Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Rana v Multani, Slip Copy, 2015 WL 2330163 (S.D.N.Y.) [Canada] [Federal & State Judicial Remedies]


In Rana v Multani, Slip Copy, 2015 WL 2330163 (S.D.N.Y.) the district court dismissed the Hague Petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Petitioner alleged he and respondent were married on July 16, 2010, in New York City. Petitioner is a United States citizen, and respondent became a legal resident of the United States after the parties were married.   According to petitioner, in the fall of 2012, he and respondent were preparing for the birth of their first child. However, shortly before respondent was expected to give birth, she left the United States and journeyed to her parents' home in Ontario, Canada. On October 16, 2012, the parties' son, R.R., was born in Ontario. R.R. has lived in Canada with respondent since his birth.  Petitioner alleged respondent wrongfully removed R.R. from the United States, thereby breaching his custodial rights in violation of the Hague Convention, and asked the Court to enter an order permitting him rights of access, or rights of visitation, to R.R.

The Court observed that  ICARA § 9003(b) states: Any person seeking to initiate judicial proceedings under the Convention for the  return of a child or for arrangements for organizing or securing the effective  exercise of rights of access to a child may do so by commencing a civil action  by filing a petition for the relief sought in any court which has jurisdiction  of such action and which is authorized to exercise its jurisdiction in the place  where the child is located at the time the petition is filed.   Thus, when a child under the age of 16 has been wrongfully removed or retained, the country to which the child has been brought must 'order the return of the child forthwith. Abbott v. Abbott, 560 U.S. 1, 9 (2010).   Petitioner sought an order  granting him visitation rights. However, petitioner alleged R.R. was abducted to Canada, where he was born and had since resided with respondent. As such, the Hague Convention and ICARA direct petitioner to commence his action in Canada. Hofmann v. Sender, 716 F.3d 282, 290 (2d Cir.2013) ("ICARA provides that any person seeking to initiate judicial proceedings under the Convention for ... securing the effective exercise of rights of access to a child may do so by commencing a civil action in a state or federal court in the place where the child is located at the time the petition is filed."

The district court observed that in Rein v. Rein, 1996 WL 273993 (S.D.N.Y. May 23, 1996), the court faced the same issue and found it lacked jurisdiction to hear the petitioner's claim. There, the petitioner alleged his daughter was a habitual resident of France wrongfully removed to England, and sought an order restoring his parental rights. The court found the petitioner had not alleged his daughter "was abducted to the United States," and therefore, she was not located in a place where it could "exercise jurisdiction over her." Because the petitioner's daughter was located in England, the court reasoned, any petition pursuant to the Hague Convention had to be brought there.  The same reasoning applied here. Petitioner did not allege R.R. was abducted to the United States. R.R. was allegedly being held in Canada. Accordingly, any petition pursuant to the Hague Convention had to be brought there. This Court held that it could not issue an order granting petitioner visitation rights because, R.R. was not in the United States. The Court expressed no opinion regarding an individual's right to bring  a Hague Convention petition when the child allegedly abducted was not yet born. Respondents request for an award of attorney's fees and costs pursuant  to ICARA § 9007 was denied as that statute only authorizes an award of attorney's fees and costs for a prevailing petitioner.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Taveras ex rel. L.A.H. v. Morales, --- Fed.Appx. ----, 2015 WL 2263023 (C.A.2 (N.Y.)) (summary order) [Spain] [Now Settled]

  In Taveras ex rel. L.A.H. v. Morales, --- Fed.Appx. ----, 2015 WL 2263023 (C.A.2 (N.Y.)) (summary order)  Petitioner-appellant Inocencia Herrera Taveras appealed from an  order of the district court denying her petition for return of her child, L.A.H., to Spain. Taveras argued that the district court erred in determining that she had filed her petition more than a year after L.A.H. was first wrongfully retained in the United States by her father, respondent-appellee Jose Alonzo Morales. The district court ruled that Taveras's petition was filed more than a year after the wrongful retention of L.A.H. began, that L.A.H. was "now settled" in the United States, and that it was in the best interests of L.A.H. that she be allowed to remain here, and therefore declined to order that L.A.H. be returned to Spain. Taveras did not challenge on appeal the district court's finding that L.A.H. was settled in the United States, or its exercise of its discretion not to return her to Spain. She argued only that the district court erred in determining when L.A.H. was first wrongfully retained, that she filed her petition within a year of the correct date, and that the "now settled" defense was therefore not
available to Morales.

The Court of Appeals pointed out that the significance of that determination was that under the Hague Convention, if Taveras petitioned for the return of L.A.H. within a year after the wrongful retention of L.A.H. began, the district court was mandated to return the child to Spain in the absence of certain narrow affirmative defenses. If the petition was not filed within that period, and if L.A.H. was "now settled" in the United States, the district court had discretion whether to order her return. See Hague Convention art. 12. 

    The Court indicated  that it reviews the district court's interpretation of the Hague Convention de novo, and its factual determinations under a deferential "clearly erroneous" standard, accepting the district court's findings of fact "unless we have a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Souratgar v. Lee, 720 F.3d 96, 103 (2d Cir.2013).

    Taveras argued that the district court applied the wrong legal standard in
determining when the wrongful retention began, because it should have required a
"clear and unequivocal" communication by Taveras to Morales that she did not
consent to L.A.H.'s continued stay in the United States as a prerequisite to
finding that Morales's retention of L.A.H. had become wrongful. The Court of Appeals held that it need not decide whether the formulation urged by Taveras was the
correct standard for determining when wrongful retention begins. Assuming arguendo that such a standard applied, the district court determined that it was met here, finding that Taveras had "made her demand [for the return of L.A.H.] sufficiently
clear to [Morales]" by the end of summer 2012, and that Morales's retention of
L.A.H. beyond that period was therefore wrongful. Acknowledging that where "one parent fails to inform the other parent that she does not consent to the child's stay beyond a particular date, it would be difficult to say that retention beyond that date is wrongful," the district court distinguished the situation at bar as "not such a case."

  The Court of Appeals affirmed. It held that the district courts  finding was far from clearly erroneous. The district court based it on: (1) Taveras's testimony that she spoke to Morales "[m]any a time during the months of August and September [2012]," and (2) her "unequivocal[]" testimony,  that she did not consent to L.A.H.'s stay beyond the end of summer 2012. The court also referenced Morales's testimony that, during that same period, Taveras "continued insisting" that he send L.A.H. back to her. It saw no reason to disturb the court's finding in the face of that evidence.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Gee v. Hendroffe, 2015 WL 2151885 (S.D.Tex.)[South Africa] [Costs and Expenses]

In  Gee v. Hendroffe, 2015 WL 2151885 (S.D.Tex.) Petitioner moved for Attorney's Fees and Costs after the Court ordered the return of Petitioner's children to South Africa, and ordered that Respondent pay "all costs and fees incurred by Petitioner to recover the children  as required under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 11607.   In his motion, Petitioner requested $14,111.00 for "airline tickets, hotel, car rental and 
food costs and expenses."  In support, Petitioner submitted  airplane, car rental, and hotel (or "airbnb") receipts totaling $12,743,84.  The Court pointed out that insofar as the $1,367.16 discrepancy between requested and documented non-legal fees included food costs, Petitioner had not submitted any receipts for food costs. The court cited In re Application of Hirts, CIV.A.03-CV-03156,  2004 WL 1588227, at *1 (E.D.Pa. July 13, 2004), aff'd sub nom. Hirts v. Hirts, 152 Fed. Appx. 137 (3d Cir.2005) (granting airfare, hotel costs, and car rentals but holding "Petitioner's costs  incurred in caring for himself and his children are in no way 'related to the return of the child[ren],' as required by 42 U.S.C. § 11607(b). Petitioner would have incurred the costs of feeding, clothing and otherwise supporting his children and himself whether his children were in the United States or Germany.") Respondent was directed to pay $12,743.84 for airline tickets, hotel, and car rental  expenses with interest at .11 percent per year compounded annually from the date of the order.

Petitioner requested $39,727.80 for "legal fees, costs and expenses."   Petitioner submitted legal bills totaling $39,727.44.   Petitioner alleged "total legal fees, costs and expenses" were $57,829.80, but only requested $53,838 . Petitioner only submitted receipts for $52,471.28. The Court observed that the Fifth Circuit had examined the legal fees charged by Petitioner's counsel, Laura  Dale, in a similar case.  Salazar v. Maimon, 750 F.3d 514, 523 (5 th Cir.2014). The Fifth  Circuit affirmed the district court's finding Dale's rates to be reasonable but her time spent on the case to be excessive. The court found that here Ms. Dale  billed $450 per hour for 1.5 hours; an associate, $250 for 41.25 hours; and a paralegal, $150 for 15.25 hours; minus a 25% courtesy discount on all fees. The associate and counsel of record, Ashley Tomlinson, one of  the associates in Salazar, filed a declaration stating: "I am very familiar with the hourly  rate that attorneys at my level of practice charge in matters of this nature. At least one third of my practice involves multi-jurisdictional conflicts, particularly actions brought under The Hague Convention... in which I specialize. This case included a show cause hearing and an evidentiary hearing, the latter lasting 5.5 hours. Billing statements provided by Petitioner include similar detail as the ones submitted in  Salazar, including entries for communication with client or co-counsel that do not indicate the subject of the communication. Costs include "Color Copies,  500.00."  

Petitioner also submitted a legal bill from counsel in Las Vegas totaling  $27,892.21, related to a prior Hague Convention action in the U.S. District Court in Nevada.  The bill included 88.8 hours at hourly rates of $150, $250, and  $325, without explanation of who was doing the work. The bill also included a lump sum paid to another attorney without any explanation: "Cal Potter, Esq., 2000.00."   The Nevada action included three court appearances totaling two hours and thirty-eight minutes and eight motions totaling 73 pages excluding exhibits. Respondent Hendroffe and the children failed to appear at the Nevada hearings in violation of multiple orders.  The first Order gave Respondent over a month to prepare her travel plans,  yet she waited until one week before the hearing to request a telephonic  appearance. Respondent  traveled to at least three different  continents during the time relevant to this litigation. Respondent fled with the children to Malaysia. The case was then dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction. Gee v. Hendroffe, No. 2:13-cv-01582-JCM-NJK.   During the final hearing in Nevada, Petitioner informed the court he would seek  attorney's fees and costs, but these were not available under Section 11607 in the absence of an order to return the children. 42 U.S.C.§ 11607(b) ("[A]ny Court ordering the return of the children... shall order the Respondent to pay  necessary expenses...."). The district court held that although Petitioner's attorney fees in Nevada arose in a  different proceeding, they were "necessary expenses incurred by or on behalf of the Petitioner including court costs [and] legal fees" in obtaining an order to return the  children.

  Hendroffe did not file a response to the motion and did not establish 
that an attorney fee award would be "clearly inappropriate." 42 U.S.C.A. § 11607. The court observed that courts exercise wide discretion in reducing fee awards under Section 11607 based on  equitable considerations such as the respondent's ability to pay. Citing  Salazar v. Maimon, 750 F.3d 514, 523 (5 th Cir.2014) (affirming reduction of "almost fifty percent");  Whallon v. Lynn, 356 F.3d 138, 139 (1st Cir.2004) (65%);  Rydder v. Rydder' 49 F.3d 369, 373-374 (8 th Cir.1995) (46%, resulting in fees of $10,000). Given Hendroffe's failure to  provide documentation of financial status or to respond at all and her flouting of court  orders, the Court found that an equitable reduction was not warranted and that legal  expenses and costs requested were reasonable and necessary, with the exception of the  $1,367.16 undocumented non-legal expenses and an unexplained $2,000 payment by Kelleher & Kelleher to Cal Potter, Esq.

Respondent was directed to pay $11,835.23 to Laura Dale & Associates, P.C. ; and $25,892.21 to petitioner for attorney's fees, expenses and costs paid to his Nevada counsel Kelleher & Kelleher all with interest at .11 percent per year compounded annually from the date of the order.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Mendoza v. Pascual, 2015 WL 1880309 (S.D.Ga.)

[Mexico] [Federal & State Judicial Remedies][Temporary Restraining Order]

In Mendoza v. Pascual, 2015 WL 1880309 (S.D.Ga.) Petitioner filed a Petition Under the Hague Convention Seeking Return of the parties Child to Petitioner in Mexico along with a Motion for an Ex Parte  Temporary Restraining Order

According to the petition Petitioner was L.D.M.'s mother, and Respondent his father. They were both citizens of Mexico having been married in Oaxaca, Mexico. Petitioner and Respondent had two other children, both of  whom resided with Petitioner in Mexico. Petitioner and Respondent moved to the United States from Mexico in 2004, along with their oldest child.  Petitioner gave birth to L.D.M. in Statesboro, Georgia, on October 15, 2006.  In May 2010, Petitioner and Respondent agreed that Petitioner would return to  Mexico with L.D.M.  On May 26, 2010 Respondent signed a notarized statement  acknowledging Petitioner's return to Mexico with L.D.M.  In June 2010, Petitioner, L.D.M., and her other two children went to Mexico. Respondent stayed in the United States, having promised to send money to his family  and to return to Mexico within one year. Respondent never returned to Mexico, and stopped contacting Petitioner or  sending any financial support soon after Petitioner and her children arrived in Mexico. From June 9, 2010 until March 15, 2014, L.D.M. resided continuously with Petitioner at their residence in Mexico. During this time, Petitioner provided financial and other support for L .D.M. In February 2014, Respondent contacted Petitioner and asked that L.D.M. visit him in the United States. Petitioner agreed to let L.D.M. visit his father. At that time, L.D.M. was continuously enrolled in a primary school in Mexico. On March 15, 2014, L.D.M. flew from Mexico to the United States. In April 2014, Respondent asked Petitioner if L.D.M. could stay with him in the United States until the end of the school year. In June, 2014, Petitioner asked Respondent to return L.D.M. to Mexico so that  L.D.M. could begin his next school term. Respondent refused to return L.D.M.  to Mexico. Despite repeated requests to have L.D.M. returned to Mexico, Respondent has not returned L.D.M. to Mexico. Petitioner believed that L.D.M. was currently residing under the care of Respondent, his girlfriend, or his sister in Statesboro, Georgia, and that Respondent was not a citizen of the United States and was not  lawfully present in the United States. Petitioner filed the petition on April 16, 2015.

    The district court observed that Injunctive relief of the nature sought by Petitioner "is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right. In each case, courts must balance the competing claims of  injury and must consider the effect on each party of the granting or withholding of the requested relief." Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 22, 129 S.Ct. 365, 172 L.Ed.2d 249 (2008). A plaintiff seeking such injunctive relief must make four showings: "that he is likely  to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of  preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is  in the public interest." 

The court found that Petitioner had shown a likelihood of success. Petitioner had shown that she had custody rights over L.D.M., and was exercising those rights at the time of his retention in Statesboro, because L.D.M. had resided continuously with her and his siblings in Mexico from June 9, 2010 until March 15, 2014 (Petition 2 19) and Petitioner has provided L.D.M.'s financial support  for most or all of his life. Petitioner had also shown through her complaint that Respondent retained L.D.M. in Statesboro in violation of Petitioner's custody rights by first agreeing to keep L.D.M. only until the end of the 2014 school year , but then refusing to return  L.D.M. to Mexico after the school year had ended. Because Petitioner had shown that she held and was exercising rights of custody over L.D.M. at the time he was wrongfully retained by Respondent in Statesboro, Georgia, Petitioner had shown that she had a likely success on the merits of her  Petition under the Hague Convention.

The court stated that before the Court may issue an injunction, the Plaintiff must show that irreparable harm is not merely possible, but likely.  Winter, 555 U.S. at 22.
"An injury is 'irreparable' only if it cannot be undone through monetary remedies." 
United States v. Jenkins, 714 F.Supp.2d 1213, 1221 (S.D.Ga.2008). Petitioner  alleged that Respondent, a citizen of Mexico, was not lawfully present in the United States. Because Respondent was not lawfully residing in the United States, it was likely that 
an Order to appear in federal court for a full hearing on Plaintiff's motion for a 
preliminary injunction will incentivize Respondent to flee the Court's jurisdiction with 
L.D.M.  If Respondent were to remove L.D.M. from the Court's jurisdiction, Petitioner 
would be denied her opportunity to seek L.D .M.'s return to Mexico under the Hague 
Convention. The likely harm to Petitioner, then, was exceedingly high, as she may not be able to continue a relationship with her son absent an injunction. Furthermore, an ex parte Order, issued without notice to Respondent, was appropriate under these circumstances due to the nature of the irreparable harm that Petitioner feared. Because there was a risk that Respondent may flee the Court's jurisdiction with L.D .M. when he learned of Petitioner's Petition under the Hague Convention, it was proper for the Court to grant Petitioner's request for the temporary  restraining order rather than require Petitioner to notify Respondent of her Petition without an enforceable injunction in place at the time of such notification.  Therefore, Plaintiff had shown that irreparable harm will likely ensue if the Court does not issue a temporary restraining order.

The Court weighed the equities and found that several equitable considerations weigh in Petitioner's favor. Petitioner had certain  custody rights over L.D.M. under the laws of Mexico. The provisions of the Hague  Convention and the ICARA were the only legal recourse available to her under the  present circumstances, where her son had been wrongfully retained in Statesboro,  Georgia in violation of her custody rights. If Respondent were to be notified of  Petitioner's Petition without a legally enforceable order enjoining him from removing  L.D.M. from the Court's jurisdiction, Petitioner's only available recourse for the return of  her son would be thwarted. The stakes for Petitioner, then, were high. Very few equitable factors weighed in favor of Respondent. The temporary nature of  the injunction would not greatly inhibit his rights or ability to travel, as the requested  injunction is limited to keeping L.D.M. within this Court's jurisdiction for less than two  weeks. The requested injunction would present little, if  any, inconvenience or harm to Respondent. Upon weighing the above factors, the Court concluded that the balance of the equities favored Petitioner insofar as the court considered her request for an ex parte  temporary restraining order.

The Court found that the public has an interest in seeing the custody rights of parents residing in other nations enforced in the United States' courts through the Hague Convention and  ICARA.  The Court concluded that the public interest in granting a temporary restraining  order favored Petitioner.

The court granted Petitioner's request for a temporary restraining 
order. The Court enjoined Respondent from allowing L.D.M. to be removed from the Southern District of Georgia pending a hearing on Petitioner's request for a preliminary injunction and was directed to bring to the preliminary hearing on May 6 any passports in his and/or L.D.M.'s name.  It directed that pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(c), the Petitioner must post bond with the Clerk of the U.S. District Court in the amount of $1,000.

Alcala v. Hernandez, 2015 WL 1893291 (D.S.C.) [Mexico] [Federal & State Judicial Remedies][Testimony by Video]

In Alcala v. Hernandez, 2015 WL 1893291 (D.S.C.) the Petitioner, a citizen of Mexico currently residing in Cosolapa, Oaxaca, Mexico, brought the federal court action to secure the return of his two  children, F.C.G., his nine-year old son, and A .C.G., his two-year-old son.   Because of his inability to be present in Court to testify, Petitioner filed a Motion, requesting the Court permit him and Mr. Monterosas to testify, if necessary, by  Skype or telephone under Rule 43(a). As good cause for permitting him to do so,  Petitioner argued that he and Mr. Monterosas cannot travel because: they likely would be unable to obtain a passport or visa to travel to the  United States, and; both were financially unable to travel to the United States. Petitioner was granted leave to proceed in the District Court without prepaying costs in part because he makes roughly ten-thousand dollars per  year, below the poverty guidelines. Petitioner argued that appropriate safeguards would be present to  ensure compliance with the mandates of Rule 43(a), such as his accurate identification  by consular officials, his seclusion during the testimony to prevent outside influence, and his willingness to arrive early to test the technology involved so as to avoid  interruptions during the trial.

The District Court granted the motion. It observed that Rule 43(a) permits a court to take remote  testimony "[f]or good cause in compelling circumstances and with appropriate  safeguards." Courts within this jurisdiction have applied Rule 43(a) 
to allow parties and witnesses to testify remotely.  Courts applying Rule 43(a) have established several situations justifying a court in  permitting remote testimony. One such situation is the inability to obtain a visa to enter the country. See, e.g.,  El-Hadad v. United Arab Emirates, 496 F.3d 658, 668-69 (D.C.Cir.2007) (finding remote testimony from Egypt appropriate  when the witness could not obtain a visa to enter the United States); Haimdas v.  Haimdas, 720 F.Supp.2d 183, 187 (E.D.N.Y.2010) (testifying from London because of the inability to obtain a visa), aff'd, 401 F. App'x 567 (2d Cir.2010). Other justifications include the burden of international travel, e.g.,  Lopez v. NTI, LLC, 748 F.Supp.2d 471, 480 (D.Md.2010),FN3 and even the impact that traveling will have on one's business, e.g.,  Dagen v. CFC Grp. Holdings Ltd, No.
00 CIV. 5682, 2003 WL 22533425, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 7, 2003).

  Coupled with the general relaxation of procedural rules to promote conformity with the  overarching goals of the convention, i .e., the expedient return of the children, sufficient cause existed for the Court to grant the Parties' request. It found that Petitioner and Mr. Monterosas were likely unable to obtain a visa, both for reasons outside of their control and due to their indigent status. As explained by an experienced immigration attorney who submitted a declaration in response to  Petitioner's first request to testify remotely, Petitioner would be required to travel to the nearest consular office to apply for a visa. Once he arrived and paid the application fee, there is no guarantee that he would have received a visa. In fact, the attorney opined that it was  likely that Petitioner would be denied a visa outright because of his limited financial resources. Furthermore, because Petitioner did not have a valid passport, he would not be able to even apply for the visa.  Therefore, the Court found Petitioner and Mr. Monterosas' inability to obtain a visa and  their financial inability to travel satisfied the "good cause in compelling circumstances" to  permit their testimonies by Skype or telephone under Rule 43.

The court found that the Parties had also shown that appropriate safeguards were in place. Fed. Rules Civ. P. 43(a). The advisory committee's notes to Rule 43(a) suggest that  appropriate safeguards should be in place to ensure:  (1) Accurate identification of the witness;  (2) Protection against influence from persons present with the witness; and (3) Accurate transmission. Several examples of procedures used to satisfy the rule include: requiring that a notary identify the witness and swear that witness in  remotely.  Mission Capital Works, Inc. v. SC Rests., Inc., No. C-07-1807, 2008  WL 5100313, at *1 n. 12 (W.D.Wash. Dec. 3, 2008); ensuring that the witness is alone in the room and has been provided with the documentary evidence in advance.  Scott Timber, Inc. v. United States, 93 Fed. Cl. 498, 501 (Fed.Cl.2010); and requiring the movant to pay all costs associated with the remote testimony and   requiring that it be tested with the Court's IT personnel prior to the trial it  which it is  used.  Monserrate v. K .K. Mach. Co., No. 10-3732, 2013 WL 1412194,  at *4  (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 8, 2013).

          The court directed that the following procedural safeguards be in place to ensure that Petitioner and Mr. Monterosas' remote testimony will satisfy Rule  43(a): “Petitioner and Mr. Monterosas will report to the Foreign Relations Secretary's  local  office in Cordoba, Veracruz, Mexico, on May 11, 2015, and May 12, 2015, by  8:30 AM EST; When at the appropriate local office, Petitioner and Mr. Monterosas will  provide sufficient documentation to a consular official who will verify their  identities with the  Court prior to their testimony;  Petitioner and his counsel will troubleshoot any problems with the technology  in  advance of the trial, and will work with the translator and Court/Consular  staff to ensure that he and Mr. Monterosas can be heard and understood;  Petitioner and Mr. Monterosas will testify separately, in a closed room, free  of any outside influence (both in-person and through other technological means)  on their testimonies; All documentary evidence presented to Petitioner and Mr. Monterosas will be  marked prior to the trial and provided to them to facilitate their testimony;  and Petitioner (through counsel) will pay any costs associated with the remote  testimony.”

Pliego v. Hayes, 2015 WL 1893426 (W.D.Ky.)[Turkey] [Costs and expenses]

In Pliego v. Hayes, 2015 WL 1893426 (W.D.Ky.) the court granted Petitioner’s request for an Order directing that the parties' minor child be returned to Turkey. The petitioner filed a motion for attorneys fees requesting attorney's fees of $150,182.85. This include: attorney Rebecca McKelvey's 157 hours, billed at $285 and $295 ($47,082.50); attorney Brenton Lankford's 170.5 hours, billed at $250 and $260, ($47,692); Pliego's state court counsel Stephanie Ritchie's 22.10 hours, billed at $200 ($4,420); two paralegals, 182.61 hours billed at $140 ($30,955); for a total of  $130,150.00. Additionally, the petitioner requested his expenses to attend trial ($1,089.88 for petitioner's airline ticket; $850.89 for his mother's airline ticket; $882.37 for hotel; $162.36 for rental car, taxi, and parking; and $317.03 for meals); expenses for the return of the child ($1,509.52 for Petitioner's airline ticket plus fees for change to ticket; $1,775.12 for airline ticket for the child; $1,906.51 for hotel; $971.79 for rental car; $63.26 for taxi; $248.00 for parking; and $187.04 for meals); trial expenses ($383.25 for deposition transcripts; $2,500 for expert witness fee; and $532.64 for translation/interpreter fees) as well as $500 for supervision fee for visitation with the child; a $481.00 service of process fee; and $5,671.75 for the attorney affidavit of Rebecca McKelvey.

In her response to the motion, the respondent argued that she was currently in Turkey seeking custody of her son, and her visa did not allow her to work. She added

that, "[e]ven prior to traveling to Turkey, [the Respondent's] finances were severely

constrained. She worked part-time at a library, making $10.25 dollars per hour. She

resided with her mother, and relied on financial help of her family to support herself and

her son. She had no medical insurance, instead relying on Medicaid for herself and her

son....".When the Respondent lived abroad with the Petitioner, she was a stay-at-

home mother and the Petitioner was the family's sole provider. The Respondent stated

that, "[o]ther than a single $1,000 payment, [the Respondent] has received no child

support or financial assistance from [the Petitioner] since April 2014. This is despite the

fact that [the Petitioner] earns the equivalent of over $159,000 USD a year, in salary

alone, along with numerous savings accounts and substantial investments.... The Respondent argued that she did not have the assets or income to pay the Petitioner's attorney's fees. She owned no real property. She did not own an automobile. She had no investments and no savings. A judgment awarding legal fees to the Petitioner could never be satisfied by her, and it would prevent her from supporting her child for years to come." She also argued that the fees were excessive, and also that certain fees should not be included, such as costs for Petitioner's state court counsel, visitation expenses, meals, and airline change fees due to the child's illness.

The district court observed that where the attorney's documentation is inadequate, or the claimed hours are duplicative or excessive, the court may reduce the award accordingly. Wasniewski v. Grzelak-Johannsen, 549 F.Supp.2d 965, 972 (N.D . Ohio 2008)." ICARA gives courts the discretion to reduce or even eliminate a respondent's obligation to pay a prevailing petitioner's attorney's fees and costs where such an award "would be clearly inappropriate." 42 U.S.C.§ 11607(b)(3).

The Court observed that some charges-including meals and hotels, and state court counsel-seemed excessive but it did not question the accuracy of the documented time spent. However, it found that the Respondent was incapable of paying the amount of fees requested and that it would be "clearly inappropriate" to enter a judgment against her for the full sum. Based on a review of the information and  supporting documents, the Court reduced the overall legal fees by 50%. Therefore,  Petitioner was awarded $75,091.425 for reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

In Velasquez v. Funes de Velasquez, 2015 WL 1565142 [E.D. Virginia ] [El Salvador] [Habitual Residence] [Grave Risk of Harm]

         In Velasquez v. Funes de Velasquez, 2015 WL 1565142 [E.D. Virginia ] on December 11, 2014, Oscar Edgardo Velasquez, an El Salvadorian citizen filed suit against his estranged wife Maria Teresa Funes de Velasquez, also an El Salvadorian citizen under the International Child Abduction Remedies Act. 

         On March 3, 2006, Oscar and Maria were married in El Salvador. Maria gave birth to their eldest daughter, M.D.F., approximately one year later on March 21, 2007 in San Salvador, El Salvador. Subsequently, Maria gave birth to their youngest daughter, M.A.F., on March 6, 2009 in San Salvador, El Salvador. At the time Oscar filed the Petition, the daughters were seven years old and five years old, respectively. Since his retirement in 2000 he had not worked. He invested in property, including property in the United States. Prior to November of 2013, Oscar and Maria lived with the daughters in their family residence in Santa Elena, El Salvador. The daughters were enrolled in the “Profesor Lisandro Arevalo” Educational Complex in Santa Elena, El Salvador; as of April of 2014, the eldest daughter was enrolled in second grade, while the youngest daughter was enrolled in kindergarten. 

          The court observed that the United States Department of State has identified El Salvador as one of the most violent countries in the world.  (“There are no areas within the city of San Salvador (or the country of El Salvador) that are deemed free of violent crime.”) Crime in El Salvador is unpredictable, gang-centric, and directed against both known victims and targets of opportunity. Extortion is “a very common and effective criminal enterprise” in El Salvador. “Recent progress in the reductions of homicides has not been accompanied by a significant reduction in the extortion that often leads to other violent crimes.” To combat the high incidence of extortion, in 2006, the police department formed an Anti–Extortion Task Force. On February 25, 2011, Oscar and Maria received a telephone call at the family residence. The caller attempted to extort money from Oscar by threatening to kidnap or otherwise harm Maria and their daughters. Later that day, Oscar reported this extortion and threat of violence to the Anti–Extortion Task Force of the National Civil Police Department. Three days after the filing of this report, on February 28, 2011, the police and the Attorney General of El Salvador granted “victim status” to Oscar and his family under the Special Law for the Protection of Victims and Witnesses. Under this statutory protection, only investigators, prosecutors, and judges would have access to the family members' personal information. In all administrative and judicial records, because he was a victim of extortion, Oscar would be known by the password “MILTON.”

In the fall of 2011, the family traveled to Kentucky to visit Oscar's brother and Maria's family. Maria testified that they inquired about political asylum during this stay in the United States, due to the violence in El Salvador, and specifically, the threatening telephone call.

         They traveled to the United States again in 2013 to visit family. On or around December 26, 2013, in El Salvador, Maria's sister received a threat from a gang of three people who came to her house while she was preparing to feed the cows. The gang specifically threatened to kill Maria if she ever returned to El Salvador from the United States. Maria's sister reported this threat to the police. Maria's mother contacted Oscar in the United States to tell him about this latest threat. On January 26, 2014, Oscar returned to El Salvador alone, without Maria and the daughters. At the same time, Maria and the daughters briefly stayed with her brother, Oscar Funes, in North Carolina. After a couple weeks in North Carolina, Oscar's nephew Llefren Velasquez picked up Maria and the daughters and drove them back to Manassas, Virginia.

         The parties agreed that one purpose for Oscar's solo trip to El Salvador was to investigate the latest threat made against Maria's life. But Oscar also traveled to El Salvador to retrieve money so that he could purchase a house in the United States upon his return. The court found that between December of 2013 and February of 2014, when visiting relatives on the East Coast, Oscar's statements and conduct reflected his intent to purchase a home and settle his family in the United States.  Oscar voiced  dual intentions of buying a house and immigrating to the United States to others, who testified at trial.  Additionally, Oscar went to the office of immigration attorney Luis Gonzalez in Arlington, Virginia, where Oscar inquired about acquiring an “investor's visa” and that his older daughter from his first marriage was assisting him in acquiring green cards for the family. Oscar admitted that one of the reasons he went back to El Salvador in January of 2014 was to get money to buy a house in the United States. Oscar also acknowledged meeting with an immigration attorney, where he explored the possibility of green cards for himself, Maria, and the daughters. Oscar returned to the United States on February 20, 2014, after he investigated the threat from December.  Notably, Oscar entered the United States without a return flight to El Salvador for himself, Maria, or the daughters. Oscar was reunited with Maria and the daughters at Llefren and Jenny's townhouse in Manassas, Virginia, where they had been staying since their return from North Carolina; indeed, Oscar stayed there as well. The very next day, on February 21, 2014, Oscar and Maria took the daughters to get various immunizations for the purpose of enrolling them in the Prince William, Virginia public schools. Both Oscar and Maria visited the school that the daughters would attend.

          However, only four days later, on February 25, 2014, Oscar booked a nonstop flight from Washington, D.C. to San Salvador for himself, Maria, and the daughters, which was to depart three days later, on February 28, 2014. There was no direct evidence in the record to suggest what prompted Oscar to book this flight. The evidence did show, however, that at some point between February 21, when the daughters were vaccinated, and February 25, when Oscar bought tickets for the flight to El Salvador, Oscar discovered that Maria was involved in a romantic relationship with another man, Stanley Mejia. Subsequently, on February 27, 2014, Maria told Oscar that she and the daughters would not be returning to El Salvador and instead were staying in Manassas, Virginia. The same day, Maria called the police alleging that Oscar was attempting to kidnap the daughters. The next day, Oscar returned to El Salvador alone. Maria and the daughters did not travel back to El Salvador with Oscar on February 28, 2014, but instead, stayed in the United States. Subsequently, in Prince William County, Virginia, the oldest daughter enrolled in elementary school on March 6, 2014, and the youngest daughter enrolled in pre-kindergarten activities on September 2, 2014. The daughters socialized with friends and attended birthday parties on the weekends.  Maria and the daughters attend church on Sundays. Maria's sister lived in Maryland and she had uncles in the area. Maria and the daughters still residde at Llefren and Jenny's house in Manassas, Virginia with their three children and Stanley Mejia.  In January or February of 2015, Maria met with an immigration attorney to discuss and pursue asylum for her and the daughters because she did not want to return to El Salvador due to the threats and instability. Maria  filed for divorce in Prince William County, and Oscar filed for divorce in El Salvador.

          The district court found that Maria's retention of the daughters was not wrongful because the daughters' habitual residence at the time of retention was the United States. Alternatively, even if the Court found in Oscar's favor on the first issue, the Court held that it  would also find that returning the daughters to El Salvador posed a grave risk of physical harm. Accordingly, Oscar's petition was  denied and dismissed. 

The Court concluded that the daughters were habitually resident in the United States immediately prior to their retention under the two-part framework that has been adopted by the Fourth Circuit. Maxwell, 588 F.3d at 251. Because minor children like the daughters “normally lack the material and psychological wherewithal to decide where they will reside,” the Court looks to the shared parental intent of Oscar and Maria as the “persons entitled to fix the place of the child[ren]'s residence.” Mozes, 239 F.3d at 1076 ( As the court in Mozes recognized, in cases such as this where “the persons entitled to fix the child[ren]'s residence no longer agree on where it has been fixed ... [the Court] must determine from all available evidence whether the parent petitioning for return of [the] child[ren] has already agreed to the child[ren]'s taking up habitual residence where it is.” Based on the findings of fact, the Court concluded that this was a case “where the petitioning parent had earlier consented to let the child stay abroad for some period of ambiguous duration ... [and that] despite the lack of perfect consensus, the court finds the parents to have shared a settled mutual intent that the stay last indefinitely.” This finding supported the ultimate conclusion of “a mutual abandonment of the child's prior habitual residence. Oscar and Maria intended to abandon El Salvador and settle in the United States immediately prior to February 27, 2014, the date of retention. First, Oscar and Maria both had employment opportunities in the United States, the new country of residence.Second, even though Oscar had not yet purchased a home in the United States at the time of retention, nor had he sold his home in El Salvador, his actions, when viewed objectively, show that he intended to do so. Third, immediately prior to February 27, 2014, the date of retention, Oscar and Maria's marriage was stable.Fourth, there was no evidence in the record regarding “the retention of close ties to the former country [El Salvador],” or “the storage and shipment of family possessions.” Accordingly, these factors weighed neither in favor of El Salvador or the United States as the country of habitual residence.Fifth, Oscar, Maria, and the daughters had no legal status in the United States immediately prior to February 27, 2014. This weighs against the conclusion that the United States was the country of habitual residence. However, this factor is mitigated by the evidence in the record that shows both Oscar and Maria sought counsel from an immigration attorney regarding their status in the United States, and that Maria has subsequently taken steps to obtain asylum for her and the daughters. Lastly, the home environment in the United States was relatively stable immediately prior to the date of retention. Until Oscar discovered Maria's involvement with another man, the evidence in the record suggested that this home environment for the daughters was stable. This stands in stark contrast to the home environment in El Salvador, which was visited in December of 2013 by an armed gang that threatened the life of Maria and her daughters, should they ever return to El Salvador. Accordingly, this factor also supported a finding of parental intent to settle in the United States. Maxwell, 588 F.3d at 252. Ultimately, the objective evidence in the record, when viewed in light of the factors utilized by the Fourth Circuit, established by a preponderance of the evidence that Oscar and Maria shared parental intent for the daughters to habitually reside in the United States.

The court pointed out that the second question under the Mozes test is “whether there was an actual change in geography coupled with the passage of an appreciable period of time, one sufficient for acclimatization by the children to the new environment.” Maxwell, 588 F.3d at 251. After turning to the objective factors announced in Maxwell, the Court concluded  the daughters had acclimatized to the United States. First, the daughters were  enrolled in Prince William County Public Schools. The daughters had been enrolled in school in the United States for a longer period of time than their enrollment in El Salvadorian schools.The youngest daughter was only eligible to be enrolled in pre-school activities the past fall at the age of five years old. And the eldest daughter was previously enrolled in school in Kentucky around 2011 for a period of time. Conversely, the only evidence of the daughters' schooling in El Salvador was a letter from the school that acknowledged their enrollment as of April of 2014. Thus, the daughters' lengthier period of schooling in the United States supported the conclusion that the daughters had acclimatized to the United States. Second, the daughters participated in social activities in their community and through school. Third, the relative stay of the daughters in the United States was shorter than the time they had spent in El Salvador, which counseled against acclimatization. Lastly, both daughters were still very young, which weighed in favor of their acclimatization to the United States.  There was no evidence in the record about the daughters' familial or societal connections to El Salvador. Conversely, the daughters traveled to the United States at least once per year and had been in the United States close to one and a half years. They were both attending school and learning English. Moreover, Maria and the daughters had extended family in the United States. Thus, the young age of the daughters suggested that they had not yet acclimatized to El Salvador, but instead have started to acclimatize to the United States. The Court found that ordering the daughters return to El Salvador would not be tantamount to returning them home. Instead, ordering such a return would be tantamount to ripping the daughters out of a familial and social environment to which they have started to acclimatize, for the reasons discussed above. The Court therefore found that “there  was an actual change in geography coupled with the passage of an appreciable period of time, one sufficient for acclimatization by the children to the new environment.” Accordingly, the second factor also supported the conclusion that the daughters were habitually resident in the United States at the time of retention. For these reasons, the Court concluded that Maria's retention of the daughters in the United States was not wrongful. 

In the alternative the court found by clear and convincing evidence that the daughters faced a grave risk of exposure to physical harm if the Court were to order their return to El Salvador with Oscar. The Court could not order their return for at least three specific reasons. First, El Salvador is one of the most dangerous and violent countries in the world. Even though homicides have decreased in recent years, extortion has not decreased and is more prevalent than ever. Second, this violence has specifically manifested itself in the form of at least two known threats of physical violence to Oscar's wife and daughters. In the most recent threat of December of 2013, three armed gang members confronted Maria's sister in person, held a machete to her throat, and threatened the life of Maria if she ever returned. This is a specific threat of violence that represents a grave risk of physical harm to Maria and her daughters should they return to El Salvador. Stated differently, it is not merely a possibility, but an actual, physical threat. Third, the Court found that these threats were  credible because Oscar's daughter from a previous marriage was kidnapped and held for ransom over multiple days. This daughter was rescued and brought to safety only after an armed raid by the El Salvadorian military and a $30,000 payment by Oscar. Even though both extortion threats in this case had been reported to the police, there was no evidence in the record that any arrest was made, that either threat was not credible, and that additional threats or kidnap attempts would not happen in the future. The Court was not willing to order the return of two minor children to such a dangerous environment given the grave risk of physical harm they face in the form of extortion and kidnapping.