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Friday, January 10, 2014

Gee v Hendroffe, 2014 WL 60325 (D.Nev.) [South Africa] [Federal & State Judicial Remedies] [42 U.S.C. § 11603(b)][“Located”]

In Gee v Hendroffe, 2014 WL 60325 (D.Nev.)  William Gee and Hannie Hendroffe  were married in South Africa in 2002. They had  two children together, "J .G." and "S.G.".   In January 2013, the couple was divorced in Clark County, Nevada. . As part of the custody agreement, the parties stipulated to move to South Africa with the children and  that respondent could relocate to Australia by December 2017, or when petitioner relocated from South Africa, whichever occurred first.  On or around July 11, 2013, respondent left South Africa for Las Vegas, taking the children with her. She neither informed petitioner of her intention to take the children, nor obtained his consent prior to her departure. Later that same day, respondent emailed petitioner informing him that she was on her way to the United States, and that she planned on returning with the children around August 9, 2013.    

      According to respondent, on August 27, 2013, she left Las Vegas with the
children and her friend/babysitter, Yasmine Acevado, for southern California. Respondent asserted that she returned to Las Vegas to attend to legal matters on August 30, 2013, but left the children in California with Ms. Acevado for the day.  On August 30, 2013, Gee filed a petition in the district  court pursuant to the Hague Convention, demanding that the children be returned to South Africa. On August 31, 2013, Hendroffe and the children left the United States for Kuala Lumpur, flying out of Los Angeles, California. The petition and motion for warrant were not served until September 2,  2013. The documents were delivered to Ms. Acevado's home in Las   Vegas, and respondent was not aware of either the motions or the hearing    scheduled for September 4, 2013, until she was contacted by petitioner's counsel via e-mail the day of the hearing-several days after she had already left the United States.

        After the petition and motion for warrant were filed, the magistrate set a hearing on the matter for September 4, 2013.  Although the magistrate's order required respondent to be present at the hearing, respondent was never personally served with notice of such. After receiving notification of the hearing from petitioner's counsel, respondent contacted the court via telephone and indicated that she was no longer present in the United States. In an effort not to delay the hearing, the magistrate allowed respondent to appear telephonically.  At that hearing, the magistrate sua sponte raised the issue of whether the court had subject matter jurisdiction over this litigation, and ultimately continued the hearing to September 6, 2013. The magistrate set an evidentiary hearing concerning jurisdiction for October 8, 2013, and ordered all parties, including the children, present and in person at the hearing.  On September 23, 2013, the magistrate determined that the court had subject matter jurisdiction and that a hearing on jurisdiction was no longer necessary. Accordingly, the magistrate ordered that the October 8, 2013, evidentiary hearing would instead concern the petition for judicial review and motion for warrant.  The magistrate further ordered that petitioner, respondent, and their two children must be present, in person, at the aforementioned hearing, and that there would be no exceptions to the personal appearance requirement.  

        On October 8, 2013, the magistrate held the evidentiary hearing as scheduled. Present at the hearing were petitioner, petitioner's counsel, and respondent's counsel.  Respondent and the children, in violation of the magistrate's order, did not attend the hearing.  At the hearing, respondent's counsel raised the issue of whether the court had personal jurisdiction over respondent.  Petitioner's counsel called the petitioner to testify under oath.Petitioner was asked questions by his counsel, then respondent's counsel cross-examined him and, finally, the magistrate asked petitioner questions of her own.  No other witnesses were presented.
 On October 29, 2013, the magistrate issued a report recommending the petition
be granted, a warrant in lieu of habeas corpus be issued, and respondent's motion
to dismiss be denied. Respondent filed objections to the report and recommendation, specifically objecting to the magistrate's findings that the court has personal and subject matter jurisdiction. 

The District Court observed that it "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate."28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1). Where a party timely objects to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, then the court is required to "make a de novo determination of those portions of the [report and recommendation] to which objection is made."28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

       The district court concluded that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction over
this matter.   Under ICARA any person seeking the return of a child in the United States may commence a civil action under the convention by "filing a petition 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).  Petitioner was  required to demonstrate that the court had jurisdiction by proving the children were located in this district at the time he filed the petition. He failed to do so.

       The parties' disagreement regarding subject matter jurisdiction centered around
the word "located" as it is used within the context of an ICARA petition. Relying on a footnote in Holder, the petitioner argued that the place where the children are discovered, apparently whether or not they are physically there when the petition is filed, is the determinative location. Because the children were "discovered" in Las Vegas, petitioner asserted that this court had jurisdiction.  In finding that the court did have subject matter jurisdiction, the magistrate concluded that respondent's contention that the children were in California with Ms. Acevado when the petition was filed was irrelevant because petitioner did not have knowledge of that trip, and his reasonable belief that the children were in Las Vegas was enough to establish jurisdiction. The district court held that neither the plain language of the statute nor the decisions relied on by petitioner supported that conclusion.

       In Holder, the court touched on the meaning of the word "located" in passing. In doing so, the court stated that:  [Petitioner] probably could not have brought his Hague Convention petition in  California in the first instance because California probably does not have  jurisdiction to hear it... At least one of our sister circuits has held that  "located" has a particular meaning in the context of ICARA, distinct from "a  traditional residency test."  Lops v. Lops, 140 F.3d 927, 937 (11th Cir.1998).  The Lops definition, "the place where the abducted children are discovered," is  more equivalent to the concept of physical presence.  140 F.3d at 937. This kind  of common-sense definition makes sense in the context of the ICARA and the Hague  Convention, concerned as they are with the Hague Convention's consistent  application across borders.     Holder, 305 F.3d 854, n. 5 (9th Cir.2002). 

The district court found that the footnote in Holder simply comports with a plain reading of the statute. It was clear that the word "located," as used within the context of ICARA, has a more particular and exacting meaning than a "traditional residency test," which is generally more broad. While under a "traditional residency test" analysis the children in this case may have been "located" in Nevada, that is not the proper analysis here. Under ICARA, jurisdiction exists only where the children are physically present at the time of filing. In this case it was undisputed that respondent took the children to California on or around August 27, 2013. What was disputed, however, is the date that the children returned to Las Vegas, if at all. Petitioner has produced evidence demonstrating only that respondent was in this district on August 30, 2013. Respondent produced evidence, including cell phone pictures and an affidavit from Ms. Acevado, tending to show that the children were in California on August 30, 2013-the day the petition was filed in Nevada. While the magistrate and petitioner expressed doubt regarding the credibility of such evidence, no such credibility determination was necessary. The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the court has jurisdiction. It is not enough to show generally that the children were in Nevada at some point in the weeks or days prior to the filing of the petition. Rather, jurisdiction under ICARA requires a more particular showing that the child is in the district at the moment the petition is filed. Here, petitioner had not produced any evidence that the children, as opposed to only respondent, were physically present in this district at the time the petition was filed. Accordingly, petitioner did not satisfy his burden of demonstrating that the children were located in this district on the date he filed the petition. Accordingly, the court did  not have jurisdiction over the matter and dismissed the case.