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Friday, February 17, 2017

Madrigal v Tellez, ______F3d_____, (5th Cir., 2017)[Mexico] [Federal & State Judicial Remedies] [“Return”]

In Madrigal v Tellez, ______F3d_____, (5th Cir., 2017) Jorge Carlos Vergara Madrigal (Vergara) and Angelica Fuentes Tellez (Fuentes) were the parents of two young daughters, ages five and three years. The family resided in Mexico City, Mexico, until April 2015, when Fuentes took the Children on vacation but wrongfully retained them in the United States thereafter. In June 2015, Vergara filed an action under the Hague Convention seeking the return of the Children to Mexico. Following trial, the district court found that Mexico was the state of the Children’s habitual residence, of the Convention, and that Fuentes had wrongfully retained the Children in the United States in violation of Vergara’s custody rights. The district court rejected Fuentes’s argument that the Children would face a grave risk of harm if returned to Mexico, finding that both parents were well able to provide them with adequate protection. In September 2015, the district court issued an order granting Vergara’s petition and requiring Fuentes to “return the Children to Mexico”). In the interim, Fuentes filed with the district court a Rule 60(b) motion to vacate the judgment, arguing that new evidence established that the Children would face a grave risk of harm if returned to Mexico. Vergara filed a “motion to enforce the judgment,” asking, among other things, that the Children be delivered to him for purposes of return to Mexico. On January 29, 2016, the district court denied Fuentes’s motion to vacate and granted in part and denied in part Vergara’s motion to enforce, again ordering Fuentes to return the Children to Mexico but declining to impose any additional requirements.

        In early February, Fuentes filed a “Notice of Compliance with Court Order,” in which she represented to the district court that “the Children were returned to Mexico” and that they are “residing” in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. However, according to Vergara, he subsequently learned that the Children were only spending some week nights in their maternal grandfather’s house in Juarez, while spending weekdays and weekends in El Paso, Texas. Vergara filed a “second supplemental emergency motion for clarification,” asking the court to order Fuentes to deliver the Children and their passports to Vergara and to prohibit the Children’s international travel out of Mexico. In a February 11, 2016, order, the district court denied this motion. 

The Fifth Circuit observed that the return remedy is the “central operating feature” of the Convention. Abbott, 560 U.S. at 9. Neither the Convention nor ICARA define the term “return.” It rejected Vergara’s argument that “return” under the Convention requires a restoration of the pre-abduction status quo, connotes permanence, and precludes delivery of a child to individuals with no custody rights. He  maintained that the Children had not been returned to Mexico because they
spent the majority of their time in the United States, traveled between the two
countries on a daily basis, and were in the care of third parties who had no
custody rights when they are in Mexico. The Court rejected Vergara’s expansive reading of the Convention’s return remedy as categorically mandating the relief that he sought. The return remedy was designed to ensure that the courts of the state of habitual residence have jurisdiction over the child in order to make custody determinations. Thus, the Convention and its return remedy do not control or regulate children whose custody matters are within the exclusive jurisdiction and control of the state of habitual residence. The parties agreed that Mexican courts now had jurisdiction to decide all custody matters in this case—those custody matters were currently being litigated in Mexico. And the Children’s regular and frequent presence in Mexico allowed Mexican authorities to enforce any judgment by the Mexican courts relating to the Children. Thus, the return remedy’s goals had been
achieved in this case.

Vergara contended that “the Children should have been returned to Mexico City, where among other things they can spend time with both parents and resume attendance at their original school.” The Fifth Circuit held that while the Convention seeks the “restoration of the status quo” in order to deter child abductions,, there is no indication that it is meant to restore the factual pre-abduction status quo in every sense, as Vergara suggested. Indeed, a court’s determination of the location of the child’s residence within the state of habitual residence, the school he or she must attend, and visitation schedules begins to resemble the judgments to be made in a domestic child case. Hague Convention courts are empowered to order the delivery of an abducted child to the petitioning parent for purpose of returning the child to the state of habitual residence. Yet,  the Convention’s return remedy “only determines where any custody decision should be made.” Hernandez, 820 F.3d at 786. Vergara’s complaint that the Children were in the care of third parties when in Mexico was not relevant to the Convention’s return remedy because it has no effect on the now-established jurisdiction of the Mexican courts to make custody decisions in this matter. It pointed out that with regard to  Vergara’s concerns about the children’s travel out of Mexico, this was within the jurisdiction of the Mexican courts. Subject only to the confines of Mexican law, Mexican courts are free to grant Vergara full custody over the Children and to prohibit or restrict their international travel.  It affirmed  the district court’s denial of Vergara’s post-judgment motions.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed that part of the order of the district court that denied her motion to reopen the trial, based upon her attorney's receipt of a single, vague email from an unknown source finding that what may have been a threat in the subject lien was  not clear and convincing evidence of a grave risk of harm. There was no text in the body of the email. In October 2016, a Mexican court issued a warrant for Fuentes’s arrest, charging her with the offense of fraudulent administration. In her Rule 60(b) motion she claimed that no bail is available for this offense, and she would therefore be indefinitely separated from the Children if they were to remain in Mexico. Fuentes did not argue that the Mexican judicial system wass corrupt or unfair. The Fifth Circuit held that for it to second-guess the decisions of Mexican courts in their domestic criminal cases would be in serious tension with the principle of international comity, which the Convention seeks to further. Thus, the arrest warrant, did  not establish clear and convincing evidence of a grave risk of harm to the Children. Accordingly, it affirmed the district court’s denial of Fuentes’s motion to vacate the Original Return Order.