Monday, December 16, 2013
Mendoza v Silva, 2013 WL 6491479 (N.D.Iowa)[Mexico] [Habitual Residence] [Consent or acquiescence] [video testimony] [Petition Granted] [Stay pending appeal denied]
In Mendoza v Silva, 2013 WL 6491479 (N.D.Iowa) Plaintiff Maria Guadalupe Aguilar Mendoza, a citizen of Mexico, filed an action to secure the return of her daughters, five-year-old K.G.M.A. and four-year-old M.K.M.A.. At the consolidated trial on the merits and preliminary injunction hearing, Ms. Mendoza testified by video conference from Mexico .The parties wer married on September 15, 2006, in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico. At the time, Ms. Mendoza was a Mexican citizen, but Mr. Medina had been living in the United States since he was about five years old, and he had been a naturalized United States citizen since September 17, 2004. Mr. Medina lived in Storm Lake, Iowa, with his parents. Ms. Mendoza gave birth to the parties' first child, K.G.M.A., a daughter, in 2007, and their second child, M.K.M.A., also a daughter, in 2009, both in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico. The parties had a third daughter, K.V.M.A., who was born in 2011, but who had remained in the custody of Ms. Mendoza in Mexico. The parties' two older children were United States citizens.
After the parties married in 2006, Mr. Medina lived primarily in the United States. He would live in the United States for about six months at a time, he would visit Ms. Mendoza and the children in Mexico for about two months, then he would return to the United States alone for another lengthy period. During Mr. Medina's visits to and absences from Mexico, the children consistently lived with Ms. Mendoza in Mexico. Ms. Mendoza lived with Ms. Mendoza's mother in her mother's house, and Ms. Mendoza paid rent to her mother. After the parties' children were born, they also lived with Ms. Mendoza and her mother when they were in Mexico. After M.K.M.A. was born, both of the older children attended daycare and preschool in Mexico and received regular medical care there. K.G.M.A. was registered for and assigned to an elementary school in Celaya.
The parties separated permanently in July 2012. Ms. Mendoza testified that the separation came after Mr. Medina assaulted her. Ms. Mendoza testified that, prior to their separation, Mr. Medina assaulted her on a regular basis. Mr. Medina did not dispute the separation, but asserted that Ms. Mendoza's definition of "assault" was simply raising his voice. The only divorce proceeding initiated by either party was one filed by Mr. Medina in the Iowa District Court for Buena Vista County. Mr. Medina's Petition For Dissolution Of Marriage was filed on November 15, 2013.
Mr. Medina asserted that Ms. Mendoza had contacted him and demanded that he take the children, because she no longer loved them or wished to care for them. The only circumstantial evidence that Mr. Medina offered in support of this position were some text messages that Ms. Mendoza sent to Mr. Medina on May 12, 2012, although the parties disputed both the significance and the translation of these text messages. Mr. Medina testified that he and Ms. Mendoza thereafter arranged for the two older girls to come to the United States permanently, beginning in December 2012. Ms. Mendoza described the text messages as a momentary venting of frustration, but that she never agreed nor wanted the children to go to the United States permanently.
Ms. Mendoza contended that, when Mr. Medina and his mother, Lucina Medina, arrived at the boarder to pick up the children, they told Ms. Mendoza that Mr. Medina planned to keep the children for at least six months, instead of returning the children in six or eight weeks, as previously agreed, and that Ms. Mendoza objected. Mr. Medina and his mother testified that there had been no prior agreement for a short visit by the children; rather, the agreement was for the permanent transfer of the two older children to the United States. They testified that Ms. Mendoza suddenly reiterated her prior demands that Mr. Medina again take her across the border illegally, as well as the children, this time so that Ms. Mendoza could go to Texas to be with a man with whom she had struck up a relationship over the internet. A physical altercation between Ms. Mendoza and Mrs. Medina occurred on December 8, 2013. The Mexican federal police intervened and that Ms. Mendoza was detained overnight by the Second Agency of the Public Ministry of Family Protection for assaulting Mr. Medina's mother. The parties reached an agreement to resolve the dispute at the border (Exhibit S), but their versions of that agreement differed very substantially. Mr. Medina and his mother both testified, however, that the only agreement reached with anyone was that Lucina Medina would drop the charges against Ms. Mendoza arising from the altercation on December 18, 2012, and that Mr. Medina and his mother would be allowed to take K.G.M.A. and M.K.M.A. to the United States permanently, as previously agreed. Lucina Medina testified that what purported to be her signature on Exhibit S is "the way [she] writes it." She also testified, however, that she did not read or write much Spanish or English, and that trying to read something as long as Exhibit S would have given her a headache. She testified that, to the extent that anyone explained any agreement to her, she understood that it was for her to drop the charges against Ms. Mendoza and for her and Mr. Medina to take the children to the United States. Mr. Medina admitted that his mother's signature was on Exhibit S, but denied that what purported to be his signature was his signature. He also denied that there was ever any agreement for the return of the children on February 2, 2013. He also testified that he was not a party to any agreement and that the only agreement at the border was between his mother and Ms. Mendoza to drop the charges against Ms. Mendoza, so that she would not have to spend any time in prison and so that he and his mother could take the children to the United States. Mr. Medina also denied ever having read either Exhibit S or the English translation of it prior to reading it while in the witness box on the second day of the consolidated trial and preliminary injunction hearing on December 5, 2012, notwithstanding that it was an exhibit that was served on him with Ms. Mendoza's Verified Complaint. Ms. Mendoza testified that when she called Mr. Medina to talk to the children in the United States in January 2013, Mr. Medina told her that she should not bother showing up to pick up the children on February 2, 2013. Ms. Mendoza objected and told Mr. Medina that she expected him to return the children as agreed. That telephone conversation was the last contact that Ms. Mendoza had with Mr. Medina or her two oldest children until these proceedings were initiated. On February 2, 2013, Ms. Mendoza arrived at the bus station in Nuevo Laredo and waited until 7:00 p.m., the time that the parties had agreed that the children would be returned, but Mr. Medina did not arrive with the children.
Mr. Medina also argued that, after he retained the children in the United States, Ms. Mendoza acquiesced in his doing so. Ms. Mendoza testified that, after her last call to Mr. Medina in January 2013, he changed his telephone number and his address, because she was unable to contact him or the children by telephone, and that she did not have any means of contacting or locating the children, Mr. Medina, or Mr. Medina's family. She contended that her attempts to contact Mr. Medina or the children by telephone, e-mail, or "facebook" had been ignored by Mr. Medina. Mr. Medina admitted that he and his parents had obtained a new telephone number in January 2013, which he had never provided to Ms. Mendoza, and that he and his parents (with his children) moved to a new address in Storm Lake, Iowa, in August 2013, which he admitted that he also had never provided to Ms. Mendoza. He testified that he did not take any steps to convey his new contact information to Ms. Mendoza, because he believed that she wanted nothing to do with her children and that such conduct in a mother was unacceptable. He also asserted that Ms. Mendoza could have found a way to contact him.
Ms. Mendoza testified that she had not received any calls from Mr. Mendoza after the last call in January 2013. Mr. Medina testified that he had called Ms. Mendoza's home phone number two or three times in January 2013, but had not left a message, because Mexican telephones have caller ID, just like United States telephones. He admitted that he had not tried to call her home telephone numbers since January 2013. Although Mr. Medina testified that he thought that Ms. Mendoza could contact him by e-mail, he then testified that he rarely checked his e-mail. Mr. Medina also initially denied that he had a "facebook" page. When pressed by Ms. Mendoza's counsel, however, Mr. Medina admitted that he had had a "facebook" account, but had taken it down after only a few months, because it didn't interest
On March 6, 2013, Ms. Mendoza submitted a Request For Return Of Children to the
United States Department of State through the Mexican Central Authority. The court found that K.G.M.A. and M.K.M.A. were "removed" from Mexico to the United States in December 2012. The parties initially agreed that K.G.M.A. and M.K.M.A. could visit Mr. Medina in the United States. Mr. Medina "retained" K.G.M.A. and M.K.M.A. in the United States when he did not return them to Mexico on February 2, 2013, as the parties had agreed. It found that Exhibit S confirmed Ms. Mendoza's testimony that the parties had an agreement for the return of the children to Mexico after a temporary stay in the United States and undermined Mr. Medina's testimony that the parties had an agreement for a permanent transfer of the children to his custody in the United States. Thus, the date of the "retention" here was February 2, 2013, when Ms. Mendoza was to meet the children at the United States/Mexico border, but they did not appear as Ms. Mendoza and Mr. Medina had agreed at the time of the children's "removal" to the United States.
The district court observed that the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld a determination that the country where the children had lived for their whole lives or for a number of years immediately before their removal or retention and where the children had attended school was the children's "habitual residence," where there is no indication that the children had spent any significant time in another country and the intent of the parents to stay in that country or another country was uncertain or differed between the parents. Here, prior to their retention in the United States, K.G .M.A. and M.K.M.A. had lived almost their entire lives in Mexico, with only one stay out of that country for both M.K.M.A. and K.G.M.A .-a stay in the United States with Mr. Medina for eleven months, which was longer than the two months that the parties had agreed that visit would last-and a prior, illegal stay of four months in the United States by K.G.M.A. It was clear that, even at the time of these visits, from the perspective of the children and the parents, K.G.M.A.'s first stay was a temporary, illegal visit, and the longer stay by both children in the United States was also temporary-although Mr. Medina kept the children longer than the parties had agreed. In both instances, the children ultimately returned to Mexico for an extended period of time and, from their perspective, those returns were to their habitual residence. A determination of "habitual residence" is not overturned by consent judgments or agreements, either on the basis of res judicata or contracts. Thus, the court found that Mexico was the children's "habitual residence" prior to their allegedly wrongful retention in the United States on February 2, 2013.
The Court concluded that Mexican law (patria potestas) afforded Ms. Mendoza a custody right to determine where K.G.M.A. and M.K.M.A. resided at the time that the children were "retained" by Mr. Medina in the United States, and that Ms. Mendoza was exercising that custody right "[a]t the time of ... retention" or that her right "would have been so exercised but for the ... retention."Ms. Mendoza had been actually exercising her custodial rights over K.G.M.A. and M.K.M.A. up until the time that they went to visit Mr. Medina in the United States in December 2012; and, but for Mr. Medina's failure to return the children, she would again be exercising parental rights as the person actually in sole custody of the children. Mr. Medina's retention of the children was "wrongful."
The court noted that "Consent" and "acquiescence" were separate affirmative defenses. "Consent" involves an agreement to removal or retention before the removal or retention occurred, and "acquiescence" is specifically identified in Hague Convention as "subsequent acquiescence," that is, it considers agreement to the responding party's retention of the children after the retention occurred. The only circumstantial evidence that Mr. Medina offered in support of a "consent" affirmative defense were some text messages that the parties did not dispute that Ms. Mendoza sent to Mr. Medina on May 12, 2012, although the parties disputed both the significance and the translation of these text messages. The Court found credible Ms. Mendoza's explanation of the text messages as a momentary venting of frustration, and that they were not an indication that she ever agreed to or wanted permanent transfer of the children to the United States. These text messages, by themselves, did not constitute consent by Ms. Mendoza, before the removal or retention of the children, to a permanent transfer of the two older children to the United States. The court found that the evidence of Ms. Mendoza's actions all indicated that Ms. Mendoza had not consented to a permanent transfer of the children to the United States. Nor had Mr. Medina has proved "acquiescence" by Ms. Mendoza after the removal and retention of the children by the preponderance of the evidence. Mr. Medina appeared to base his "acquiescence" affirmative defense on his contention that Ms. Mendoza did not attempt to contact him or any of his family members after January 2013. The court found that the credibility of Mr. Medina's contention that Ms. Mendoza did not attempt to get in contact with him or the children or his family members after he retained the children to be completely undermined by Ms. Mendoza's evidence that she made repeated attempts to call and e-mail Mr. Medina and that she did not have a current telephone number or address for him or the children. Her testimony on this point was confirmed by Mr. Medina's own admissions that he changed his telephone number in January 2013 without notifying Ms. Mendoza of the change; that he and his family moved to a new address in Storm Lake in August 2013, again without notifying Ms. Mendoza of his new address; his admission that he "rarely" looked at his e-mail or his "facebook" page, after he asserted that they were adequate means for Ms. Mendoza to contact him; and his unsubstantiated suggestion that Ms. Mendoza's e-mails to him might have been filtered into a "junk" file. The court concluded that Mr. Medina could not rely on an "acquiescence" defense, where he actively thwarted Ms. Mendoza's attempts to contact him or the children. Moreover, Ms. Mendoza's protests at Mr. Medina's statement that she need not bother to come to the border on February 2, 2013, to get the children; her actually going to the border to get the children on February 2, 2013, when they did not appear; her prompt efforts, beginning March 6, 2013, to obtain return of the children by submitting a Request For Return Of Children to the United States Department of State through the Mexican Central Authority; her pursuit of legal assistance both in Mexico and in the United States; and her prosecution of this action undermine
Mr. Medina's contention that Ms. Mendoza simply "acquiesced," after the fact, to his failure to return the children as agreed on February 2, 2013, or his retention of the children thereafter in the United States.
The Court denied the Respondents motion for a stay pending appeal, but gave him 30 days to move in the Court of Appeals for a stay, observing that in an ICARA case courts apply the four traditional stay factors in considering whether to stay a return order pursuant to ICARA: " '(1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies." ' In Chafin, the Court held that the return of the children to their state of habitual residence does not "moot" an appeal of the order for return. Id. at ----, 133 S.Ct. at 1025-26. The Court did not find not find that Mr. Medina made a strong showing that he was likely to succeed on the merits of an appeal of the order for return because its decision turned on credibility issues, and concluded that he would not be irreparably injured absent a stay of the order for return.