Monasky v. Taglieri

Decision Date25 February 2020
Docket NumberNo. 18-935,18-935
Citation140 S.Ct. 719,206 L.Ed.2d 9
Parties Michelle MONASKY, Petitioner v. Domenico TAGLIERI
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Joan S. Meier, Domestic Violence Legal, Empowerment and Appeals, Project and The George Washington University Law School, Washington, D.C., Andrew A. Zashin, Christopher R. Reynolds, Amy M. Keating, Zashin & Rich Co., L.P.A., Cleveland, OH, Amir C. Tayrani, Melanie L. Katsur, Kellam M. Conover, Shannon U. Han, Charlotte A. Lawson, Claire L. Chapla, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Washington, D.C., for Petitioner.

Eugene R. Fidell, Yale Law School, Supreme Court Clinic, New Haven, CT, John D. Sayre, Amy Berman Hamilton, Nicola, Gudbranson & Cooper, LLC, Cleveland, OH, Andrew J. Pincus, Charles A. Rothfeld, Mayer Brown LLP, Paul W. Hughes, Michael B. Kimberly, McDermott Will & Emery, Washington, DC, for Respondent.

Justice GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Convention or Convention), Oct. 25, 1980, T. I. A. S. No. 11670, S. Treaty Doc. No. 99–11 (Treaty Doc.), a child wrongfully removed from her country of "habitual residence" ordinarily must be returned to that country. This case concerns the standard for determining a child's "habitual residence" and the standard for reviewing that determination on appeal. The petitioner, Michelle Monasky, is a U.S. citizen who brought her infant daughter, A.M.T., to the United States from Italy after her Italian husband, Domenico Taglieri, became abusive to Monasky. Taglieri successfully petitioned the District Court for A.M.T.'s return to Italy under the Convention, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's order.

Monasky assails the District Court's determination that Italy was A.M.T.'s habitual residence. First of the questions presented: Could Italy qualify as A.M.T.'s "habitual residence" in the absence of an actual agreement by her parents to raise her there? The second question: Should the Court of Appeals have reviewed the District Court's habitual-residence determination independently rather than deferentially? In accord with decisions of the courts of other countries party to the Convention, we hold that a child's habitual residence depends on the totality of the circumstances specific to the case. An actual agreement between the parents is not necessary to establish an infant's habitual residence. We further hold that a first-instance habitual-residence determination is subject to deferential appellate review for clear error.

I
A

The Hague Conference on Private International Law adopted the Hague Convention in 1980 "[t]o address the problem of international child abductions during domestic disputes." Lozano v. Montoya Alvarez , 572 U.S. 1, 4, 134 S.Ct. 1224, 188 L.Ed.2d 200 (2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). One hundred one countries, including the United States and Italy, are Convention signatories. Hague Conference on Private Int'l Law, Convention of 25 Oct. 1980 on the Civil Aspects of Int'l Child Abduction, Status Table, https://www.hcch.net/en/instruments/conventions/status-table/?cid=24. The International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA), 102 Stat. 437, as amended, 22 U.S.C. § 9001 et seq. , implements our Nation's obligations under the Convention. It is the Convention's core premise that "the interests of children ... in matters relating to their custody" are best served when custody decisions are made in the child's country of "habitual residence." Convention Preamble, Treaty Doc., at 7; see Abbott v. Abbott , 560 U.S. 1, 20, 130 S.Ct. 1983, 176 L.Ed.2d 789 (2010).

To that end, the Convention ordinarily requires the prompt return of a child wrongfully removed or retained away from the country in which she habitually resides. Art. 12, Treaty Doc., at 9 (cross-referencing Art. 3, id. , at 7). The removal or retention is wrongful if done in violation of the custody laws of the child's habitual residence. Art. 3, ibid. The Convention recognizes certain exceptions to the return obligation. Prime among them, a child's return is not in order if the return would place her at a "grave risk" of harm or otherwise in "an intolerable situation." Art. 13(b ), id. , at 10.

The Convention's return requirement is a "provisional" remedy that fixes the forum for custody proceedings. Silberman, Interpreting the Hague Abduction Convention: In Search of a Global Jurisprudence, 38 U. C. D. L. Rev. 1049, 1054 (2005). Upon the child's return, the custody adjudication will proceed in that forum.

See ibid. To avoid delaying the custody proceeding, the Convention instructs contracting states to "use the most expeditious procedures available" to return the child to her habitual residence. Art. 2, Treaty Doc., at 7. See also Art. 11, id. , at 9 (prescribing six weeks as normal time for return-order decisions).

B

In 2011, Monasky and Taglieri were married in the United States. Two years later, they relocated to Italy, where they both found work. Neither then had definite plans to return to the United States. During their first year in Italy, Monasky and Taglieri lived together in Milan. But the marriage soon deteriorated. Taglieri became physically abusive, Monasky asserts, and "forced himself upon [her] multiple times." 907 F.3d 404, 406 (CA6 2018) (en banc).

About a year after their move to Italy, in May 2014, Monasky became pregnant. Taglieri thereafter took up new employment in the town of Lugo, while Monasky, who did not speak Italian, remained about three hours away in Milan. The long-distance separation and a difficult pregnancy further strained their marriage. Monasky looked into returning to the United States. She applied for jobs there, asked about U.S. divorce lawyers, and obtained cost information from moving companies. At the same time, though, she and Taglieri made preparations to care for their expected child in Italy. They inquired about childcare options there, made purchases needed for their baby to live in Italy, and found a larger apartment in a Milan suburb.

Their daughter, A.M.T., was born in February 2015. Shortly thereafter, Monasky told Taglieri that she wanted to divorce him, a matter they had previously broached, and that she anticipated returning to the United States. Later, however, she agreed to join Taglieri, together with A.M.T., in Lugo. The parties dispute whether they reconciled while together in that town.

On March 31, 2015, after yet another heated argument, Monasky fled with her daughter to the Italian police and sought shelter in a safe house. In a written statement to the police, Monasky alleged that Taglieri had abused her and that she feared for her life. Two weeks later, in April 2015, Monasky and two-month-old A.M.T. left Italy for Ohio, where they moved in with Monasky's parents.

Taglieri sought recourse in the courts. With Monasky absent from the proceedings, an Italian court granted Taglieri's request to terminate Monasky's parental rights, discrediting her statement to the Italian police. App. 183. In the United States, on May 15, 2015, Taglieri petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio for the return of A.M.T. to Italy under the Hague Convention, pursuant to 22 U.S.C. § 9003(b), on the ground that Italy was her habitual residence.

The District Court granted Taglieri's petition after a four-day bench trial. Sixth Circuit precedent at the time, the District Court observed, instructed courts that a child habitually resides where the child has become "acclimatiz[ed]" to her surroundings. App. to Pet. for Cert. 85a (quoting Robert v. Tesson , 507 F.3d 981, 993 (CA6 2007) ). An infant, however, is "too young" to acclimate to her surroundings. App. to Pet. for Cert. 87a. The District Court therefore proceeded on the assumption that "the shared intent of the [parents] is relevant in determining the habitual residence of an infant," though "particular facts and circumstances ... might necessitate the consideration [of] other factors." Id. , at 97a. The shared intention of A.M.T.'s parents, the District Court found, was for their daughter to live in Italy, where the parents had established a marital home "with no definitive plan to return to the United States." Ibid. Even if Monasky could change A.M.T.'s habitual residence unilaterally by making plans to raise A.M.T. away from Italy, the District Court added, the evidence on that score indicated that, until the day she fled her husband, Monasky had "no definitive plans" to raise A.M.T. in the United States. Id. , at 98a. In line with its findings, the District Court ordered A.M.T.'s prompt return to Italy.

The Sixth Circuit and this Court denied Monasky's requests for a stay of the return order pending appeal. 907 F.3d at 407. In December 2016, A.M.T., nearly two years old, was returned to Italy and placed in her father's care.1

In the United States, Monasky's appeal of the District Court's return order proceeded. See Chafin v. Chafin , 568 U.S. 165, 180, 133 S.Ct. 1017, 185 L.Ed.2d 1 (2013) (the return of a child under the Hague Convention does not moot an appeal of the return order). A divided three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit affirmed the District Court's order, and a divided en banc court adhered to that disposition.

The en banc majority noted first that, after the District Court's decision, a precedential Sixth Circuit opinion, Ahmed v. Ahmed , 867 F.3d 682 (2017), established that, as the District Court had assumed, an infant's habitual residence depends on "shared parental intent." 907 F.3d at 408 (quoting Ahmed , 867 F.3d at 690 ). The en banc majority then reviewed the District Court's habitual-residence determination for clear error and found none. Sustaining the District Court's determination that A.M.T.'s habitual residence was Italy, the majority rejected Monasky's argument that the District Court erred because "she and Taglieri never had a ‘meeting of the minds’ about their...

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