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Wednesday, December 26, 2012
In Taylor v Taylor, 2012 WL 6631395 (C.A.11 (Fla.)) (Not Selected for publication in the Federal Reporter) Mr. Iverson Taylor, a British citizen, petitioned for relief under the Hague Convention alleging that his wife, Ms. Keysha Taylor, an American citizen, wrongfully retained their daughter, A.T., in Florida since February 2009. The district court conducted an evidentiary hearing and found Mr. Taylor untrustworthy and that his testimony was not credible in a number of areas. Given Mr. Taylor's long history of deception and fraudulent activity, the Eleventh Circuit held that is finding was not clearly erroneous.
The Taylors were married in the United States in 2003. After Mr. Taylor was deported to the United Kingdom for failing to disclose his three theft convictions when he entered the United States, Ms. Taylor joined him. They lived in the United Kingdom together from 2005 until 2009. A.T. was born there in 2007. Mr. Taylor had constant money problems, and he frequently lied to his wife and others to swindle money from them. During their marriage, he was arrested for fraud, but those charges were ultimately dismissed. Ms. Taylor found evidence in Mr. Taylor's emails that he was engaging in fraudulent activities. She also began receiving harassing phone calls from Mr. Taylor's creditors at their home. In November 2008, she received a call from a man who told her that if Mr. Taylor did not pay what he owed, "he would be dead and so would [she]." There were several more calls from that caller during November and December of 2008. Ms. Taylor, an attorney licensed to practice in Florida, was able to support her family for a short time in the United Kingdom by working at a law firm. After A.T. was born, she supported the family with her maternity leave funds and then with funds paid to her based on a separation agreement with her employer. After this money ran out, however, she was unable to find another job in the United Kingdom. Mr. Taylor did not provide a reliable income, and the family was evicted from their home in the United Kingdom in December 2008. They were able to move into another apartment when, as Ms. Taylor testified, Mr. Taylor "came up with a large amount of cash."She did not know the source of that cash but believed it was from illegal activities. Soon after that, they had difficulty paying the rent again. Mr. Taylor was living in a temporary location and planed to move if A.T. was returned to him. He remained unemployed and claimed he supported himself with "outstanding debts and collections on old accounts."
Because of the financial difficulties, the fighting in their marriage, and the frightening
phone calls, Ms. Taylor told Mr. Taylor she wanted to leave the United Kingdom and
take A.T. with her. He refused to give her A.T.'s passport. He also told her that he
"knew people" in the United Kingdom who could "take care" of her. It was only after she signed an agreement promising to bring A.T. back the next month that he gave her the passport. Ms. Taylor returned with A.T. to her parents' house in Florida.
When Ms. Taylor told Mr. Taylor that she would not be returning A .T. to the United
Kingdom, he began to threaten her and her parents. He told Ms. Taylor's mother over
the phone, "I am not gonna stop until I destroy your daughter. She's never gonna work in the United States again."In another call, he told Ms. Taylor that he knew people in Florida who could "take care" of her and he could "have somebody come to [her] house, and when [her] father opens the door, shoot him in the face."He also sent Ms. Taylor an email saying, "You are going to want my mercy soon and you won't get it ... God help you if anything happens to my child." After Ms. Taylor returned to the United States, she filed for bankruptcy. She got a job and was making $85,000 a year. Because of the remaining debts from her marriage, she testified that she still "live[s] paycheck to paycheck." She was unsure if she would be able to get a job in the United Kingdom if she and A.T. moved back, both because of the poor market and because her residency status was uncertain. .
The district court concluded that Ms. Taylor had wrongfully taken A.T. from her
habitual residence in the United Kingdom. She did not dispute that finding. She asserted that returning A.T. would expose her to a "grave risk" as described in Article 13(b). The district court agreed that it would and did not order A.T. returned to the United Kingdom.
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. It stated that whether there is a "grave risk" to the child as defined in Article 13(b) of the Convention is a mixed question of law and fact, which it reviews de novo. Baran, 526 F.3d at 1345. It reviews the district court's factual findings only for clear error and give substantial deference to the credibility determinations made by the district court. Furnes v. Reeves, 362 F.3d 702, 710, 724 n. 21 (11th Cir.2004).
The Eleventh Circuit observed that the district court provided two primary justifications for its finding that sending A.T. back to the United Kingdom would subject her to a "grave risk" of harm. First, the court reasoned that the anonymous death threats Ms. Taylor received were indicative of future violence: if one person threatened Ms. Taylor, there are likely others who "would not hesitate to threaten to kill, kidnap, or do physical harm to A.T. in order to get Mr. Taylor to pay what he owes." The court made an explicit finding that Mr. Taylor's testimony concerning his current source of income (collection of "outstanding debts") was not credible and concluded that he had been and continued to be engaged in fraudulent activities. Second, the court focused on the threats Mr. Taylor has made against Ms. Taylor: telling her he knew people in the United Kingdom and in the United States who could "take care" of her; threatening to send someone to shoot her father; threatening to ruin her professionally; promising her that she would want his mercy soon and would not get it. The court did not credit Mr. Taylor's assertion that he never threatened Ms. Taylor or her parents and found that "Mr. Taylor threatened to use others to physically harm (and maybe even kill) Ms. Taylor."
The Court pointed out that, as the district court recognized, this case was unique because the risk to A.T. stemmed not only from threats made by her father but also from threats made by an unknown third party. The district court's credibility determinations about the nature of the threats and Mr. Taylor's continued participation in fraudulent activities were not clearly erroneous. The court found that those fraudulent activities had already created-and likely would continue to create-a substantial risk of serious harm to Mr. Taylor's family. Based on the unique facts of this case and the district court's specific credibility determinations, the district court did not err by determining that Ms. Taylor had established a grave risk of harm to A.T. if she is returned to live with Mr. Taylor in the United Kingdom.