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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Davies v Davies, 2017 WL 6616691 {2d Cir., 2017)[French St. Martin] [Grave Risk of Harm] [Petition denied]

          In Davies v Davies, 2017 WL 6616691 {2d Cir., 2017) the Second Circuit affirmed a judgement which denied the fathers petition for repatriation of his five-year-old son K.D. to French St. Martin. 

          In July 2016, K.D.’s mother, Respondent-Appellee Sally K. Davies, removed K.D. from French St. Martin to New York after suffering years of psychological abuse and increasingly violent behavior from Mr. Davies, much of which occurred in the presence of K.D. Mr. Davies’s uncontrollable anger and abusive behavior was often directed at K.D. Based on documentary evidence and testimony from Ms. Davies, Mr. Davies, nine other fact witnesses, and five expert witnesses the District Court denied Mr. Davies’s petition for repatriation of K.D. See Davies v. Davies, No. 16-cv-6542, 2017 WL 361556, at *1–17 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 25, 2017). There was no dispute that Mr. Davies set forth a prima facie case. The principal issue on appeal was whether Ms. Davies satisfied her burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that one of the four narrow exceptions to the Convention’s repatriation provision applied: that the return of K.D. to French St. Martin would expose him to a “grave risk” of “physical or psychological harm or otherwise place [him] in an intolerable situation” under Article 13(b) of the Convention. 

  The Second Circuit pointed out that on appeal, Mr. Davies challenged several of the district court’s factual findings, which “[w]e must accept ... unless we have a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Souratgar v. Lee, 720 F.3d 96, 103 (2d Cir. 2013) It  owes” particularly strong deference where the district court premises its findings on credibility determinations.” Mathie v. Fries, 121 F.3d 808, 812 (2d Cir. 1997). Therefore, “when a trial judge’s finding is based on his decision to credit the testimony of one of two or more witnesses, each of whom has told a coherent and facially plausible story that is not contradicted by extrinsic evidence, that finding, if not internally inconsistent, can virtually never be clear error.” Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 575 (1985). Having carefully examined the record, it concluded that the district court’s factual findings challenged by Mr. Davies are not erroneous, much less clearly erroneous.

  It concluded that the district court’s findings of fact were not clearly erroneous, including its findings (i) that K.D. was subjected to severe and persistent psychological abuse by Mr. Davies, and (ii) that this abuse would continue if K.D. returned to French St. Martin.

        The Court explained that under Article 13(b)’s grave-risk-of-harm exception to repatriation, “[t]he potential harm to the child must be severe, and the level of risk and danger required to trigger this exception has consistently been held to be very high.” Souratgar, 720 F.3d at 103 “This grave risk exception is to be interpreted narrowly,” a rule that the district court was “acutely aware of.”  It has held that Article 13(b) relief could be granted if repatriation posed a grave risk of causing unavoidable psychological harm to the child,” and “[e]vidence of prior spousal abuse, though not directed at the child, can support the grave risk of harm defense, as could a showing of the child’s exposure to such abuse.” Souratgar, 720 F.3d at 104. But spousal abuse is relevant under Article 13(b) only if it “seriously endangers the child,” and the “inquiry is not whether repatriation would place the respondent parent’s safety at grave risk, but whether so doing would subject the child to a grave risk of physical or psychological harm. ”The grave risk inquiry “involves not only the magnitude of the potential harm but also the probability that the harm will materialize.”  These [are] fact-intensive cases,” and “at one end of the spectrum are those situations where repatriation might cause inconvenience or hardship ... [and] at the other end of the spectrum are those situations in which the child faces a real risk of being hurt, physically or psychologically, as a result of repatriation,” Blondin, 238 F.3d at 162. It concluded that this appeal presented circumstances that fell at the latter end of the spectrum. 

           Reviewing de novo the district court’s application of Article 13(b) to its well-supported factual determinations, it affirmed its decision to deny the petition for repatriation because returning K.D. to French St. Martin would, by clear and convincing evidence, expose him to a grave risk of psychological harm. Based on Mr. Davies’s psychological abuse of not only K.D., but also of Ms. Davies in K.D.’s presence, it found no error in the district court’s conclusions as to the magnitude of the potential psychological harm to K.D.––“severe”––and the probability of that harm materializing if he returned to French St. Martin––“a near certainty.” This conclusion was not based on “[s]poradic or isolated incidents,” or “conjecture and speculation” of abuse, rather, as the district court explained, it was premised on “overwhelming evidence of Mr. Davies’s extreme violence and uncontrollable anger, as well as his psychological abuse of Ms. Davies over many years, much of which was witnessed by K.D., and the fact that Mr. Davies frequently screamed and yelled at K.D. for no legitimate reason.” Like the district court, it found alarming Mr. Davies’s escalation of violence immediately prior to the departure of K.D. and his increasingly hostile threats since then. If K.D. returned and Mr. Davies were to follow through on his threat “that there was no amount of money that he would take to exact his revenge on [Ms. Davies],”–and there was clear and convincing evidence that he would––there is no doubt K.D. would suffer grave psychological harm.
  It found no error in the district court’s conclusion that there were no ameliorative measures that would protect K.D. from harm if he returned to French St. Martin. See Blondin, 238 F.3d at 163 n.11 (“[B]efore a court may deny repatriation on the ground that a grave risk of harm exists under Article 13(b), it must examine the full range of options that might make possible the safe return of a child to the home country.”). The district court heard testimony from four expert witnesses concerning the protections afforded to victims of domestic violence (children and spouses) under French St. Martin’s legal system. Moreover, the district court was in the best position to evaluate Mr. Davies’s credibility about abiding by certain ameliorative measures (such as a stay-away order), which was marred by (i) his deceit and manipulation of the legal system in French St. Martin, (ii) his untruthfulness and unwillingness to accept responsibility for his actions while testifying, and (iii) his escalating threats toward Ms. Davies even after their separation. The day before Ms. Davies and K.D. left French St. Martin, Mr. Davies told her that he would rather take all their money, burn it, and kill himself than resolve their dispute “through the courts.” It declined to disturb the district court’s careful and thorough evaluation of the ameliorative measures.

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