Monzon v. La Roca

Decision Date07 December 2018
Docket NumberNo. 16-2277,16-2277
Citation910 F.3d 92
Parties Hugo Aristoteles Castellanos MONZON, Appellant v. Ingrid Fabiola DE LA ROCA
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

John M. Boehler, Esq. [ARGUED], Rutgers Law Associates, 123 Washington Street, Suite 203, Newark, NJ 07102, Counsel for Appellant

Dorothy A. Hickok, Esq., Mark D. Taticchi, Esq. [ARGUED], Drinker Biddle & Reath, One Logan Square, Suite 2000, Philadelphia, PA 19103, James C. Jones, Esq., Drinker Biddle & Reath, 105 College Road East, P.O. Box 627, Suite 300, Princeton, NJ 08542, Counsel for Appellee

Before: McKEE, AMBRO, and RESTREPO, Circuit Judges.


McKEE, Circuit Judge.

Hugo Castellanos Monzón1 appeals the District Court’s denial of the Petition he filed pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the "Convention")2 and the International Child Abduction Remedies Act ("ICARA"),3 seeking the return of his minor child, H.C. Subject to certain exceptions, both the Convention4 and ICARA5 mandate the return of a child to the custodial parent when the other parent wrongfully removes or retains the child in violation of the requesting parent’s custody rights. For the reasons that follow, we will affirm.6

A. Factual Background

Castellanos married Appellee De La Roca in 2004. Their son, H.C., was born in 2010. The couple separated shortly thereafter in November 2011, and formally divorced by mutual consent in January 2014.

Castellanos and De La Roca have divergent narratives regarding their separation and divorce. De La Roca claims that violence was a factor. Although she did not raise that issue in the divorce proceedings,7 she now claims that she feared for her safety during the relationship. Responding to Castellanos’s Petition for H.C.’s return, she claimed that Castellanos verbally and physically threatened her by speeding and driving recklessly while she was pregnant and a passenger in his car. She also claimed that Castellanos attempted to visit H.C. more often than the couple had agreed to after their separation when she became H.C.’s primary guardian. According to De La Roca, this resulted in arguments between her and Castellanos. De La Roca claims that Castellanos showed up at her home late at night, approached her, threatened to kill himself, and demanded H.C. Castellanos categorically denies all of De La Roca’s allegations of abuse.

1. De La Roca’s New Relationship and Ties to the U.S.

In the summer of 2013, after her separation from Castellanos, but before they divorced, De La Roca began a long distance relationship with her childhood acquaintance, "Deleon," who resided in New Jersey. De La Roca testified that she obtained a visa for H.C. to travel to the United States with Castellanos’s consent, though she did not immediately bring H.C. to the U.S. Instead, she took several trips to visit Deleon by herself. However, she eventually traveled to New Jersey and married him in March of 2014. She did not tell Castellanos about the marriage.

Shortly after marrying Deleon, De La Roca told Castellanos that she intended to bring H.C. to the United States to live; Castellanos refused to consent. In or around March of 2014, De La Roca filed a domestic violence complaint against Castellanos in Guatemala and obtained a temporary restraining order. However, she failed to appear at the hearing to make the TRO permanent because she had already moved to New Jersey before the final hearing.

In July of 2014, De La Roca took H.C. to the United States. She testified that she decided to ignore Castellanos’s denial of consent because she "could not explain to [her] aggressor that [she] was leaving."8 A month after taking H.C. to New Jersey, she sent Castellanos a text message informing him she was there with H.C. She did not disclose their exact address "[o]ut of fear that he would come [to New Jersey] to do the same thing as in Guatemala."9

2. Castellanos’s Efforts to Invoke the Convention

On August 23, 2014, Castellanos filed an Application for Return of the Child under the Convention with the Central Authority in Guatemala. The Guatemalan Authority forwarded that application to the United States Department of State. About 16 months later, on January 5, 2016, having discovered that the Convention required him to file where H.C. lived, Castellanos filed the instant Petition for Return of the Child (the "Petition") in the District Court of New Jersey.

B. Legal Background
1. The Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

Article 1 of the Convention has two primary objectives: "(a) to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained in any Contracting State; and (b) to ensure that rights of custody and of access under the law of one Contracting State are effectively respected in the other Contracting States."10 The Convention requires that the petitioner seeking return of the child bear the initial burden of showing that the child was habitually resident in a State signatory to the Convention and was wrongfully removed to a different State, as defined by Article 3.

Where a court determines a child has been wrongfully removed, Article 12 of the Convention provides that the child is to be returned "forthwith," as long as the proceedings have been "commenced" in the "judicial or administrative authority of the Contracting State where the child is" less than one year before the date of wrongful removal.11 But where the petitioner fails to commence the proceedings before the one-year deadline, s/he is no longer entitled to the child’s automatic return. Instead, a rebuttable presumption arises whereby the child’s return is subject to certain affirmative defenses, including demonstration that "the child is now settled in its new environment."12

The Convention sets out a total of five defenses to a Contracting State’s duty to return the child. The first is the one just mentioned: where the child is well settled in his or her new environment.13 A second exception applies where the petitioner was not exercising custody rights at the time of the child’s wrongful removal or retention, or acquiesced in the removal or retention.14 A third exception applies where "there is a grave risk that [the child’s] return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation."15 There is a fourth exception if the child objects to being returned and has "attained an age and degree of maturity at which it is appropriate to take account of [the child’s] views."16 The fifth and final exception is where "[t]he return of the child ... would not be permitted by the fundamental principles of the requested State relating to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms."17 Significantly, the Convention establishes neither the degree of certainty nor the burden of proof that a respondent must establish to defeat the petition and retain custody of the child pursuant to these affirmative defenses.18

2. The International Child Abduction Remedies Act ("ICARA")

Congress enacted ICARA to implement the Convention.19 Under ICARA, "the petitioner bears the initial burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the child was ... wrongfully removed."20 "Once the petitioner meets its initial burden, the respondent may oppose the child’s return by proving one of [the] five affirmative defenses" as listed under ICARA provision 22 U.S.C. § 9003(e)(2)(A) and (B).21 Section 9003(e)(2) provides:

(e) Burdens of proof
(2) In the case of an action for the return of a child, a respondent who opposes the return of the child has the burden of establishing—
(A) by clear and convincing evidence that one of the exceptions set forth in article 13b or 20 of the Convention applies; and
(B) by a preponderance of the evidence that any other exception set forth in article 12 or 13 of the Convention applies.22

Congress specifically required that these affirmative defenses be "narrowly construed to effectuate the purposes of the Convention."23 Moreover, because of the very important policy objectives of the Convention and ICARA, courts retain the discretion to order the child’s return. Thus, "even where a defense applies, the court has the discretion to order the child’s return."24

C. Procedural Background

On January 5, 2016, Castellanos filed the Petition for the return of H.C. with the United States District Court of New Jersey. Thereafter, the District Court held two days of hearings,25 which included the testimony of Castellanos, De La Roca, and two expert witnesses who testified on her behalf.26 The first of those witnesses was Victoria Sanford, Ph.D., an expert on domestic violence against women and children in Guatemala. She testified about "the police structure and government of Guatemala City."27 The second witness was Robert T. Latimer, M.D., a psychiatric expert who interviewed H.C. at the start of the court case.28

After considering the evidence and the parties’ post-hearing submissions, the District Court entered judgment in favor of De La Roca, thereby refusing to return H.C. to Castellanos. However, the Court expressly declined to address De La Roca’s affirmative defense under Article 13b (H.C.’s return to Guatemala constitutes a "grave risk").29 Instead, the Court concluded that De La Roca had successfully demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence, that H.C. was well settled in the United States pursuant to ICARA,30 and therefore decided not to exercise its independent authority to order H.C.’s return to Guatemala.


Castellanos makes three arguments on appeal. He argues that the District Court erred in not finding that the notice he filed with the Guatemalan Central Authority and the U.S. Department of State constituted a "proceeding" for purposes of Article 12 of the Convention, thereby entitling him to have H.C. returned pending resolution of the custody dispute. Castellanos also claims the District...

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11 cases
  • Neto v. Thompson
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • December 10, 2020
    ...context can suggest the natural reading of a provision that in isolation might yield contestable interpretations." Monzon v. De La Roca , 910 F.3d 92, 102 (3d Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). The section containing subparagraph (B)(i)(II) comprises a gradated scheme, in which (B)(i)(II) occup......
  • Sinico v. Barry
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • February 3, 2020
    ...argument that 42 U.S.C. § 1981a does not allow liquidated damages, the court begins with the text of the statute. Monzon v. De La Roca, 910 F.3d 92, 101 (3d Cir. 2018) ("Only when a statute is ambiguous and includes disputed language 'reasonably susceptible to different interpretations' sho......
  • Abou-Haidar v. Vazquez
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • December 27, 2019 the time of the removal or retention? Mozes v. Mozes , 239 F.3d 1067, 1070 (9th Cir. 2001) ; see also, e.g. , Monzon v. De La Roca , 910 F.3d 92, 100 (3d Cir. 2018) ; Redmond v. Redmond , 724 F.3d 729, 737-38 (7th Cir. 2013) ; Barzilay v. Barzilay , 600 F.3d 912, 917 (8th Cir. 2010) ; se......
  • Clean Air Council v. U.S. Steel Corp.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania
    • May 14, 2020
    ...refer to "'the specific context in which that language is used, and the broader context of the statute as a whole.'" Monzon v. De La Roca, 910 F.3d 92, 102 (3d Cir. 2018) (quoting Robinson, 519 U.S. at 341). After all, it is the court's "'duty to construe statutes, not isolated provisions.'......
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4 books & journal articles
  • Proceedings Under the Hague Child Abduction Convention: 2018-2019
    • United States
    • ABA General Library Family Law Quarterly No. 53-4, January 2020
    • January 1, 2020
    ...was iled within one year of the abduction. 35 28. The Child Abduction Convention, supra note 1, at art. 12. 29. Monzon v. De La Roca, 910 F.3d 92 (3d Cir. 2018) (holding that it is one year from the time the removal or retention became wrongful and the iling of the petition to have the chil......
  • Undocumented and Unsettled? The Impact of Immigration Status on the Well-Settled Defense of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
    • United States
    • Suffolk University Law Review Vol. 53 No. 4, September 2020
    • September 22, 2020
    ...Apr. 5, 2016) (following Lozano test and considering immigration status one factor among many), aff'd sub nom. Monzon v. De La Roca, 910 F.3d 92 (3d Cir. 2018); Saltos v. Severino, No. 18-8704, 2018 WL 3586274, at *7 (D.N.J. July 25, 2018) (applying Lozano test); see also Garbolino, supra n......
  • Proceedings Under the Hague Child Abduction Convention: 2020
    • United States
    • ABA General Library Family Law Quarterly No. 54-4, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ...central authority of the country from which the child was taken does not constitute commencement of a proceeding. Monzon v. De La Roca, 910 F.3d 92, 98–99 (3d Cir. 2018). 45. Lopez Moreno v. Zank, 456 F. Supp. 3d 904, 909 (W.D. Mich. 2020); see also Palencia v. Perez, 921 F.3d 1333, 1342–43......
  • The Effect of COVID-19 on International Child Abduction Cases
    • United States
    • ABA General Library Family Law Quarterly No. 54-3, October 2020
    • October 1, 2020
    ...authority of the country from which the child was taken does not constitute commencement of a proceeding. Id. ; see Monzon v. De La Roca, 910 F.3d 92, 96, 98–99 (3d Cir. 2018). 56. Lopez Moreno v. Zank, 456 F. Supp. 3d 904, 909 (W.D. Mich. 2020); see also Palencia v. Perez, 921 F.3d 1333, 1......

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