Wednesday, February 26, 2020
In Monasky v. Taglieri, 2020 WL 889192, at *1–2 (U.S., 2020) the U.S. Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Ginsberg, construed the term “habitual residence” which appears in the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
22 U.S.C. § 9001 et seq., provides that a child wrongfully removed from her country of “habitual residence” ordinarily must be returned to that country. Petitioner Monasky, a U.S. citizen, asserted that her Italian husband, respondent Taglieri, became abusive after the couple moved to Italy from the United States. Two months after the birth of the couple's daughter, A.M.T., in Italy, Monasky fled with the infant to Ohio. Taglieri petitioned the U.S. District Court for A.M.T.'s return to Italy under the Convention, pursuant to 22 U.S.C. § 9003(b), on the ground that the child had been wrongfully removed from her country of “habitual residence.” The District Court granted Taglieri's petition, concluding that the parents' shared intent was for their daughter to live in Italy. Then A.M.T. was returned to Italy. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Under its precedent, the court first noted, an infant's habitual residence depends on the parents' shared intent. It then reviewed the District Court's habitual-residence determination for clear error and found none. The court rejected Monasky's argument that Italy could not qualify as A.M.T.'s “habitual residence” in the absence of an actual agreement by her parents to raise her there.
The Supreme Court held that a child's habitual residence depends on the totality of the circumstances specific to the case, not on categorical requirements such as an actual agreement between the parents. The Convention does not define “habitual residence,” but, as the Convention's text and explanatory report indicate, a child habitually resides where she is at home. This fact-driven inquiry must be “sensitive to the unique circumstances of the case and informed by common sense. Acclimation of older children and the intentions and circumstances of caregiving parents are relevant considerations, but no single fact is dispositive across all cases. The treaty's “negotiation and drafting history” corroborates that habitual residence depends on the specific circumstances of the particular case. This interpretation also aligns with habitual-residence determinations made by other nations party to the Convention.
The Supreme Court rejected Monasky’s arguments in favor of an actual agreement requirement. While an infant's “mere physical presence” is not a dispositive indicator of an infant's habitual residence, a wide range of facts other than an actual agreement, including those indicating that the parents have made their home in a particular place, can enable a trier to determine whether an infant's residence has the quality of being “habitual.” Nor is adjudicating a dispute over whether an agreement existed a more expeditious way of promoting returns of abducted children and deterring would-be abductors than according courts leeway to consider all the circumstances. Finally, imposing a categorical actual-agreement requirement is unlikely to be an appropriate solution to the serious problem of protecting children born into domestic violence, for it would leave many infants without a habitual residence, and therefore outside the Convention's domain.
In addressing the scope of appellate review, the Court held that a first-instance habitual-residence determination is subject to deferential appellate review for clear error. A trial court's habitual-residence determination presents a mixed question of law and fact that is heavily fact laden. The determination presents a task for fact-finding courts and should be judged on appeal by a clear-error review standard. Clear-error review has a particular virtue in Hague Convention cases: By speeding up appeals, it serves the Convention's emphasis on expedition. Notably, courts of other treaty partners also review first-instance habitual-residence determinations deferentially.
Under the circumstances of this case, the Supreme Court declined decline to disturb the judgment below. Although the lower courts viewed A.M.T.'s situation through the lens of her parents' shared intentions, after a four-day bench trial, the District Court had before it all the facts relevant to the dispute. Asked at oral argument to identify any additional fact the District Court did not digest, counsel for the United States offered none. Monasky and Taglieri agreed that their dispute “requires no ‘further factual development, and neither party asked for a remand.