about two months), and there is no evidence in the record about the physical layout of the room, such as whether it was a single room or more like a suite. Even presuming that much of it was common living space, there is no evidence that the parties prepared and ate meals together, engaged in other communal living activities, or had a "socially interdependent relationship." In fact, the plaintiff presented no evidence of any relationship he had with the defendant beyond sharing a dormitory room. As the plaintiff thus failed to establish that he had a "'family-like' connection" with the defendant, he was not eligible to seek protection under G. L. c. 209A.