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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Castillo v Ochoa, 2012 WL 523696 (D.Nev.) [Mexico] [Well Settled in New Environment]

In Castillo v Ochoa, 2012 WL 523696 (D.Nev.) petitioner, Jose Manuel Garza-Castillo sought the return of his child from the United States to Mexico, pursuant to the Convention. The respondent, Mellody Nallely Guajardo-Ochoa opposed the petition. The court held an evidentiary hearing on Jose's petition, and denied the Petition pursuant to the second paragraph of Article 12 of the Hague Convention. It found that Jose commenced these proceedings more than one year from the date of the wrongful removal of the child from Mexico to the United States. Mellody demonstrated, by substantial evidence, that the child was well settled in its new environment.
Neither Jose nor Mellody disputed that Mexico and the United States
are Contracting States to the Hague Convention; the child was habitually resident in Mexico prior to November 2008; On or about November 1, 2008, Mellody removed the child from Mexico to the United States; Under the laws of Mexico, Jose had rights of custody to the child before the removal; At the time of the removal, Jose actually exercised his rights of custody to the child; Mellody's removal of the child from Mexico to the United States was in breach of Jose's rights of custody. The child, who was born
in May 2006, and has not yet attained the age of 16 years. The court found that Jose did not consent to Mellody removing the child from Mexico and retaining her in the United States.
It was undisputed that Mellody removed the child to the United States in early November 2008. Jose filed his petition on March 16, 2010, more than one year after Mellody removed the child to the United States. Pursuant to Article 12 of the Hague Convention, when proceedings are commenced more than one year after the wrongful removal, a child is to be ordered returned "unless it is demonstrated that the child is now settled in its new environment. Jose argued (in opposing Mellody's motion to dismiss his petition) that the Court should toll the one-year term because Mellody concealed the child's "exact location" from him, and because he did not have an address for Mellody and the child. The Ninth Circuit has held that equitable tolling is available under the Hague Convention only where "the abducting parent took steps to conceal the whereabouts of the child from the parent seeking return and such concealment delayed the filing of the petition for return." Duarte v. Bardales, 526 F.3d 563, 570 (9th Cir.2008). The evidence received during the hearing indicated that Mellody initially engaged in an effort to conceal the child's location from Jose. When Mellody left in late October or early November 2008, she left a note for Jose. The note, however, did not provide any indication as to where Mellody and the child were going. In her December 28, 2008, e-mail to Jose, Mellody expressed a reluctance to disclose her location (or to return to Mexico) as she perceived a risk of losing the child to Jose. The Court could not conclude, however, that Mellody's initial act of concealing the removal and location of the child from Jose "delayed the filing of the petition for return."The Court reached this conclusion after giving "significant consideration to the overarching intention of the Convention-deterring child abduction." .Jose did not offer any evidence into the record that, subsequent to December 28, 2008, Mellody engaged in an effort to conceal her location from Jose. The evidence received during the hearing also established that Jose was not only well aware of Mellody's connections to Las Vegas (where she was raised and had numerous relatives) but that he was aware of the addresses of Mellody's relatives in Las Vegas. When Mellody left Mexico, she left behind her address book, which contained the addresses of her relatives in Las Vegas. By the end of January 2009, the names and addresses of Mellody's relatives in Las Vegas appeared in official Mexican documents as locations where Mellody could be located. The documents included the name and address of the aunt with whom Mellody stayed for the first three months in Las Vegas. The documents also included the name of the uncle with whom Mellody stayed during the early part of 2009, until July 2009 (when Mellody moved in with Melvin). Mellody was served with Jose's petition at the address where she had resided since July 2009. Further, the Court found little, if any, credible evidence to suggest that, subsequent to December 28, 2008, Jose engaged in an effort to locate the child sufficient to warrant tolling of the one-year period.. Other than his own testimony, which the court said was discredited, Jose did not offer evidence into the record of efforts made to locate the child. Also absent from the record was any explanation as to the change in circumstances resulting in Jose being able to locate Mellody and the child in the Las Vegas area in March 2010, but not prior to that date.
The child was born in May 2006. Mellody removed the child to the United States in late October or early November 2008, when the child was just less than two and one-half years old. Jose filed his petition in March 2010, and served Mellody with the petition in late April or early May 2010, when the child was just less than four years old. At the time Jose filed his petition, the child had spent a significant portion, though not the majority, of her life in the United States. At the time of the evidentiary hearing in January 2012, the child was more than five and one-half years old, and had been living in its new environment for significantly more than half of its life. Upon arrival in Las Vegas, the child resided for several months with Mellody in the home of Mellody's Aunt Dora. The child and Mellody then resided in the home of another of her aunts until July 2009. In July 2009, the child and Mellody moved into a residence of Melvin Albrego, to whom Mellody is now married. The child continued to reside with Mellody and Melvin at that residence for two years. About six or seven months prior to the hearing, the child, Mellody, and Melvin moved to a new residence, where they have since resided. Each of these residences is within the Las Vegas area. Since the end of August 2011 the child had been enrolled in and attended kindergarten in the Clark County School District. Prior to becoming old enough to attend school, while Mellody was at her place of employment, the child would be in the care of her aunt, with whom Mellody and the child were residing in April 2009. The aunt continued to provide child-care to the child after Mellody and the child moved into the residence of Melvin. The child, through Mellody, has approximately 50 extended relatives in the Las Vegas area, including her great-grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and cousins. The child regularly (often on a weekly basis) met with and participates in events with her extended relatives. The child's relatives include young children with whom the child interacted. The child often met with her extended relatives and knew them by name. Melvin, who was now married to Mellody, had between 80 and 100 extended relatives in the Las Vegas area. Typically, Melvin, Mellody and the child had a family dinner at the home of Melvin's mother on Tuesdays. The child often met with Melvin's extended family, and knew many of them by name. The child treated Melvin's extended family as if they were the child's extended family. The child had created friendships with other children who are not her relatives. The child spent time with her friends, including attending events and birthday parties. The court received testimony that, with at least one other child, the child had maintained a friendship for three years. The child and Mellody attended church two or three times each month. Mellody had been employed since April 2009 with the same employer, earning approximately $1500 to $2000 bi-weekly. Melvin was also employed.
The Ninth Circuit has indicated the following factors are to be considered in making this determination: (1) the child's age, (2) the stability and duration of the child's residence in the new environment, (3) whether the child attends school consistently, (4) whether the child has friends or relatives in the new environment, (5) whether the child participates in community or extracurricular school activities, (6) and the respondent's employment and financial stability. Mendoza v. Miranda, 559 F.3d 999, 1009 (9th Cir.2009). Further, of these, the factor that is ordinarily the most important is the length and stability of the child's residence in the new environment.
The court held that Mellody met her burden of proof of "substantial evidence of the child's significant connections" to the new environment and denied the petition.