Supreme Court Action: Interpreting Time Limits in the Child Abduction Treaty

The third opinion released by the Supreme Court on Wednesday is Lozano v. Montoya Alvarez (12-820).  The case involves the timing of filing a petition for the return of a child under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  The timing of the filing has consequences concerning the remedy available.  A petition filed within one year of the abduction allows the court to order the child return.  A petition filed after one year allows the court to order the child returned unless it is shown that the child is settled in its new environment.

The timeline in this case finds both parties living with their daughter in London until November 2008 when Montoya Alvarez left Lozano for a women’s shelter.  The mother and child left the United Kingdom in July of 2009 and ultimately settled in New York.  Lozano did not locate them until November of 2010.  He filed a petition for the return of the child in federal district court.  That court denied the petition as filed after the one year limitation and that the child was now settled in New York.  The Second Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court affirmed the decision.  The Court ruled that equitable tolling would not be applied in this case.  It noted that the treaty was a compact between nations and that American law, in this case equitable notions from the common law, could not be used to interpret the intent behind the treaty.  The enabling act passed by Congress does not address this issue and as such, does not apply to the issue of tolling the time to file a petition.  Further analysis describes the time limits set forth in the treaty language not to be a statute of limitations.  The rest of the opinion is consistent with these notions.

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.  Justice Alito filed a concurring opinion and was joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor.  — Mark

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