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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Pliego v Hayes, 2016 WL 7048693 (6th Cir., 2016) [Turkey] [Grave Risk of Harm] [Attorneys Fees] [Petition Granted]

In Pliego v Hayes, 2016 WL 7048693 (6th Cir., 2016) the state of habitual residence was Turkey, where the Petitioner father was assigned as a Spanish diplomat. The mother removed the child to the United States twice, and twice was ordered by the district court to return the child to Turkey.( Pliego v. Hayes, 86 F.Supp.3d 678, 696–97 (W.D. Ky. 2015) (“Pliego I”); Pliego v. Hayes, No. 5:15–CV–00146, 2015 WL 4464173, at *7 (W.D. Ky. July 21, 2015) (“Pliego II”). During the second proceeding, Pliego took steps for his diplomatic immunity to be waived, which would be necessary for Turkish courts to adjudicate the child’s permanent custody if his second ICARA petition was successful and the child was returned to Turkey. The Spanish Embassy sent diplomatic notes to Turkish authorities waiving Pliego’s immunity from jurisdiction and execution with regard to the custody case. The mother appealed the second return order, arguing that there was a grave risk of an “intolerable situation” because the father’s diplomatic status undermined the ability of the Turkish courts to properly adjudicate custody.

As an initial matter, the Sixth Circuit held that the case was not moot. By appealing Pliego II, Hayes was asking in effect for a “re-return” order instructing that the child be brought back from Turkey to the United States. Such a re-return order may be difficult to enforce, but this alone does not render an ICARA case moot, Chafin v. Chafin, ––– U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 1017, 1023–26, 185 L.Ed.2d 1 (2013). The essential facts have not changed since Hayes’s appeal of Pliego II. The child was still in Turkey. An exit ban still prevented either parent from taking him outside of that country. Turkish courts were still adjudicating the underlying custody dispute. Accordingly, this case was not moot.

The Sixth Circuit held that the treaty phrase “intolerable situation,” under the second prong under Article 13(b) can encompass situations where the courts of the state of habitual residence are practically or legally unable to adjudicate custody. However, that was not the case here because, as found by the district court, the waiver by the Spanish government of the father’s diplomatic immunity sufficiently permitted the Turkish courts to adjudicate custody. The Sixth Circuit held that Hayes failed to establish an “intolerable situation” under the facts of this case, and review of the facts was for clear error. Simcox v. Simcox, 511 F.3d 594, 601 (6th Cir. 2007). None of the district court’s findings of fact were clearly erroneous, and they clearly established that Turkish courts could properly adjudicate the underlying custody dispute and protect the child.

          The Sixth Circuit rejected Pliego’s requests for an award of attorneys’ fees and costs incurring during this appeal. It noted that Article 26 of the Hague Abduction Convention provides that “[u]pon ordering the return of a child ... the judicial or administrative authorities may, where appropriate, direct the person who removed or retained the child, ... to pay necessary expenses incurred by or on behalf of the applicant.” The ICARA provision implementing this language provides that “[a]ny court ordering the return of the child pursuant to an action brought under [ICARA] shall order the respondent to pay necessary expenses incurred by or on behalf of the petitioner.” 22 U.S.C. § 9007(b)(3) (2012). The Court held that  these provisions apply only to courts “ordering the return of the child.” Thus, this provision did not apply to it, which was not a court ordering the return of the child but was a court affirming another court’s order to return the child. This interpretation was supported by the decisions of sister circuits that have addressed the issue. Hollis v. O’Driscoll, 739 F.3d 108, 113 (2d Cir. 2014); West v. Dobrev, 735 F.3d 921, 933 n.9 (10th Cir. 2013). However, it did not reach the issue of whether the district court that ordered the child’s return in Pliego II may, upon separate motion, award fees incurred on this appeal.

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