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Monday, December 28, 2015
Tann v Bennett, 807 F.3d 51 (2d Cir 2015)[United Kingdom] [Federal and State Judicial Remedies] [Appeal]
In Tann v Bennett, 807 F.3d 51 (2d Cir 2015) Petitioner Lisa Tann appealed from the denial of her petition filed under the International Child Abduction Remedies Act . Tann, a citizen of the United Kingdom who resided in Northern Ireland, alleged that Respondent George Bennett wrongfully abducted their son, J.D., to the United States. The district court denied Tann's petition, finding that even though Northern Ireland was J.D.'s habitual residence, the child's preference for staying in the United States excepted him from being returned. Tann appealed the district court's judgment to this Court. While that appeal was pending, the Family Court of Orleans County, State of New York, granted full custody to George Bennett. The Bennetts moved to dismiss Tann's appeal as moot, on the grounds that the Court can no longer grant effective relief. The Second Circuit denied the motion. It observed that a case is moot when the issues presented are no longer ‘live’ or the parties ‘lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.’ ” Blackwelder v. Safnauer, 866 F.2d 548, 551 (2d Cir.1989) (quoting Murphy v. Hunt, 455 U.S. 478, 481, 102 S.Ct. 1181, 71 L.Ed.2d 353 (1982)). It rejected the Bennetts argument that the appeal was moot because the New York court's custody determination resolved the parties' dispute such that the Second Circuit could no longer grant Tann's requested relief. It pointed out that the Hague Convention provides that “[t]he sole fact that a decision relating to custody has been given in or is entitled to recognition in the requested State shall not be a ground for refusing to return a child under this Convention.” Hague Convention, art. 17.In her appeal Tann contended that the district court erred in holding that J.D. should continue to reside in the United States and that the New York courts are thereby authorized to resolve the underlying custody dispute on the merits. The court pointed out that if it reversed the district court's judgment and find that Northern Ireland was J.D.'s habitual residence and no exception applied to prevent his return, J.D. could be returned to Northern Ireland. In that event, the Northern Ireland courts would have jurisdiction to determine the merits of the underlying custody dispute. Holding that Tann's petition was moot because the Bennetts received a favorable custody determination in a potentially friendlier New York court could encourage the jurisdictional gerrymandering that the Hague Convention was designed to prevent.
Matter of Adamis v. Lampropoulou, 2015 WL 2344079 (EDNY, 2015)[Petition denied] [Greece] [Consent] [Age and Maturity] [Video testimony] [in camera]
In Matter of Adamis v. Lampropoulou, 2015 WL 2344079 (EDNY, 2015) Petitioner Nikolaos Adamis filed a verified petition, for the return of his minor son, D.A., against D.A.'s mother, who was living with D.A. in Douglaston, New York at the time. Because Adamis was in Greece for the entire proceeding, he testified and participated in the proceeding via video conference, as did two other witnesses located in Greece. The Court interviewed D.A. in camera, but on record and in the presence of both parties' counsel, to determine his wishes regarding his place of residence. At the conclusion of the trial, the Court denied the petition for return.
D.A. was the son of Petitioner and Respondent. At the time of the trial, D.A. was 12 years old. Petitioner was a U.S. and Greek citizen who was living in the United States in the 1990s. Respondent was a Canadian citizen of Greek heritage who moved to New York with her family in 1968. On September 2, 2001, Petitioner and Respondent wed in Greece. After the events of 9/11, which occurred only days later, Petitioner decided that they would relocate, with Toula, he child from a previous marriage, to Greece. Petitioner and Respondent moved to Greece for a "better lifestyle." D.A. was born in Greece in October 2002, and lived there continuously until he was brought to the United States by his mother in December 2013. Discussions about moving to the United States began when D.A. was in fourth grade, prompted by the difficulties he was facing in school. After D.A. told his mother he could no longer handle his school situation, she told Petitioner that they had to move to the United States for D.A.'s sake. Petitioner responded, Okay, okay, whatever makes you happy." It took time, however, to raise the money to move to the United States. Thereafter, D.A.'s mother repeatedly raised the topic of moving with Petitioner, and he told her several times that they could go. In the summer of 2013, D.A.'s mother began planning the move in earnest. She told D.A. that they were going to move, and began packing their household items and personal belongings to be shipped to the United States. D.A. spoke to his father directly about the move, saying that there were things that he (D.A.) could not do in Greece and that he wanted to move. D.A.'s father simply responded, "okay, okay." Many people in Porto Rafti knew about the move, including D.A.'s school, his classmates and their families, the family's neighbors, and Respondent's friends and co-workers. In fact, her co-workers performed a farewell song for D.A.'s family at the annual Thanksgiving dinner shortly before they moved, and D.A.'s school class also held a farewell party for him. On December 13, 2013, Respondent and D.A. left Porto Rafti to travel to the United States. By that time, the house was almost empty, except for furniture that did not belong to the family, Petitioner's personal belongings, and unwanted personal items D.A. and Respondent left behind. Petitioner was at the Porto Rafti home that day, having come home the night before so that he could say goodbye. After Respondent and D.A. left for the United States in December 2013, Petitioner changed his mind about letting D.A. live in the United States. 14 On January 6, 2013, when Respondent called Petitioner, he asked her when they were returning to Greece. Respondent told Petitioner that they were not returning to Greece and reminded him that he knew that they were moving, that they had spoken about the move many times, and that he had seen them packing their belongings. On January 22, 2014, Respondent went to the Greek Ministry of Justice, and filed a complaint pursuant to Article 13 of the Hague Convention, seeking the return of D.A. to Greece.
During the trial, the Court interviewed D.A. in the presence of Petitioner's and Respondent's counsel. The Court's assessment of D.A. was that he was an unusually poised and mature adolescent, who was comfortable with adults, and engaged readily and openly with the Court. The Court found D.A. perceptive, bright, forthright, rational, friendly, credible, and serious about his education. His answers and demeanor evinced clarity about his wishes and the reasons for them, and complete awareness of the consequences of the court proceeding. D.A. wanted to "stay in America." He believed that "America's definitely better to live all year around" because his "whole family is here…. There's a better school here, and I just like it overall here." Since arriving in the United States, D.A. had been living in an apartment with his mother and sister in a building where his mother's aunt and uncle also live. D.A. and his sister each had their own bedroom. D.A. was very close to his sister, Toula, and would not want to return to Greece if she remained in the United States, which was her current plan.
The parties stipulated to Petitioner's prima facie case for wrongful removal. They agreed that (1) D.A.'s habitual residence at the time of his removal was Greece, and (2) Petitioner had custodial rights pursuant to Greek law. It found that Petitioner consented to D.A. moving with his mother and sister from Greece to the United States on December 13, 2013. This evidence included the testimony of Respondent, Toula and D.A., as corroborated by December 2013 audio recording of Petitioner stating that he had given permission for them to move. The Court found that Petitioner consented to Respondent's removal of D.A. from Greece on December 13, 2013, and his retention in the United States thereafter. See In re Kim, 404 F. Supp. 2d at 520-21 (determining, based on the credibility of the witnesses, that the respondent established by a preponderance of the evidence that the petitioner consented to the child's move).
The Court found that the age and maturity exception provided another basis for refusing to order D.A.'s return to Greece and that D.A. was sufficiently mature to object to his return and has credibly done so. The Court's finding was based largely on its interview of D.A. The Court found D.A. to be an exceptionally bright, thoughtful, sociable and well-adjusted adolescent. The Court also found that D.A.'s reasons for wanting to remain in the United States were rational and well-considered: (1) superior educational opportunities, especially in D.A.'s areas of interest, i.e., science and computer science; (2) the chance to participate in a wide range of extracurricular activities; (3) an abundance of relatives with whom he is very close; and (4) more and better friendships. The sincerity and rationality of D.A.'s motivations and desires was corroborated by the testimony of D.A.'s family members, who credibly testified about how much fuller and happier D.A.'s life has become since moving to the United States.
Fuentes Rangel v Woodman, --- Fed.Appx. ----, 2015 WL 3405132 (C.A.11 (Ga.)) [Mexico][Habitual Residence]
In Fuentes Rangel v Woodman, --- Fed.Appx. ----, 2015 WL 3405132 (C.A.11 (Ga.)) Daniel Scott Woodman appealed the district court's order granting Elizabeth Fuentes-Rangel's petition for return of their then-5-year-old child, NRW, to Mexico. On appeal Woodman argued that the district court erred as a matter of law by determining NRW's habitual residence based on the facts and circumstances immediately prior to Woodman's retention. According to Woodman, the determination of habitual residence in the prima facie case for the return of a minor child under the Convention and ICARA is made based on the facts and circumstances at the time of the hearing or trial. The Eleventh Circuit held that Woodman's interpretation of the law was incorrect. To establish a prima facie case for return of a child, the petitioner must establish by a preponderance of the evidence the child has been "wrongfully removed or retained within the meaning of the Convention."22 U.S.C. s 9003(e)(1)(A). Article 3 of the Convention, in turn, provides a retention is "wrongful" if, among other things, "it is in breach of rights of custody attributed to a person ... under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention." Thus, a threshold question in deciding a case under the Convention is, what was the child's habitual residence "immediately before the removal or retention."?. The district court's interpretation of the law was correct.
Garcia v. Pinelo, --- F.3d ---- (2015), 2015 WL 9300618 (7th Cir., 2015)[Mexico] [Rights of Custody] [Patria potestas][mature child exception]
In Garcia v. Pinelo, --- F.3d ---- (2015), 2015 WL 9300618 (7th Cir., 2015) Raul Salazar Garcia and Emely Galvan Pinelo, were both Mexican citizens. Their child D.S., was born in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico in 2002. In 2006, a Nuevo León court entered a custody order recognizing Gal-van and Salazar as D.S.’s parents. The court awarded physical custody of D.S. to Galvan and gave Salazar weekly visitation rights. In late 2012, Galvan requested Salazar’s assistance in obtaining a passport and visa for D.S. to visit the United States. She intended to visit relatives in Texas and then to take D.S. to either Disney World or Disneyland. Before that trip took place, however, she became engaged to an American citizen named Rogelio Hernandez, whom she married in July 2013. Around this time, she decided that she wanted to move with D.S. to the United States. While Galvan had told Salazar about her initial plans to travel with D.S. to the United States as a tourist, she did not advise him of her change in plans. Salazar became suspicious, however, when he saw news of Galvan’s engagement on Facebook. That led to a meeting among Galvan, Salazar, and D.S. on July 30, 2013, at a Starbucks in Monterrey. Galvan and Salazar agreed then that D.S. would move to Chicago with his mother and stay there for one school year. What was not clear was what was to happen at the end of that year. Salazar recalled that the parties agreed that D.S.’s wishes would be dispositive, and Galvan thought that the two parents simply agreed to conduct further discussions. Ultimately Salzar filed a petition for return with the Mexican Central Authority who transferred the petition to the United States Department of State, which filed it in the district court on December 2, 2014. . The district court granted the petition. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.
The Seventh Circuit held that (1) the Hague Convention is no exception to the general rule, reflected in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 44.1, that an issue about foreign law is a question of law, not fact, for purposes of litigation in federal court; (2) that Salazar had the necessary custodial right (referred to in Mexico either by its Latin name, patria potestas, or occasionally by its Spanish name, patria potestad ) over D.S. at the time when Galvan refused to permit his return to Mexico. Because D.S.’s habitual residence was Mexico, Galvan’s retention of D.S. was wrongful under the Convention; and (3) the district court had adequate reason to refuse to defer to D.S.’s indications that he prefers to stay in the United States. .
The Court noted that the district court appointed a guardian ad litem for D.S. At first, D.S. did not indicate a preference for either Mexico or Chicago. Over time, however, his views evolved. In late April 2015, D.S. told his guardian that he wanted to stay in Chicago. The district court conducted an in-camera hearing with D.S.,by then 13 years old, to ascertain his views. D.S. told the judge that he preferred to stay in Chicago because it had better schools and opportunities, was safer, and he did not want his mother to be forced to pay Salazar’s costs and fees. He indicated that he wanted to finish eighth grade in Chicago, but that if he were not admitted to a good high school after eighth grade, he might return to Mexico. While he stated a preference for remaining in Chicago, he did not object to returning to Mexico. At some point while all this was happening, Galvan’s had overstayed their tourist visas and had no other basis for staying in the United States. This meant that she probably could not travel outside the United States, even to visit D.S. This news prompted Galvan to request a second in-camera hearing between the judge and D.S. She believed her immigration difficulties would change D.S.’s mind: since she would be unable to visit him in Mexico, it would be very difficult for D.S. to see his mother, possibly for a very long time. The district court obliged. During the second hearing, D.S. more clearly objected to returning to Mexico. While he gave several reasons for doing so, he also indicated that he would not object to returning if Galvan’s immigration situation were quickly resolved and she could travel freely between the United States and Mexico.
After a hearing the district court granted summary judgment for Salazar. It found as a matter of fact that when Salazar and Galvan met in the Monterrey Starbucks in July 2013, they agreed that it would be D.S.’s decision whether to remain in Chicago after one school year had passed. It also found that Mexico was D.S.’s country of habitual residence. Applying the law of the Mexican state of Nuevo León, the court found that Salazar had the right of patria potestas over D.S., and that this qualified as a “right of custody” for purposes of the Convention. This meant that as of the summer of 2014 D.S. was wrongfully retained. The court found that D.S. had eventually objected to returning to Mexico, and that he was sufficiently mature. It nonetheless declined to give effect to D.S.’s wishes, because it determined that doing so would not serve the purposes of the Convention. It thus ordered D.S. to be returned to Mexico.
The Seventh Circuit observed that the doctrine of patria potestas is a gender-neutral legal regime that regulates the relationship between parents (or parent-like figures) and their children. The court has recognized patria potestas as a right of custody” within the meaning of the Convention. Altamiranda Vale v. Avila, 538 F.3d 581, 587 (7th Cir.2008). Galvin denied that Salazar has such a right on two bases. Primarily, she asserted that he never possessed the patria potestas right over D.S.;and that any patria potestas right he may have held was extinguished by a 2006 custody agreement. The Court rejected both arguments. The Court observed that some courts have held that patria potestas may be extinguished by a custody agreement. See, e.g., Gonzalez v. Gutierrez, 311 F.3d 942, 954 (9th Cir.2002), abrogated by Abbott, 560 U.S. at 10, 22; see also Avila, 538 F.3d at 587. None of these decisions, however, cite any Mexican law for this proposition, nor did if find any basis for it in the Civil Code for Nuevo León. The Court held that patria potestas cannot be lost through a custody agreement. Even if it were theoretically possible for a parent to lose patria potestas through a custody agreement, this custody agreement would not suffice.
The Court pointed out that the district court had the discretion to refuse to return D.S. to Mexico if Galvan proved by a preponderance of the evidence that D.S. “object[ed] to being returned and ha[d] attained an age and degree of maturity at which it is appropriate to take account of [his] views.” Hague Convention art. 13, T.I.A.S. No. 11670 (mature-child exception). The district court found that D.S. was sufficiently mature to invoke the exception, and we see nothing in the record to cast doubt on that assessment. The district court also found that D.S. eventually stated his objection to being returned to Mexico during the second in-camera hearing. Both formal prerequisites for this exception were therefore satisfied. The Seventh Circuit held that nonetheless, the exception did not automatically apply in such a case, and it retained discretion to follow the rule rather than the exception. A district court retains discretion not to apply an exception, and that its decision either way is reviewed only for abuse of discretion. Here, the district court decided that it would be inconsistent with the aims of the Convention to refuse to repatriate D.S. It noted D.S.’s ambivalence before he finally objected to returning to Mexico, and the fact that D.S.’s objection was founded “almost entirely” on his belief that his mother would not be able to travel to and from Mexico because of her immigration status. The court was particularly struck by the fact that D.S. stated that he would not object to return if his mother’s travel to and from Mexico were not impeded, based on the assumption that she could obtain the proper visa within six months. The court’s greatest concern was it believed that the application of the mature-child exception in this case would reward Galvan for problems of her own making. Her immigration status was unstable because she (and D.S.) overstayed their tourist visas. It reasoned that allowing D.S. to stay in the United States would allow Galvan to benefit from her own violations of the Convention and U.S. immigration laws. The district court was concerned that exercising the exception in this case would set a precedent that allows a parent to prevent the return of a child by problems of his or her own making. It reasoned that an inquiry into a litigant’s subjective intentions is a difficult endeavor, and one potentially subject to abuse by savvy litigants. It would be difficult for a court to smoke out bad faith in these situations. Neither the Convention nor ICARA forbids the district court to take these concerns into account when it makes its ultimate decision.
Ortiz v. Martinez, --- F.3d ---- (7th Cir., 2015) 2015 WL 3650649 [Mexico][Petition denied][Grave risk of harm]
In Ortiz v. Martinez, --- F.3d ---- (7th Cir., 2015) 2015 WL 3650649 Mr. Ortiz and Ms. Martinez were the parents of two minor children, A.O., a seven-year-old girl, and L.O, a sixteen-year-old boy. Prior to August 2011, Mr. Ortiz and Ms. Martinez lived together with their two children in Mexico City. In August 2011, the couple and their two children traveled to Chicago to visit Ms. Martinez's parents and siblings, all of whom lived in the Chicago area. The couple purchased round-trip tickets, with Mr. Ortiz scheduled to return to Mexico on August 13 and Ms. Martinez and the children scheduled to return on August 20. Mr. Ortiz returned to Mexico on his scheduled departure date. Ms. Martinez and the children, however, did not. When contacted by Mr. Ortiz, Ms. Martinez informed him that she and the children would not be returning to Mexico. She accused Mr. Ortiz of sexually molesting A.O. and told him that she was keeping the children in the United States for A.O.'s safety.
Mr. Ortiz filed action in the district court in May 2012 .Because the case involved allegations of sexual abuse, attorneys for both parties agreed that the court should appoint a psychologist to evaluate the children. In May 2013, the district court held a hearing. The court conducted in camera interviews with L.O. and A.O. and received the experts report and testimony. During the hearing, the district court heard substantial evidence indicating that Mr. Ortiz had sexually abused A.O. Ms. Martinez testified that she had witnessed Mr. Ortiz inappropriately touching their daughter in her vaginal area and had frequently observed signs of such abuse. A.O. corroborated her testimony during her in camera interview, explaining, with words and gestures, how her father had put his finger in her vaginal area while the two were showering. Dr. Machabanski further substantiated these allegations. At trial, Dr. Machabanski testified that A.O. exhibited behavior consistent with having suffered sexual abuse. As detailed in his report, A.O. also exhibited strong negative emotions toward her father through her playtime behavior. Based on these and other factors, Dr. Machabanski testified that, in his “professional opinion, [A.O.] was telling the truth.”5In August 2013, the district court issued a written order denying Mr. Ortiz's petition. The court determined that Ms. Martinez had presented sufficient evidence to establish the “grave risk” defense under Article 13(b). The court credited Ms. Martinez's evidence that Mr. Ortiz previously had molested A.O. and, based on that abuse, determined that A.O. would face a grave risk of similar harm by her father if returned to Mexico. The district court independently found that L.O. was old enough and mature enough such that his desire to remain in the United States should be credited. Based on these findings, the district court denied Mr. Ortiz's petition. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. It rejected Mr. Ortiz contention that the district court erred in finding that he had sexually abused A.O. and thus that she faced a grave risk of harm if returned to Mexico. It observed that the Convention's mandatory-return rule is subject to the affirmative defense of grave risk: [T]he judicial or administrative authority of the requested State is not bound to order the return of the child if the person, institution or other body which opposes its return establishes that—... b there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation. Hague Convention, art. 13(b). Sexual abuse constitutes a “grave risk” of physical or psychological harm. Similarly, sexual abuse, particularly by a custodial parent, is a well-recognized example of an “intolerable situation” within the meaning of this exception. The party opposing the return of a child has the burden of establishing this exception by clear and convincing evidence. 22 U.S.C. § 9003(e)(2)(A).
Mr. Ortiz contended that the finding was based on unreliable evidence and thus was clearly erroneous. The Circuit Court of Appeals found that the district court explicitly acknowledged that Ms. Martinez had to meet the demanding “clear and convincing” standard. The evidence of sexual abuse was substantial and sufficient to meet that standard. During her testimony, Ms. Martinez described, in detail, how she had seen Mr. Ortiz molesting A.O. in the shower and how, on a separate occasion, she had overheard A.O. tell her father, while the two were showering, not to touch her private areas anymore. This testimony was consistent with A.O.'s description of events during her in camera interview. Finally, in his expert testimony and report, Dr. Machabanski opined (1) that A.O. exhibited behavior consistent with having suffered sexual abuse; (2) that she exhibited strong negative emotions toward her father through her playtime behavior; and (3) that, in his “professional opinion, she was telling the truth.”
The Seventh Circuit found that the district court did not commit clear error. As the Supreme Court has noted, the clear error standard “demands even greater deference to” a district court's factual findings “[w]hen [those] findings are based on determinations regarding the credibility of witnesses.” Anderson v. City of Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 575, 105 S.Ct. 1504, 84 L.Ed.2d 518 (1985). As a practical matter, this means that such findings “can virtually never be clear error,” unless premised on testimony that is “internally inconsistent,” facially implausible, or “contradicted by extrinsic evidence.” In other words, a district court's credibility findings are “binding on appeal unless the [court] has chosen to credit exceedingly improbable testimony.” Discrepancies arising from impeachment, inconsistent prior statements, or the existence of a motive do not render witness testimony legally incredible.” None of Mr. Ortiz's contentions were sufficient to render the evidence credited by the district court “legally incredible.” Consequently, it concluded that the district court did not clearly err in finding that Mr. Ortiz had sexually abused A.O. Because Ms. Martinez's presented sufficient evidence to establish the “grave risk” exception, the district court properly denied Mr. Ortiz's petition.