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Friday, January 1, 2021

Da Silva v De aredes, --- F.3d ----, 2020 WL 1226492 (1st Cir., 2020) [Brazil] [Grave risk of harm] [Now settled][Petition denied]

In Da Silva v De aredes, --- F.3d ----, 2020 WL 1226492 (1st Cir., 2020) Marcelene de Aredes “wrongfully removed” her daughter A.C.A. from Brazil, and the child’s father petitioned for her return. De Aredes appealed from a district court order rejecting her defenses to return and ordering the return of A.C.A. to Brazil with A.C.A.’s father, Nelio Nelson Gomes da Silva. The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s decisions, with a technical caveat directing the district court modify the language of the injunctive decree that directs A.C.A.’s return to Brazil. Modification was necessary to prevent the injunction from being read to have made an inappropriate custody determination.

    De Aredes and da Silva, both Brazilian citizens, met in 1998 and soon after began dating in MuriaĆ©, Brazil. The two lived together from 2007 to 2016. They were never married. In 2010, de Aredes gave birth to A.C.A., who was the natural child of da Silva. In February 2016, de Aredes and da Silva separated, and da Silva moved out of their home, to a house next door to de Aredes. M.A. and A.C.A. continued to reside with de Aredes in her home. The district court found that de Aredes had suffered some degree of abuse by da Silva. In September 2016, de Aredes took M.A. and A.C.A. to de Aredes’s parents’ house in Cuparaque, Brazil. De Aredes, M.A., and A.C.A. stayed in Cuparaque for a few months. During this time, da Silva did not travel to Cuparaque or visit A.C.A. In December 2016, and without da Silva’s consent or knowledge, de Aredes took the children to the United States. The Brazilian courts were never asked to determine custody or whether de Aredes had been abused. De Aredes, M.A., and A.C.A. arrived in the United States on or around December 17, 2016, without a visa or other permission to enter. De Aredes did not formally apply for asylum at that time. Immigration authorities released the three on recognizance and ordered de Aredes to attend an immigration hearing in Boston, Massachusetts. The three moved to East Boston immediately afterwards and the two children enrolled in public school.


On November 9, 2018, da Silva filed a Hague Convention petition seeking the return of A.C.A. to Brazil. De Aredes raised five affirmative defenses, only two of which were at issue here: (1) that returning A.C.A. to Brazil would subject A.C.A. to grave risk of physical or psychological harm, 22 U.S.C. § 9003(e)(2)(A); and (2) that da Silva did not file his petition within twelve months of A.C.A.’s wrongful removal, and A.C.A. was “now settled” in the United States. On appeal, de Aredes did not challenge the holding that da Silva made a prima facie case of wrongful removal. The district court concluded that de Aredes had wrongfully removed A.C.A. from Brazil and had not met her burdens of proof on the affirmative defenses. On October 28, 2019, the district court entered an injunction ordering that A.C.A. be returned to Brazil on January 2, 2020. De Aredes appealed the order on October 29, 2019.


The district court rejected de Aredes’s claim that returning A.C.A. to Brazil would expose A.C.A. to a grave risk of physical, sexual, and psychological harm. The district court found that da Silva had “rights of custody over” A.C.A., the removal was wrongful, and da Silva did not sit on his rights. The court found the relationship between the parents was “tumultuous” and “on occasion [da Silva] engaged in some degree of physical assault or abuse of [de Aredes].” It found the parental relationship “falls regrettably in the category of dysfunctional relationships that are known generally in all nations.” And it found the evidence of abuse of de Aredes was “not so pervasive” as to attribute that to da Silva’s other interactions with the family. Correctly stating that the grave risk of harm analysis was concerned with harm or potential harm to A.C.A., rather than de Aredes, the district court concluded that de Aredes failed to show by clear and convincing evidence the possible risk of harm to A.C.A. The grave risk defense requires de Aredes to show, by clear and convincing evidence, “there is a grave risk that ... return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm.” Danaipour, 286 F.3d at 13 . Further, the “harm must be ‘something greater than would normally be expected on taking a child away from one parent and passing [the child] to another.’” Walsh v. Walsh, 221 F.3d 204, 218 (1st Cir. 2000). It rejected De Aredes argument that the finding of “some degree” of abuse of de Aredes required a finding that A.C.A. would be exposed to grave risk. There was no claim that A.C.A. was ever herself abused. The claims here were largely that A.C.A. would be at grave risk from seeing the instances of conflict between her parents, or that the conflict between her parents demonstrated that A.C.A. would be at grave risk of da Silva abusing her in the future. But that degree of conflict does not come close to the witnessed abuse in Walsh v. Walsh.4 See 221 F.3d at 219-22. The district court found that, while da Silva “on occasion ... engaged in some degree of physical assault or abuse,” the abuse was not so severe as in Walsh. The court found that da Silva never abused A.C.A. The details of the abuse alleged were insufficient to support a finding of grave risk as to A.C.A. The district court committed no clear error in concluding that the “showings of physical abuse” were not “so pervasive” as to support a determination of grave risk of harm as to A.C.A.


Nor did the district court err in finding that de Aredes failed to show returning A.C.A. to Brazil would expose A.C.A. to grave risk of sexual harm. That assertion was primarily based on the testimony of M.A.’s therapist, about alleged sexual abuse of M.A. and de Aredes’s characterization of da Silva’s testimony as failing to explicitly deny abusing M.A., this being an admission of child abuse. Here, the alleged sexual abuse was not of A.C.A. De Aredes did not witness any sexual abuse as to A.C.A.’s sister. 

When the petition for return has been filed one year or more after the wrongful removal, as here, a district court may decline to order return if the child is now settled in the new country. Courts look to the totality of the circumstances in determining whether a child is now settled. A court may consider any relevant fact, including immigration status. The district court considered the relevant facts and found that A.C.A. was not now settled. Although it found that the evidence supported A.C.A.’s having “developed meaningful relationships and lasting emotional bonds with a community in East Boston,” the district court found that A.C.A.’s resiliency and ability to form bonds in Brazil would not make her return to Brazil an event that “wrench[ed] [her] out of a well-settled position.” In support, the district court properly considered the “unsettled character [of] the immigration status” of de Aredes, A.C.A., and M.A. Tthe evidence before the district court supported its finding that A.C.A. was not now settled, and that finding was not clearly erroneous. Although A.C.A. was engaged in school, she was repeatedly tardy and absent. During the 2017-2018 school year, A.C.A. was tardy on 40 days and absent 8 days, out of 167 days. In the first half of the 2018-2019 school year, she was tardy 41 out of 113 days. The district court could credit this administrative record as weighing against a finding that A.C.A. was now settled. As of October 26, 2018, just two weeks before the petition date, de Aredes seemed to struggle “to find a regular and steady employment [yet] at th[at] time however manage[d] to run the household.” A.C.A. was diagnosed with “adjustment disorder with depression or anxiety.” A.C.A. experienced a documented difficulty adjusting to her move to the United States and the absence of her father, grandparents, and friends in Brazil.



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