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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Hogan v Hogan, 2017 WL 106021 (E.D. Va., 2017) [Spain] [Federal & State Judicial Remedies] [Diplomatic Immunity]

In Hogan v Hogan, 2017 WL 106021 (E.D. Va., 2017) Petitioner sought the return of the children to Spain. Respondent  moved to dismiss it pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court denied the motion. 

Petitioner and Respondent married in 2001. Both were U.S. citizens. Petitioner and Respondent had two children together, GTH and JWH, who were citizens of both the United States and Brazil. Respondent was employed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In 2012, Respondent accepted a three-year assignment in Spain as an attaché to the United States embassy in that country. Petitioner and the couple’s two children relocated to Spain in June of 2013, where the family resided for the following three years. Shortly before her assignment was to expire, Respondent informed Petitioner that she intended to file for divorce, seek a new job, and relocate their children to the United States. Petitioner objected to the removal of their children from Spain, as they were thriving in their Spanish community. Several weeks later, in the early hours of November 17, 2016, Respondent removed the children from their home in Spain without warning and took them to the airport. Respondent then flew with the children to the United States, where she has since resided with them. Respondent’s assignment in Spain terminated, and Respondent intended to remain in the United States with the children against Petitioner’s wishes.

The district court observed that the purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency of a complaint; the Court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint,” drawing “all reasonable inferences” in the plaintiff’s favor. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 637 F.3d at 440. Respondent’s Motion appeared to take as its premise that Respondent was presently entitled to diplomatic immunity in Spain. (“The Respondent’s family members, including the children at issue herein enjoy precisely the same privileges and immunities as their diplomat Mother. This immunity acts as a legal barrier which precludes any Spanish court from exercising personal jurisdiction over Respondent as well as the parties’ children.”) Respondent’s Motion argued that the Petition must be dismissed because the Hague Convention is “inapplicable” to the custody dispute underlying the Petition. She contended that she and her family were entitled to diplomatic immunity in Spain under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations due to Respondent’s work as an attaché to the United States embassy. The Motion claimed that because her family cannot be haled into Court in Spain, “no Spanish court has jurisdiction to issue an enforceable custody order” should the Court order the children returned to that country. The Court found that Respondent failed to establish that she presently enjoyed diplomatic immunity in Spain. Respondent’s diplomatic position was of limited duration and its term expired. She ceased working as an attaché to the United States embassy in Spain on December 14, 2016. Article 39 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations provides that “[w]hen the functions of a person enjoying privileges and immunities have come to an end, such privileges and immunities shall normally cease at the moment when he leaves the country, or on expiry of a reasonable period in which to do so.” As Respondent’s position with the embassy terminated and she left Spain her diplomatic immunity in Spain had come to an end. Accordingly, diplomatic immunity would not bar custody proceedings initiated in that country.

Respondent also claimed that her earlier immunity prevented her children from accruing “habitual residence” status in that country. She contends that her diplomatic immunity created a “bubble” around her family, such that they could not be considered to reside in Spain in a legal sense. Respondent had no legal authority to support this novel proposition, and the Court found her argument unpersuasive.  The Court observed that in Pliego v. Hayes, 86 F. Supp. 3d 678 (W.D. Ky. 2015), the wife of a Spanish diplomat residing in Turkey abducted their son and brought him to the United States. The court rejected the mother’s argument that the father’s diplomatic status prevented him from meaningfully possessing custodial rights in Turkey, reasoning that nothing in Turkish law precluded him from doing so. The Vienna Convention provides “absolute immunity from criminal prosecution and protection from most civil and administrative actions,” which is to say immunity from the enforcement of local law. In addition, diplomats are immune from the receiving state’s “jurisdiction to prescribe” to the extent that laws effecting their position, such as laws regulating employment and national service, are “incompatible with...diplomatic status.” Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations Law § 464 (1987). Beyond this, however, “a diplomatic agent is subject to law generally” in the receiving state. The Court found that diplomats and their families do not exist in the legal “bubble” Respondent posited.

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