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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Alvarez v Alvarez, 2017 WL 2335600 (D. Md., 2017) [Mexico] [Federal & State Judicial Remedies] [Comity]

In Alvarez v Alvarez, 2017 WL 2335600 (D. Md., 2017) Petitioner, Enedina Alvarez filed her Verified Petition for Return of the Children to Mexico on April 12, 2017. With her Petition for Return, the Mother included a copy of a Custody Agreement dated January 6, 2016 and a copy of the Mexico Appellate Court Decision  issued September 7, 2016.5 The Father filed his Answer on May 10, 2017, denying that the Mother had legal custody over the children and denying that the children had been wrongfully removed from Mexico. By the current Motion in Limine, the Mother requests this Court to accord comity to the Mexico Hague Convention Proceedings.

The district court observed that the Fourth Circuit has noted that “though foreign judgments are not entitled to full faith and credit, comity is at the heart of the Hague Convention.” Smedley, 772 F.3d at 189 (quoting Miller, 240 F.3d at 400). The United States Supreme Court provided a description of comity with some guiding principles in Hilton v. Guyot, 159 U.S. 113, 163-64, 202-03 (1895). Where comity is at issue, a court begins its analysis “with an inclination to accord deference to” a foreign court’s decision of a related Hague petition. Diorinou v. Mezitis, 237 F.3d 133, 145 (2d Cir. 2001). However, a court may decline to extend comity if the foreign court “clearly misinterprets the Hague Convention, contravenes the Convention’s fundamental premises or objectives, or fails to meet a minimum standard of reasonableness.” Smedley, 772 F.3d at 189 (quoting Asvesta, 580 F.3d at 1014). In Smedley, the Fourth Circuit found that the district court had properly found the foreign court’s decision was “at least minimally reasonable,” which was sufficient to accord comity. Id. at 191.

  The Court had access only to the Mexico Appellate Court Decision  which was attached to the Petition for Return. The decision which affirmed the lower court finding, details the facts considered and the law applied. There is nothing in the decision that would indicate that the court either misinterpreted the Hague Convention or was inconsistent with its fundamental premises and objectives. The Mexico courts found that the Father had consented to the children remaining in Mexico. Such a finding was supported by the evidence, such as the custody agreement. These decisions were issued in relation to the Father’s Hague Convention Petition for Return filed in Mexico against the Mother while the children were living with the Mother in Mexico. The appellate decision affirmed a lower Mexico court order finding that the Mother had not wrongfully retained the children in Mexico, and that the Father had consented for the children to live in Mexico with the Mother.

The Father noted that the custody agreement was intended to be temporary and did not entitle the Mother to keep the children in Mexico past the January 11, 2016 scheduled return to the United States. The Mexico court, however, considered this argument in its decision. The Mexico court determined that the vacation circumstances had radically changed due to an episode of violence between the Father and the Mother. The Mexico court further noted that since the Custody Agreement was signed on January 6, 2016, and the parties had full knowledge of the scheduled return date, if it was intended to end on that date, they had the opportunity to so specify but did not. Further, as noted by the Mother in her motion, the Mexico trial court appointed a guardian ad litem for the children, ordered psychological evaluations for the parties, and received extensive testimony and evidence, including documents and affidavits. After considering all of the evidence, the Mexico trial court found that the Mother did not wrongfully retain the children in Mexico, and this finding was upheld after further extensive analysis by the Mexico appellate court. The finding is certainly at least minimally reasonable. Accordingly, the Court directed that it would  accord comity to the Mexico Hague Convention Proceedings.

The Court’s held that its deference to the Mexico Hague rulings that the Mother did not wrongfully retain the children in Mexico did not end the Court’s consideration of whether the Father’s removal of the children from Mexico required an order for their return. Rather, the Court stated it would take into account the reasons for the Mexico courts’ decisions when deciding the instant Petition for Return. There remained other evidence to be considered, including the circumstances surrounding the Father’s removal of the children from Mexico, and the Convention’s defenses and exceptions. The Court held that it would consider all material evidence to be presented at a hearing prior to making an ultimate finding on the Petition for Return.

Tavarez v Jarett, --- F.Supp.3d ----, 2017 WL 2304029 (S.D. Texas, 2017)[Mexico] [Petition granted]

  In Tavarez v Jarett, --- F.Supp.3d ----, 2017 WL 2304029 (S.D. Texas, 2017)  Petitioner Yolanda Sanchez Tavarez (“Petitioner”) alleged Respondent Michael Jarrett (“Respondent”) wrongfully removed their six-year-old daughter, BLSJ, from Mexico to the United States on January 24, 2016.  Petitioner was a Mexican national and Respondent was an American national. The parties lived in the same residence in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, Mexico from 2009 until their separation in 2014 and were the parents of one six-year-old child, BLSJ who was born in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, Mexico on June 13, 2010. BLSJ resided in Mexico until she was removed to the United States on January 24, 2016.  Respondent conceded that Mexico was the country of BLSJ’s habitual residence.

            On May 10, 2012, BLSJ was hospitalized in Mexico after suffering seizures and fainting. BLSJ was subsequently diagnosed with anti-NMDA encephalitis (“Anti-NMDA”), an autoimmune disease. BLSJ was released from the Guadalajara Hospital in November 2013 and thereafter received continuing medical treatments, physical therapy, and speech therapy. The childs doctor did not  have any concerns about BLSJ’s ability to receive the appropriate medical treatment in Mexico. At the time of BLSJ’s last appointment in Mexico, on November 20, 2015, BLSJ’s disorder was stable and controlled, and Dr. Cruz believed BLSJ would likely go into remission. On January 24, 2016, Respondent removed BLSJ from Mexico and brought her to the United States.  Respondent testified that he and Petitioner agreed BLSJ should move to the United States to seek medical treatment for BLSJ’s Anti-NMDA. The district court rejected this testimony and found that Respondent wrongfully removed BLSJ from Mexico.

  The Court found Respondent failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that Petitioner consented or acquiesced to BLSJ’s removal. It also rejected Respondent arguments that returning BLSJ to Mexico posed a grave risk to BLSJ because (1) the healthcare available to BLSJ in Mexico is inadequate; (2) there is an increased risk of disease in the area of Mexico to which Petitioner seeks BLSJ’s return; (3) there is a high crime rate in the area of Mexico to which Petitioner seeks BLSJ’s return; and (4) BLSJ was abused by Petitioner or Petitioner’s family.

Cunningham v Cunningham, 2017 WL 662020 (M.D. FL, 2017)[Japan][ Habitual residence ] [Petition granted]

In Cunningham v Cunningham, 2017 WL 662020 (M.D. FL, 2017),  Ryoko Cunningham (Mother), a citizen and resident of Japan, requested the return of her child, Y.L.C. from the United States to Japan. Respondents were Terrence Cunningham (Father) and Glenda Cunningham (Grandmother), the father and paternal grandmother of the Child. The Child lived with the Grandmother in Yulee, Florida. The Father was serving in the United States Army and stationed in Maryland, but his home of record was also Yulee, Florida. The district court granted the petition.

The Mother was born in Japan and lived her entire life in Japan aside from a three week period when she attempted to live in the United States. Prior to the Child’s birth, the Mother was living in Okinawa with her daughter and son. The Father, an American citizen, was stationed with the Army in Okinawa. In May 2014, the couple got married in Japan. The Father’s assignment in Japan was scheduled to end. Although their relationship was turbulent and troubled, the Parents made plans to move to Maryland together, with the Mother’s teenage son, and live there as a family on a permanent basis. They couple moved to the United States in April 2015 . However, after an argument, the Mother returned to Japan where the child was born.  She subsequently returned to the United States for a short time but sought to return to Japan after more arguments. Upon hearing the Mother’s demand to return to Japan and obtain a divorce, and hearing her threat to never let him see the Child, the fathers response was to ask the Army for assistance in returning the Mother to Japan

The district court observed that the difficulty with applying the usual” habitual residence” analysis in this case was  that the caselaw focused on situations in which a child’s habitual residence has changed, as opposed to the question of when or how an infant’s initial habitual residence is first established. Significantly, “courts have consistently held that a newborn’s place of birth does not automatically bestow upon that child a habitual residence.” Moreover, an infant child’s habitual residence is not automatically that of her mother. The Father contended that the Child’s habitual residence is the United States because when the couple moved to the United States in April 2015, they shared a mutual intent to remain permanently in the United States. According to the Father, even after the Mother returned to Japan, they quickly reconciled and prior to the Child’s birth agreed that as soon as the Mother and Child were able to travel, they would come to the United States to live here permanently. The Mother disputed this, saying that she wanted a divorce from the Father and only came to the United States to allow him to meet the Child.  The Court concluded that the preponderance of the evidence established that Japan is the Child’s habitual residence.

The Court dispensed with acclimatization as a useful factor. In cases involving very young children, “ ‘[a]cclimatization is an ineffectual standard by which to judge habitual residence in such circumstances because the child lacks the ability to truly acclimatize to a new environment.’ ” See Redmond v. Redmond, 724 F.3d 729, 746 (7th Cir. 2013). Like acclimatization, under the circumstances of this case, a focus on parental intent was also problematic. Here, the Parents, although still married, had separated and were living in different countries at the time of the Child’s birth.  The Parents both planned to live together as a family in the United States when they moved here in March 2015. After no more than three weeks in the United States, in a whirlwind of tempers and abuse allegations, the Mother and her teenage son returned to Japan with the Army’s assistance. The Father acknowledged that he consented to the Mother’s return to Japan. Thus, whatever his hopes had been for their future in Maryland, at that point, the Father acquiesced in the Mother’s decision to leave him and return to Japan while pregnant with the Child. Although the Father testified that he still intended for the Child to be born and raised in the United States, the Court rejected this testimony because, under the circumstances, the Father could have had no reasonable expectation that the Mother and Child would be returning to the United States. While one or both Parents may have had mixed feelings about the Mother’s departure, they both shared a settled mutual intent that she would return to Japan, pregnant with the unborn Child, indefinitely. See Ruiz, 392 F.3d at 1253. The Court found by a preponderance of the evidence that at most the Mother traveled to the United States in October 2015 in an attempt to reconcile with the Father. Both Parents understood that absent reconciliation, the Mother and Child would return to Japan. The Court found that the events of October 10, 2015, showed that the Father’s decision to keep the Child in the United States was a sudden departure from the Parents’ prior understanding. After agreeing that it was her choice whether to return to Japan, the Father changed position and tells the Mother, at his last possible opportunity, that she cannot take the Child. Based on the foregoing, the Court rejected the Father’s contention that the United States was the Child’s country of habitual residence, and found that the Mother has established by a preponderance of the evidence that the Child was habitually resident in Japan prior to the retention. 

The Court adetermined that with regard to rights of custody a showing of illegality or unlawfulness is not what the Hague Convention requires. See Ozaltin v. Ozaltin, 708 F.3d 355, 368–70 (2d Cir. 2013) (“[A] removal under the Hague Convention can still be ‘wrongful’ even if it is lawful.”) The Father presented no legal authority for the proposition that to have “breached” the Mother’s rights of custody within the meaning of the Hague Convention he must have committed acts which were “illegal” or “unlawful” under Japanese law. Significantly, the Hague Convention explicitly includes joint custody rights within its purview. See Hague Convention, art. 3(a). Thus, even if the Father’s actions were not considered “unlawful” under Japanese law, by disregarding the Mother’s jointly held rights and interfering with their normal exercise, the Father effectuated a “wrongful retention” within the meaning of the Hague Convention.  

Moreover, the Father’s reliance on the state court orders to establish that his retention was not wrongful was unavailing. Article 17 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.” As such, under the circumstances of this case, the existence of the state court orders had no impact on the “wrongful retention” analysis. 

Alanis v. Reyes, 2017 WL 1498252( N.D. Miss, 2017)[Mexico][Attorneys Fees]

In Alanis v. Reyes, 2017 WL 1498252( N.D. Miss, 2017) the Court granted the petition and ordered that DFB be returned to Petitioner Lourdes Guadalupe Loredo Alanis in Mexico. On February 17, 2017, Petitioner filed a bill of costs with supporting documentation. On March 7, 2017, the Clerk of Court taxed Petitioner’s bill of costs against Respondent in the amount of $2,429, for the following: fees of the Clerk, $400; fees for service of summons and subpoena, $35; fees for witnesses, $635.80; compensation of interpreters and costs of special interpretation services under 28 U.S.C. § 1828, $300; and mileage incurred by Petitioner and Anel Valdivia to return DFB to Mexico, pursuant to the Court’s Order, $1,058.20. Petitioner filed a motion for costs, expenses, and attorney’s fees.  Respondent Jose Carmen Badillo Reyes did not file a response,

The district court held that fact that Petitioner’s legal representation was pro bono did not render the award of fees and costs improper. See Salazar, 750 F.3d at 518 (citing Cuellar v. Joyce, 603 F.3d 1142, 1143 (9th Cir. 2010) Because Respondent did not file a response, he could not establish that an order awarding costs, expenses, and attorney’s fees would be “clearly inappropriate.” See Ostos v. Vega, 2016 WL 1170830, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 25, 2016).

The district court analyzed  awards of attorney’s fees under ICARA where the Court must (1) calculate reasonable attorney’s fees and (2) review the fees in light of the twelve factors set forth in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1974). The Fifth Circuit has approved a two-step process that uses the “lodestar” method to calculate reasonable attorney’s fees, multiplying the number of hours spent on the matter by a reasonable hourly rate for such work in the community. Reasonable hourly rates are typically calculated through affidavits by attorneys practicing in the community in which the district court is located.“In calculating the lodestar, ‘[t]he court should exclude all time that is excessive, duplicative, or inadequately documented.’ ” However, “there is a ‘strong presumption’ that the lodestar figure is reasonable.” Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 554, 130 S. Ct. 1662, 1673, 176 L.Ed. 2d 494 (2010).

Petitioner’s counsel provided documentation supporting that he expended 56.25 hours on the case, and at his 2016 billing rate of $210 and 2017 rate of $220, the lodestar calculation was $12,210. Petitioner’s counsel attached his own detailed billing records documenting the hours he worked and each service performed, as well as the affidavit of LaToya C. Merritt, a Mississippi attorney, supporting the reasonableness of Petitioner’s counsel’s fee and hourly billing rate for the legal representation and supporting the Johnson factors. Petitioner’s counsel’s billing records indicated that the time spent on the case was reasonable. In carefully examining these line items in light of the Johnson factors, the Court found that the time spent on these tasks, which were necessary to the proceedings, was reasonable.

The Court found that the time claimed for the travel time and hearing attendance was reasonable. The line items for communication concerning the return of DFB to Mexico was reimbursable as reasonable and a necessary expense under the ICARA; preparation of the motion for fees and costs and preparation of the bill of costs and supporting exhibits/documentation were proper and recoverable, as “[i]t is settled that a prevailing plaintiff is entitled to attorney’s fees for the effort entailed in litigating a fee claim and securing compensation.” See Cruz v. Hauck, 762 F.2d 1230, 1233 (5th Cir. 1985).Petitioner was entitled to attorney’s fees in the amount of $12,210.

The Court held that the following costs enumerated in the bill of costs were recoverable under Section 1920: fees of the Clerk, $400; fees for service of summons and subpoena, $35; fees for witnesses, $635.80; and compensation of interpreters and costs of special interpretation services under 28 U.S.C. § 1828, $300. Petitioner’s requested reimbursement of $205.30 for copying was a recoverable cost under Section 1920, because Petitioner had verified through supporting documentation that the particular copies were “necessarily obtained for use in the case.” See Gagnon v. United Technisource, Inc., 607 F.3d 1036, 1045 (5th Cir. 2010). Petitioner’s counsel demonstrated the necessity of the long distance telephone calls, having included line items indicating the necessity of calling the United States State Department, an attorney in Mexico, the Mexican consulate, and Petitioner concerning the return of DFB to Mexico. Petitioner also requested reimbursement of $170.50 in mileage incurred by Petitioner’s counsel for travel to the hearing. “Reasonable transportation and lodging costs incurred by an out-of-town attorney are awardable under § 11607(b)(3).” Saldivar v. Rodela, 894 F. Supp. 2d 916, 944 (W.D. Tex. 2012). The Court found that Petitioner demonstrated the necessity of this expense in the bill of costs, Petitioner requested $1,058.20 for mileage incurred by Petitioner and Anel Valdivia to return DFB to Mexico. The Court found that this travel cost was proper under the ICARA, as it was a “necessary expense[ ] incurred by or on behalf of the petitioner ... related to the return of the child.” See 22 U.S.C. § 9007(b)(3).

 Petitioner was awarded $12,210 in reasonable attorney’s fees and $2,821.59 in ancillary costs and expenses. The total amount of costs, expenses, and attorney’s fees was $15,031.59. Interest was to accrue on the amount awarded Petitioner Lourdes Guadalupe Loredo Alanis at the rate of 1.02 % from the date of the order until it is paid in full.