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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.

Gee v Hendroffe, 2013 WL 5375294 (D.Nev.) [South Africa] [Federal & State Judicial Remedies] [Jurisdiction] [Venue]

In Gee v Hendroffe, 2013 WL 5375294 (D.Nev.) Petitioner filed his Petition for return of Children and Motion Warrant in Lieu of Habeas Corpus in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada on August 30, 2013. The court scheduled a hearing for September 4, 2013. At the hearing on September 4, 2013, the Court raised the issue of whether it had subject matter jurisdiction over this litigation. The Court ordered Petitioner to meet his burden of establishing jurisdiction and ordered Respondent to provide her airline ticket or other evidence to her Nevada attorney, which indicated when she left Las Vegas, Nevada, for Malaysia.

Respondent filed a Motion for Dismissal in which she stated that she was not served with the Petition until September 4, 2013, and that she and the children left the state of Nevada on August 27, 2013, and left the United States on August 31, 2013. Respondent attached an email from Petitioner's counsel's office which informed her of the September 4, 2013, hearing and provided her with a copy of the Petition as well as this Court's order setting the hearing. Respondent also attached a debit card statement for a card which was used in California as early as August 27, 2013, and copies of the airline tickets she and the two children used to fly from Los Angeles, California to Malaysia on August 31, 2013.

Shortly after Respondent filed her motion on September 5, 2013, Petitioner filed a Motion Under Hague Convention for Entry of a Temporary Restraining Order and a  UCCJEA Warrant. Attached to his motion was an Affidavit signed by Respondent and notarized in Las Vegas, Nevada at 10:30 a.m. on August 30, 2013. On September 6, 2013, prior to the hearing, Respondent filed a Declaration of Yasmin Acevedo, a friend of Respondent since 2011, who lived in Las Vegas. According to the Declaration, Ms. Acevedo accompanied Respondent and the two children to California on August 27, 2013, where they visited some family friends and local attractions. Thereafter, Ms. Acevedo represented, on August 30, 2013, Respondent returned to Las Vegas to attend to some legal matters while she and the children stayed in California. Ms. Acevedo concluded that she accompanied Respondent and the Children to the airport for their departure to Malaysia.

The Court set an evidentiary hearing concerning jurisdiction for October 8, 2013, and ordered all parties, including the children, present in person at the hearing.

The district court pointed out that 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. 42 U.S.C.A. § 11603.

The Ninth Circuit has recognized, "located" has a particular meaning in the context of ICARA, distinct from "a traditional residency test." Holder v. Holder,305 F.3d 854, 869 (9th Cir.2002) n. 5; citing Lops v. Lops, 140 F.3d 927, 937 (11th Cir.1998). It means "the place where the abducted children are discovered," and is more equivalent to the concept of physical presence. Here, the evidence showed that once Petitioner discovered that the Children were in Las Vegas, and that Respondent likely did not intend to return to South Africa with the children, he promptly filed his petition for return of the children. Under the Holder/Lops common sense definition of "located" and in light of the Convention's purpose of providing an "expeditious avenue" for seeking return of
children, this was sufficient to establish jurisdiction. Respondent's contention that the children were in California with Ms. Acevedo on or around August 27, 2013, was irrelevant because Petitioner had no knowledge of that alleged trip, the children were discovered in Las Vegas, and by Respondents own admission, the children had been located in Las Vegas from July 11 until at least August 27. Further, the Court found that Respondent's argument that the children were in California was not credible. The debit card statements provided by Respondent had no name attached to the card and the affidavit of Ms. Acevedo did not come until after Petitioner provided proof that Respondent was in Nevada on August 30, 2013. Additionally, the legal documents that Respondent signed and notarized in Law Vegas on August 30, 2013, were documents for an Australian legal action, and could have been signed and notarized in California as well. The Court found that the evidence showed that the children were located in Nevada at the time the Petition was filed. Accordingly, the Court found that it had jurisdiction over this matter.

Caro v Sanchez, 2013 WL 5300671 (D.N.J.) [Spain] [Consent] [Petition Denied]

[Spain] [Consent] [Petition Denied]

In Caro v Sanchez, 2013 WL 5300671 (D.N.J.) [Not for Publication] Petitioner Antonio Osuna Caro and Respondent Beruzka Mesa Sanchez were married in 2007 in Sevilla, Spain. Their daughter was born in 2008. Both parents were still married and shared custody of the Child under Spanish law. The family lived together in Sevilla until the fall of 2011. On September 30, 2011, Ms. Sanchez and the Child traveled to New Jersey and resided there since that date.

Caro alleged in his Petition that the purpose of the trip was to allow Sanchez a short-term visit with her seriously ill mother. Caro states that he believed Sanchez and the Child would return to Spain in October 2011, but that the return date was extended

by his wife because her mother was still ill. On September 17, 2012, Caro filed an Application for Return of the Child with the Ministry of Justice in Spain, which triggered the U.S. State Department to send a Voluntary Return Letter dated November 29, 2012 to Sanchez, asking her to "consider voluntarily agreeing to return the child to Spain in order to avoid the applicant's initiation of legal proceedings in the United States under the Hague Convention."Sanchez allegedly did not respond. This Petition for Return of the Child to Spain was filed on May 31, 2013.

Sanchez's submitted undisputedly authentic documents to support her factual averrals. She averred that she and her husband jointly decided to move to the United States with the Child. Acting on that plan, in May 2011, Mr. Caro filed an application seeking authorization to travel to the United States under the Visa Extension Program, which would enable him to stay for an extended duration in this country. In September 2011, Sanchez and the Child traveled to New Jersey as "the initial step
of relocation for the family." The family began investigating the possibility of purchasing a house in New Jersey. This fact was supported by a letter from the Realtor with whom they both met to search for a home to buy, as well as financial documents submitted by Caro to be used to qualify for a mortgage to buy real estate in New Jersey. When Caro visited New Jersey in December 2011, he brought along the family dog to live here. Ms. Sanchez averred that while her husband was in the United States on that trip, they jointly continued their search for a house. In mid-2012, Sanchez became employed in New Jersey, rented an apartment with her mother, and enrolled the Child in a Head Start Program. In December 2012, Sanchez received the Voluntary Return Letter from the U.S. State Department. When Sanchez asked Caro about the letter, he said he had requested the letter so as not to lose custody of the Child. In January 2013, Caro again visited Sanchez and the Child in New Jersey.

Sanchez filed a complaint for custody and child support in New Jersey Superior Court on February 1, 2013. On April 27, 2013, Caro sent Sanchez a letter describing his frustration in his job search for a foreign position (he was a Spanish attorney) saying: ... I don't have good news. I've finally been able to speak to someone in charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They are not going to give me, not even one of the posts/jobs I've applied for at the Embassies and Consulates. The reason is a technical problem that makes no sense explaining it now. There are still other possibilities; but they are more remote. I have to make some contacts with other organizations. I am not going to give up. I will find some alternative. But it is true that the plan for us to go live in another country seems that it will not be possible at this time. One month later, Caro filed the Petition, claiming that his Child had been abducted. Sanchez states that Caro filed the Petition because he realized he would not be able to easily find employment and join the family in the United States. He did, however, in the letter a mere month before claiming child abduction, state that he was continuing to persevere in that job search. 

Caro filed the Petition for Return of the Child on May 31, 2013. He disclosed almost none of the above facts. He initially sought, and was granted temporary restraints based upon his ex parte submissions. However, those were vacated after Caro failed to effect timely service of the Petition in accordance with the Court's Order.  The Petition by Mr. Caro alleged that Ms. Sanchez wrongfully retained the Child in New Jersey. Sanchez did not contest that Caro had custody rights over the child, and that he continued to exercise those rights. Caro claimed that the child was wrongfully retained in New Jersey after a trip from Spain to New Jersey to visit her mother which Caro claimed was intended to be of short duration, while Sanchez has submitted contemporaneous unrefuted documentation showing that the shared intention of the parties when she and the Child left Spain was to establish a new family residence in the United States. Even the family dog relocated here. In light of the documentary evidence presented by Sanchez, Caro's sworn statement that he did not intend for the Child to move to the United States was not credible. The Court found that at the time the Child traveled to the United States in the fall of 2011, both of her parents intended that she move to the United States. Caro and Sanchez jointly searched for a house and relocated the family dog to New Jersey. Caro's affidavit to the contrary was belied by his own heartsick letter, in which he acknowledged the family's plan to relocate away from Spain. There had been no wrongful retention. As of September 30, 2011, the Child's habitual residence had been in the United States. Caro could not unilaterally change the agreement for the Child to move to this country because he was unsatisfied with his job search and wished to alter the joint plan to relocate here.

Once the Court reviewed the papers, in light of Caro's inability to proffer any genuine evidence to meet his burden to prove wrongful retention, it became clear that there was no need for an oral evidentiary hearing to supplement the documentary evidentiary hearing that the Court conducted. The Petition For Return of the Child to Spain was denied.