Search This Blog

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Golan v. Saada, ___U.S.___, (Supreme Court, June 15, 2022) [Italy] [Petition granted] [Ameliorative measures] [Vacated and remanded]

Golan v. Saada, ___U.S.___,  (Supreme Court, June 15, 2022)
[Italy][Petition granted][Ameliorative measures] [Vacated and remanded]

Petitioner Narkis Golan was a citizen of the United States. She met respondent Isacco Saada, an Italian citizen, while attending a wedding in Milan, Italy, in 2014. Golan soon moved to Milan, and the two wed in August 2015. Their son, B. A. S., was born the next summer in Milan, where the family lived for the first two years of B. A. S.’ life.  The two fought on an almost daily basis and, during their arguments, Saada would sometimes push, slap, and grab Golan and pull her hair. Saada also yelled and swore at Golan and frequently insulted her and called her names, often in front of other people. Saada once told Golan’s family that he would kill her. Much of Saada’s abuse of Golan occurred in front of his son. In July 2018, Golan flew with B. A. S. to the United States to attend her brother’s wedding. Rather than return as scheduled in August, however, Golan moved into a domestic violence shelter with B. A. S. In September, Saada filed in Italy a criminal complaint for kidnapping and initiated a civil proceeding seeking sole custody of B. A. S.

      Saada also filed a petition under the Convention and ICARA in the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, seeking an order for B. A. S.’ return to Italy. The District Court granted Saada’s petition after a 9-day bench trial. As a threshold matter, the court determined that Italy was B. A. S.’ habitual residence and that Golan had wrongfully retained B. A. S. in the United States in violation of Saada’s rights of custody. The court concluded, however, that returning B. A. S. to Italy would expose him to a grave risk of harm. The court observed that there was “no dispute” that Saada was “violent—physically, psychologically, emotionally, and verbally—to” Golan and that “B. A. S. was present for much of it.” The court described some of the incidents B. A. S. had witnessed as “chilling.”  While B. A. S. was not “the target of violence,” undisputed expert testimony established that “domestic violence disrupts a child’s cognitive and social-emotional development, and affects the structure and organization of the child’s brain.”  Records indicated that Italian social services, who had been involved with the couple while they lived in Italy, had also concluded that “ ‘the family situation entails a developmental danger’ for B. A. S.”  The court found that Saada had demonstrated no “capacity to change his behavior,” explaining that Saada “minimized or tried to excuse  his violent conduct” during his testimony and that Saada’s “own expert said . . . that [Saada] could not control his anger or take responsibility for his behavior.” 

      The court nonetheless ordered B. A. S.’ return to Italy based on Second Circuit precedent obligating it to “ ‘examine the full range of options that might make possible the safe return of a child to the home country’ ” before it could “ ‘deny repatriation on the ground that a grave risk of harm exists.’ ”  The Second Circuit based this rule on its view that the Convention requires return “if at all possible.” Blondin I, 189 F. 3d, at 248. To comply with these precedents, the District Court had required the parties to propose “ ‘ameliorative measures’ ” that could enable B. A. S.’ safe return. Saada had proposed that he would provide Golan with $30,000 for expenses pending a decision in Italian courts as to financial support, stay away from Golan until the custody dispute was resolved, pursue dismissal of the criminal charges he had filed against Golan, begin cognitive behavioral therapy, and waive any right to legal fees or expenses under the Convention. The court concluded that these measures, combined with the fact that Saada and Golan would be living separately, would “reduce the occasions for violence,” thereby ameliorating the grave risk to B. A. S. sufficiently to require his return. 

The Second Circuit vacated the return order, finding the District Court’s ameliorative measures  insufficient. Because the record did not support concluding that no sufficient ameliorative measures existed, the Second Circuit remanded for the District Court to consider whether such measures, in fact, existed. After an examination over nine months, the District Court identified new ameliorative measures and again ordered B. A. S.’ return. The Second Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Sotomayor held that a court is not categorically required to examine all possible ameliorative measures before denying a Hague Convention petition for return of a child to a foreign country once the court has found that return would expose the child to a grave risk of harm. The discretion to courts under the Convention and ICARA includes the discretion to determine whether to consider ameliorative measures that could ensure the child’s safe return. Justice Sotomayor found that the Second Circuit’s rule, by instructing district courts to order return “if at all possible,” improperly elevated return above the Convention’s other objectives. Blondin I, 189 F. 3d, at 248. The Convention does not pursue return exclusively or at all costs. Rather, the Convention “is designed to protect the interests of children and their parents,” Lozano, 572 U. S., at 19 (Alito, J., concurring), and children’s interests may point against return in some circumstances. Courts must remain conscious of this purpose, as well as the Convention’s other objectives and requirements, which constrain courts’ discretion to consider ameliorative measures in at least three ways. 

First, any consideration of ameliorative measures must prioritize the child’s physical and psychological safety. A court may decline to consider imposing ameliorative measures where it is clear that they would not work because the risk is so grave. Sexual abuse of a child is one  example of an intolerable situation. Other physical or psychological abuse, serious neglect, and domestic violence in the home may also constitute an obvious grave risk to the child’s safety that could not readily be ameliorated. A court may also decline to consider imposing ameliorative measures where it reasonably expects that they will not be followed.


Second, consideration of ameliorative measures should abide by the Convention’s requirement that courts addressing return petitions do not usurp the role of the court that will adjudicate the underlying custody dispute. A court ordering ameliorative measures in making a return determination should limit those measures in time and scope to conditions that would permit safe return, without purporting to decide subsequent custody matters or weighing in on permanent arrangements.


Third, any consideration of ameliorative measures must accord with the Convention’s requirement that courts act expeditiously in proceedings for the return of children. Timely resolution of return petitions is important in part because return is a “provisional” remedy to enable final custody determinations to proceed.  A requirement to “examine the full range of options that might make possible the safe return of a child,” is in tension with this focus on expeditious resolution. Consideration of ameliorative measures should not cause undue delay in resolution of return petitions.

      Justice Sotomayor summarized the Courts holding as follows: “ …although nothing in the Convention prohibits a district court from considering ameliorative measures, and such consideration often may be appropriate, a district court reasonably may decline to consider ameliorative measures that have not been raised by the parties, are unworkable, draw the court into determinations properly resolved in custodial proceedings, or risk overly prolonging return proceedings. The court may also find the grave risk so unequivocal, or the potential harm so severe, that ameliorative measures would be inappropriate. Ultimately, a district court must exercise its discretion to consider ameliorative measures in a manner consistent with its general obligation to address the parties’ substantive arguments and its specific obligations under the Convention. A district court’s compliance with these requirements is subject to review under an ordinary abuse-of-discretion standard.”

In this case, the District Court made a finding of grave risk, but never had the opportunity to inquire whether to order or deny return under the correct legal standard. It was appropriate to allow the District Court to apply the proper legal standard in the first instance, see Monasky v. Taglieri, 589 U. S. ___, ___. The Court held that the District Court should determine whether the measures considered are adequate to order return in light of the District Court’s factual findings concerning the risk to B. A. S., bearing in mind that the Convention sets as a primary goal the safety of the child. The order of the Second Circuit was vacated and the case remanded.