In Bordelais v Bordelais, --- Fed.Appx. ----, 2021 WL 1554729 (Mem) (7th Cir., 2021) Antoine Bordelais, a French citizen, sought the return of his child under the Hague Convention. Since his ex-wife, Valerie, an American citizen, took their child from Switzerland to Illinois in 2016, Antoine has sued her at least seven times for the child’s return. See In re Antoine Bordelais, 20 C 4165 (N.D. Ill. July 20, 2020).
In 2016, in the midst of divorce and custody proceedings in Swiss court, Valerie took the couple’s then-13-year-old child to visit her parents in Illinois. They did not return. Antoine petitioned in Illinois state court for divorce and for return of the child under the Hague Convention. Valerie counterclaimed, alleging that she had sole custody of the child and that removal would place the child in grave danger. In 2017, dissatisfied with the pace of the state court proceedings, Antoine filed a similar version of his state court petition in federal court. Valerie moved to dismiss the petition or stay the proceedings under Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 813–14 (1976), on grounds that Antoine’s suit duplicated his ongoing state court litigation. The district court agreed that the state and federal actions were parallel and stayed the suit. Antoine, arguing that he had withdrawn his state-court petition and that the case was closed, moved to lift the stay in 2018. Valerie disagreed with his characterization about the status of the state-court proceedings and insisted that disputes over their daughter were still being adjudicated. The court denied Antoine’s motion. In 2019, Antoine requested emergency “protective measures” under Article 7 of the Hague Convention to prevent what he believed was a real possibility that Valerie would take the child to Mexico, where she had relatives. The district court denied this request as inconsistent with its stay order. In November 2019, the child turned 16, and Valerie moved to dismiss the suit on grounds that the Hague Convention does not apply to children over 16. The district court held a hearing the following month and granted Valerie’s motion. The court added that it also denied Antoine’s oral motion to amend his complaint, as well as his motion to proceed on appeal in forma pauperis. Antoine then filed a notice of appeal.
Valerie moved to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. She argued that the Hague Convention no longer supplied the basis for federal jurisdiction because their daughter, upon reaching the age of 16, had aged out of the Convention, and the case was now moot. Antoine responded that the Convention continued to apply in Illinois until a child turns 18.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed. It observed that the child turned 16 in 2019. The Convention, by its terms, “shall cease to apply when the child attains the age of 16 years.” See Hague Convention, art. 4. As the State Department has opined, “[e]ven if a child is under sixteen at the time of the wrongful removal or retention as well as when the Convention is invoked, the Convention ceases to apply when the child reaches sixteen.” U.S. Dep’t of State, Hague International Child Abduction Convention; Text and Legal Analysis, 51 Fed. Reg. 10,494, 10,504 (Mar. 26, 1986), quoted in Custodio v. Samillan, 842 F.3d 1084, 1088 (8th Cir. 2016) (dismissing as moot the appeal of denial of Hague Convention petition where child turned sixteen during pendency of proceedings).
Valerie sought sanctions against Antoine under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38, arguing that the appeal was frivolous and meant only to harass and intimidate her. She urged the Court to view the appeal in the context of the fifteen suits since 2016 that Antoine filed against her, her family, her employer, her lawyers, and her child’s therapist. See In re Antoine Bordelais, 20 C 4165 (N.D. Ill. July 20, 2020) (Executive Committee order enjoining Antoine from filing any new civil action in district without first obtaining leave to file). The Seventh Circuit found that sanctions were warranted. Antoine subjected Valerie’s counsel to extra work to defend against his meritless arguments. Allen-Noll v. Madison Area Tech. College, 969 F.3d 343, 351 (7th Cir. 2020). He also wasted this and other courts’ time, not just with this appeal; he had filed five other appeals from his suits against Valerie and her family. And, the Executive Committee of the Northern District had run out of patience with his pattern of frivolous and duplicative filings. Accordingly, he was ordered to show cause within fourteen days why reasonable attorney’s fees and costs should not be imposed. The Court also warned Antoine that further frivolous appeals will subject him to monetary fines and a possible bar order pursuant to Support Systems International, Inc. v. Mack, 45 F.3d 185, 186 (7th Cir. 1995).