In Saada v Golan, 2021 WL 1176372 (E.D. N. Y.) the district court denied the respondent’s motion to set aside the judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or in the alternative, to stay the action pending her petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.
The petitioner, an Italian citizen, alleged that in August of 2018, the respondent, an American citizen, wrongfully kept their minor son, B.A.S., in the United States. After a bench trial, in a March 22, 2019 decision, the district court found that B.A.S. was a habitual resident of Italy, and that while he would be subject to grave risk of harm upon repatriation, there were sufficient measures available in Italy that would ameliorate the risk to B.A.S. upon his return.
The Second Circuit affirmed the decision in part and vacated it in part. Saada v. Golan, 930 F.3d 533, 537 (2d Cir. 2009) (Saada I). The Court agreed that Italy was B.A.S.’s “habitual residence” under the Hague Convention, but determined that certain ameliorative measures could not be enforced before B.A.S. was repatriated to Italy. The Second Circuit remanded the case with instructions to ensure that the measures necessary for B.A.S.’s safe repatriation could be “enforce[d] by the District Court or supported by other sufficient guarantees of performance.” On May 5, 2020, after additional briefing and an extensive examination of the ameliorative measures available in Italy, the district court found that “the Italian courts are willing and able to resolve the parties’ multiple disputes, address the family’s history and ensure B.A.S.’s safety and well-being.” In December of 2019, the Italian court issued an order to help facilitate B.A.S.’s repatriation that included a protective order against the petitioner and an order requiring Italian social services to oversee his parenting classes and behavioral and psychoeducational therapy. Moreover, the petitioner agreed to give the respondent a sum of money to allow her to live independently of the petitioner and his family upon her return. The district court granted the petition and ordered that B.A.S. be returned to Italy. On January 21, 2021, the Court of Appeals affirmed that decision in its entirety. Saada v. Golan, 833 F. App’x 829, 831 (2d Cir. 2020) (Saada II).
On January 25, 2021, shortly after the Court of Appeals issued its mandate in Saada II, the respondent filed the motion seeking to vacate the May 5, 2020 order pursuant to Rule 60(b)(2), based on “newly discovered evidence.” Describing the Courts remarks at an October 16, 2018 proceeding as a “court order,” the respondent stated that the petitioner “hired an investigator who surveilled B.A.S. and the respondent and took pictures of them in their apartment,” in “blatant violation” of an October 16, 2018 court order directing the petitioner not to try to locate the respondent during the 2018 trial. According to the respondent, the surveillance showed that the petitioner will not comply with its orders, which in turn demonstrated that he would not follow the Italian court’s protective orders. In short, the respondent argued that this “new” evidence established that B.A.S. will face a “grave risk of harm” that cannot be ameliorated, and therefore, the petition should be denied. To support her allegation of secret surveillance, the respondent submitted the transcript of a November 2020 conversation between the petitioner, his father, and a rabbi who was working with the respondent to help her secure a get. Unbeknownst to the petitioner, the respondent was listening in, and the call was being secretly recorded.
The Court observed that Rule 60(b) outlines the grounds for relief from a final judgment, order or proceeding, including “newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b)[.]” Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(2). A Rule 60(b)(2) motion must be made “no more than a year after the entry of the judgment or order or the date of the proceeding,” Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(c)(1), and may not be used “simply to relitigate matters settled by the original judgment.” The decision to grant a motion for relief under Rule 60(b) is left to the discretion of the court. Stevens v. Miller, 676 F.3d 62, 67 (2d Cir. 2012). The district court found there was no evidence that the petitioner or his attorneys tried to find out where the respondent lived, certainly not during the trial or anytime thereafter. Knowledge of the limited investigation that did take place would not have changed the outcome of my May 5, 2020 order, because it did not establish that the petitioner violated an order of the Court or that the protections put in place in Italy would be insufficient to protect B.A.S. from a grave risk of harm. The evidence was not sufficient grounds to reverse the judgment; therefore, the respondent’s motion to set aside the judgment was denied.
The Court pointed out that in deciding whether to stay a return order in a Hague Convention case, courts must balance the “importance of the prompt return of children wrongfully removed or retained” with the concern that “shuttling children back and forth between parents and across international borders may be detrimental to those children.” Chafin v. Chafin, 568 U.S. 165, 178 (2013). “Staying the return of a child in an action under the Convention should hardly be a matter of course.” Friedrich v. Friedrich, 78 F.3d 1060, 1063 (6th Cir. 1996). Courts considering whether to stay a return order must apply the four traditional stay factors: “(1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies.” Chafin, 568 U.S. at 179 (quoting Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 434 (2009)). A decision to stay the return should include an “appropriate consideration of the child’s best interests.”
The district court found that given the small percentage of cases that the Supreme Court accepts each term, it was not likely that the respondent’s petition for certiorari would be successful. This case did present an interesting legal question, which appeared to be a matter of first impression before the Court. Overall, this factor did not weigh strongly for or against a stay. The court was not persuaded that the respondent would be irreparably injured absent a stay. The Italian court has put many protections in place to ensure the respondent’s safety in Italy, and she will have money to provide for herself and B.A.S. when they return. B.A.S.’s return would not moot the respondent’s claims or prevent her from continuing to litigate this action. See Chafin, 568 U.S. at 180. If the return order is reversed, there were currently no substantial barriers that would prevent the respondent’s return to the United States with B.A.S. The respondent was a United States citizen and would retain sole custody of B.A.S. in Italy, at least until the custody dispute was resolved in the Italian courts; she should be able to return to the United States if the Court ultimately decided in her favor. The prejudice to the Petitioner weighed against a stay. The Court ordered B.A.S.’s return to Italy almost two years ago, but he still resided in New York. The aim of the Convention is to secure prompt return of the child to the correct jurisdiction, and any unnecessary delay renders the subsequent return more difficult for the child, and subsequent adjudication more difficult for the foreign court. Haimdas v. Haimdas, 720 F. Supp. 2d 183, 211 (E.D.N.Y.), aff’d, 401 F. App’x 567 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Friedrich, 78 F.3d at 1063). Public interest cautioned against further delay of the return order. Weighing all the factors the court declined to stay the case pending the outcome of the respondent’s petition to the Supreme Court.