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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Skolnick v. Wainer, (Cite as: 2013 WL 5329112 (E.D.N.Y.)) [Singapore] [Federal & State Judicial Remedies] [Jurisdiction][Venue]

In Skolnick v. Wainer, (Cite as: 2013 WL 5329112 (E.D.N.Y.)) Fred Jay Skolnick commenced an action on August 21, 2013, for the return of his five children from Singapore by respondent, Andrea Wainer, his wife, claiming that the removal violated the Hague Convention. Petitioner asserted that the Court had jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 11603(a) and (b), since "Petitioner and Respondent jointly own residential property in this judicial district and ... the children that are the subject of this action were transported into the United States through airports located in ... Queens, New York." At a conference on September 3, 2013, the Court reiterated concern that the action was not properly brought in this district in light of evidence that the children had been residing in Connecticut since before the commencement of the action. Respondent moved for a change of venue. Petitioner filed a letter motion to change venue. It appeared that both sides agreed to transfer the action.

The court observed that Congress enacted ICARA to establish procedures for implementation of the Convention in the United States. ICARA provides that a "person seeking to initiate judicial proceedings under the Convention for the return of a child... may ... commenc [e] 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." 42 U.S.C. § 11603(b). "Located" under ICARA does not require a showing of residency but contemplates the place where the abducted children are discovered. See Lops v. Lops, 140 F.3d 927, 937 (11th Cir.1998) (interpreting 42 U.S.C. s 11603(b)). In applying this clause federal courts have dismissed ICARA petitions where children were not located in the jurisdiction of the court at the time the petition was filed. See, e.g., Olangues v. Kousharian, 177 Fed. App'x 537, 538 (9th Cir.2006) (determining that the district properly dismissed an ICARA claim for lack of jurisdiction because the children were not within that district at the time the petition was filed); Diorinou v. Mezitis, 132 F.Supp.2d 139, 145-46 (S.D.N.Y.2000) (confirming its prior conclusion that the district court had no jurisdiction over the ICARA petition because the child was not in the jurisdiction at the time the petition was filed); see also Espinoza v. Mattoon, 2009 WL 1919297 (W.D. Wash. June 30, 2009) (sua sponte dismissing, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, an ICARA petition brought in a jurisdiction where the child was not located). Although these courts treated the dismissal under 42 USC § 11603(b) to be "jurisdictional" in nature, some have referred to the provision as concerning venue. See, e.g., Saldivar v. Rodela, 879 F.Supp.2d 601, 613 (W.D.Tex.2012) (interpreting § 11603(b) to be a venue provision, and finding that venue was proper where the child was located in the district when the petition was filed"); East Sussex Children Servs. v. Morris, No. 12-cv-141, 2013 WL 704660, at *1 (N.D.W.Va. Feb. 27, 2013) ("Venue is appropriate because ICARA provides that a Hague Convention petitioner can bring [such an] action only in the place where the child is located.").

The Court observed that the Second Circuit has not addressed the issue of whether the requirements in §11603(b) implicates jurisdictional or venue concerns. It held that it did not have to resolve this issue in light of the general agreement of both parties to continue the litigation in Connecticut. District courts may, in cases where they lack subject matter or personal jurisdiction, or proper venue, transfer a case "in the interest of justice." (See 28 U.S.C. ss 1404, 1406, 1631). Both parties consented to transferring the action to the District of Connecticut, and no evidence had been presented demonstrating that the children were in the Eastern District of New York when the petition was filed. Given the importance of speedy adjudication of the claim in this action and the consent of both parties to the transfer to a court authorized to hear the case, the Court found that transfer to the District of Connecticut was in the interests of justice, without deciding whether § 11603(b) refers to jurisdiction or venue, and ordered that the action was transferred to the District of Connecticut.

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