Tsuruta v. Tsuruta
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER (See Full Order) IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Petitioner Naoteru Tsuruta's Verified Complaint and Petition for Return of Child Under the Hague Convention (Doc. 1) is GRANTED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that L.T. shall b e returned to Japan, her country of habitual residence, at Respondent's expense at a reasonable date and time mutually agreed upon by the parties. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Respondent shall make all necessary arrangements associated with ret urning L.T. to Japan. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Respondent shall not, absent leave of this Court, remove L.T. from the Eastern District of Missouri pending her return to Japan. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that counsel for Mother shall file a notice with the Clerk of Court immediately upon L.T.'s arrival in Japan indicating that Mother has fully complied with the terms of this Order. IT IS FINALLY ORDERED that no award of attorney fees or other costs, apart from the aforementioned transportat ion costs associated with L.T.'s return, will be made at this time. The Court will consider any separate requests for attorney fees that Petitioner may file, upon motion properly made. A separate judgment will accompany this Memorandum Opinion and Order. Signed by Magistrate Judge Shirley Padmore Mensah on 9/19/2022. (HMA)
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 1 of 22 PageID #: 408
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
SARAH MARGARET TSURUTA,
Case No. 4:22-CV-00425-SPM
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Naoteru Tsuruta’s Verified Complaint and
Petition for Return of Child Under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child
Abduction (the “Hague Convention”), October 25, 1980, 1343 U.N.T.S. 22514, as implemented by
the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (“ICARA”), 42 U.S.C. § 9001 et seq. This Court has
jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 22 U.S.C. § 9003(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The parties
consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). (Doc. 7). The Court has held an evidentiary hearing in this matter, and the parties have
submitted post-hearing briefing. After consideration of the pleadings, testimony, exhibits, and
briefing submitted by the parties, the Court will grant Petitioner’s Complaint. The Court enters the
findings of fact and conclusions of law below in accordance with Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of
“The Hague Convention ‘was adopted in 1980 in response to the problem of international
child abductions during domestic disputes.’” Golan v. Saada, 142 S. Ct. 1880, 1888 (2022) (quoting
Abbott v. Abbott, 560 U.S. 1, 8 (2010)). “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
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 2 of 22 PageID #: 409
the child’s country of ‘habitual residence.’” Monasky v. Taglieri, 140 S. Ct. 719, 723 (2020) (quoting
Convention Preamble, Treaty Doc., at 7). “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.” Id. (citing Art. 12, Treaty Doc., at 9). “The removal or retention is wrongful if done in
violation of the custody laws of the child’s habitual residence.” Id.
“The principal objectives of the Convention are ‘to secure the prompt return of children
wrongfully removed to or retained in any Contracting State’ and ‘to ensure that rights of custody and
of access under the law of one Contracting State are effectively respected in the other Contracting
States.’” Barzilay v. Barzilay, 536 F.3d 844, 846 (8th Cir. 2008) (“Barzilay I”) (quoting Hague
Convention Art. 1, T.I.A.S. No. 11670). “The Hague Convention is not designed to resolve underlying
custody disputes, but rather to ensure that such disputes are adjudicated in the appropriate
jurisdiction.” Acosta v. Acosta, 725 F.3d 868, 875 (8th Cir. 2013) (internal citations omitted). “Its
‘primary purpose is to restore the status quo and deter parents from crossing international borders in
search of a more sympathetic court.’” Id. (quoting Nunez–Escudero v. Tice–Menley, 58 F.3d 374, 376
(8th Cir. 1995)).
Petitioner, a citizen of Japan and the father of minor child L.T., filed his Complaint on April
12, 2022. (Doc. 1). Petitioner alleged that on or around October 15, 2021, L.T.’s mother—Respondent
Sarah Margaret Tsuruta, a United States citizen—wrongfully removed L.T. from Japan and has
retained L.T. in Missouri since that date. Petitioner also alleged that L.T.’s place of habitual residence
in October 2021 was in Japan, and that at that time Petitioner was exercising his custody rights under
Japanese law. Petitioner requested that the Court enter an order returning L.T. to Japan. On May 2,
2022, Respondent filed an Answer, in which she denied the allegation that Japan was L.T.’s habitual
residence. (Doc. 8, ¶ 21). She also asserted two affirmative defenses: (1) that relocating the child to
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 3 of 22 PageID #: 410
Japan would present a grave risk of physical or psychological harm to L.T. or would otherwise place
L.T. in danger; and (2) that Petitioner consented and subsequently acquiesced to the Respondent’s
retaining L.T. in the United States. The Court held a scheduling conference pursuant to Rule 16 of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and on May 24, 2022, the Court entered a Case Management
Order setting deadlines for disclosure and discovery and setting the case for an evidentiary hearing.
On July 25, 2022, the parties submitted their pretrial briefs, witness lists, and exhibit lists. On
August 1, 2022, the Court held a pretrial conference with counsel for the parties. On August 5, 2022,
the parties appeared with counsel for the trial. Petitioner and Respondent testified, and Respondent
presented an additional witness, Julia Hillyer. Following the trial the parties requested, and were
granted, time to request a transcript of the hearing and file post-hearing briefs. The transcript was
filed on August 15, 2022, and post-hearing briefing was completed on August 26, 2022. As such, the
matter is now ready for a ruling.
FINDINGS OF FACT
The Court’s findings of fact are based upon all credible evidence presented at trial, together
with reasonable inferences derived from that evidence.
A. Credibility Findings
At the hearing, the Court heard testimony from Petitioner, Respondent, and Julia Hillyer, a
licensed professional counselor. The Court also admitted Petitioner Exhibits 1-23 and Respondent
Exhibits A-M into evidence.
Petitioner and Respondent gave divergent testimonies on a variety of topics including, among
other things, the circumstances surrounding Petitioner’s relocation from the United States to the
United Kingdom, the circumstances surrounding their marriage in Japan, Respondent’s role in
Petitioner’s business, whether Respondent understood that the family’s move from the United
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 4 of 22 PageID #: 411
Kingdom to Japan in November 2018 was indefinite, and the nature of the relationship between
Petitioner, Respondent, and their daughter, L.T. Neither Petitioner nor Respondent was an entirely
credible witness. However, Petitioner’s testimony was more credible on the most salient issues. In
particular, Respondent’s suggestion that she was held against her will in Japan and needed to “escape”
was not credible when considered together with Respondent’s own testimony about her life in Japan
and other evidence presented at trial.
In making factual findings, to the extent the Court needed to resolve discrepancies between
the parties’ version of events, the Court has resolved those discrepancies in favor of the testimony
most supported by other evidence of record.
The Court found Ms. Hillyer to be a credible witness. However, the Court gave her testimony
little weight because it was based upon biased and/or incomplete information and had little or no
probative value to the issues before the Court.
B. Factual Findings
Petitioner is a Japanese citizen who came to the United States to pursue an education.
Respondent is a citizen of the United States who was born and raised in Missouri. In 2010, Respondent
was living in Miami, Florida. Petitioner met Respondent in Miami, and they became friends. Their
friendship evolved into a romantic relationship. In June 2011, they began living together in Scottsdale,
Arizona, where Peittioner was operating a luxury skincare business. Respondent took a job working
Petitioner’s business in a variety of roles. In 2013, Petitioner moved to London, and Respondent
moved back to Miami. Petitioner and Respondent’s romantic relationship continued after Petitioner
left for London, and in 2014, Respondent learned she was pregnant while visiting Petitioner in
On July 20, 2015, Respondent gave birth to L.T. in Miami, Florida, and listed Petitioner as
the father on the birth certificate. When L.T. was ten months old, Respondent and L.T. moved to the
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 5 of 22 PageID #: 412
United Kingdom to live with Petitioner in London. From that point forward, until October 15, 2021,
Petitioner, Respondent, and L.T. lived together as a family either in the United Kingdom or Japan.
They visited Petitioner’s family in Japan in early 2018. While there, on March 19, 2018, Petitioner
and Respondent got married. Petitioner rented an apartment in Fujisawa in April 2018, but he later
returned to the United Kingdom.
In November 2018, Respondent, Petitioner, and L.T. moved to Fujisawa, Japan. They lived in
the apartment rented by Petitioner for about a year and then moved into a house sometime during
2020. Respondent, Petitioner, and L.T. lived as a family in Fujiswawa, Japan, until October 15, 2021.
During that time, Respondent continued to work for Petitioner’s skincare business (albeit in a more
limited capacity). Otherwise, Respondent stayed home and, together with Petitioner, took care of L.T.
Respondent had misgivings about raising L.T. in Japan. In November 2019, Respondent and
L.T. traveled to the United States to visit Respondent’s family. Three months later, in February 2020,
Respondent and L.T. voluntarily went back to Japan; Respondent testified that she did this because
she loved her husband and wanted to work on things and do the right thing.
In the year leading up to October 2021, L.T. attended school/daycare in Fujisawa. The
evidence further established that during her time in Japan, L.T. learned to speak both English and
Japanese; engaged in extracurricular activities such as horseback riding, Kumon, and martial arts;
attended family gatherings with Petitioner’s family, including dinners and birthday parties; and went
on vacations both in Japan and outside of Japan, including trips to the United States to visit
Although she was not working outside of the home, Respondent appears to have been engaged
with Petitioner’s family and with activities of her own such as shopping and going to the gym.
Respondent was alone with L.T. a fair amount of the time, as Petitioner’s work often took him away
on business trips. Throughout that time, Respondent’s ability to communicate with friends and family
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 6 of 22 PageID #: 413
in Japan and the United States was not hampered in any way. She had access to, and frequently used,
the internet, mobile phones, a laptop and other devices.
The evidence presented does not support a finding that Respondent’s time in Japan was
transient or other than indefinite. Respondent admitted that she held herself out as someone who was
residing in a home that she considered hers, that she had a gym membership in Japan and went to the
gym two or three times a week, that she went grocery shopping in Japan twice a week, that she visited
and interacted with Petitioner’s family, and that she had an OB/GYN in Japan she saw once a year.
Between November 2018 and October 15, 2021, Respondent and Petitioner experienced
marital problems. Evidence presented demonstrated that, over time, Respondent became increasingly
unhappy about a number of things, including the dynamics between her daughter, herself, her
husband, and even the family dog. Petitioner appears to have been inconsiderate, insensitive and, at
times, dismissive of Respondent’s complaints. However, there was no evidence that Petitioner
physically or sexually abused Respondent or physically or sexually abused L.T.
Throughout 2021, Respondent become increasingly anxious about returning to the United
States. She repeatedly told Petitioner that she wanted a divorce and that she wanted to leave Japan
and return to the United States. She urged Petitioner to renew L.T.’s expired U.S. passport. Petitioner
expressed concern about Respondent and L.T. traveling given COVID restrictions. Evidence
presented demonstrated that Petitioner attempted to conceal L.T.’s expired United States passport and
Japanese passport from Respondent. Respondent, however, had possession of her own passport.
On October 15, 2021, Respondent spoke with her parents, who were in the United States. Her
parents informed her that they had been in touch with their Congresswoman, Ann Wagner.
Representative Wagner’s office provided instructions for how Respondent might obtain an emergency
passport for L.T. so that they could leave Japan. Following that conversation, Respondent went to the
family’s storage locker to search for L.T.’s U.S. passport after dropping L.T. at school. When she
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 7 of 22 PageID #: 414
found the passport, Respondent immediately reported to L.T.’s school, retrieved L.T., and took a taxi
to the U.S. Embassy. Once at the Embassy, Respondent told the diplomat she met with that she feared
for her life and for her child’s safety. She obtained an emergency passport and was directed to go
immediately to the airport. She and L.T. boarded an airplane bound for Hawaii and left Japan. L.T.
and Respondent later made their way from Hawaii to St. Charles, Missouri, where they took up
residence with Respondent’s parents.
Petitioner was unaware of Respondent’s plan to leave Japan on October 15, 2021. On the
morning of October 15, 2021, Petitioner left home for a business meeting in Tokyo. Petitioner saw
Respondent and L.T. when they left the house for L.T.’s school, however, Respondent did not tell
Petitioner that she planned to leave for the United States that day. Although Respondent traded instant
messages with Petitioner throughout the day, her messages all centered around Petitioner’s meeting
and other ordinary household matters. She never disclosed that she intended to leave for the United
States with L.T.
When Petitioner returned home on the night of October 15th, he became alarmed and
concerned that Respondent and L.T. had been kidnapped or harmed. He contacted authorities, who
initiated a search for them. Petitioner subsequently learned that Respondent and L.T. had left for the
United States. He learned that Respondent had a return flight for March 15, 2022, and based on his
discussions with Respondent and members of her family, he initially believed that Respondent and
L.T. planned to eventually return to Japan, as they had after prior trips to the United States.
On November 3, 2021, Respondent filed a Petition for Child Custody and Child Support in
the St. Charles County Circuit Court. On November 10, 2021, Respondent filed a Petition for
Dissolution of Marriage. In her discussions with Petitioner, Respondent suggested she would seek a
divorce. However, Respondent had frequently threatened divorce in the past and, during her
discussions with Petitioner in the Fall and Winter of 2021, Respondent also indicated she was
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 8 of 22 PageID #: 415
interested in reconciling with Petitioner. Petitioner expected Respondent to return to Japan with L.T.
on March 15, 2022, the date of her return ticket, but wanted them to come back earlier. As such,
Petitioner was caught off guard when he learned, in March of 2022, that Respondent had filed for
divorce and that there was a hearing in the divorce case set for April. With assistance from the
Japanese government, Petitioner obtained counsel and filed the instant action for return of his minor
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
As the parties acknowlege, the United States and Japan are both signatories to the Hague
Convention. 1 The only issues in dispute in this case are (1) whether Petitioner has established a prima
facie case for return of L.T. under the Hague Convenstion; and (2) whether Respondent has
established an affirmative defense that would allow the Court to decline to order L.T.’s return even if
Petitioner has established a prima facie case for return. Respondent has raised two affirmative
defenses: (a) that relocating L.T. to Japan would present a grave risk of physical or psychological
harm to L.T. or would otherwise place L.T. in danger; and (b) that Petitioner consented and
subsequently acquiesced to the Respondent’s retaining L.T. in the United States. As discussed below,
it is not entirely clear whether Respondent is still taking the position that one or both of these
affirmative defenses should apply, as she does not mention them in the proposed Memorandum
Opinion she filed following trial. Nevertheless, the Court will address the affirmative defenses.
A. Prima Facie Case for Return
“To establish a prima facie case for return of the child under the Convention, the petitioner
must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that: (1) immediately prior to removal or retention,
the child habitually resided in another Contracting State; (2) the removal or retention was in breach
See https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-ChildAbduction/abductions/hague-abduction-country-list.html (last visited September 18, 2022).
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 9 of 22 PageID #: 416
of the petitioner’s custody rights under that State’s law; and (3) the petitioner was exercising those
custody rights at the time of the removal or wrongful retention.” Custodio v. Samillan, 842 F.3d 1084,
1088 (8th Cir. 2016). “If a petitioner establishes a prima facie case, the child must be ‘promptly
returned unless one of the narrow exceptions set forth in the Convention applies.’” Id. at 1089.
(quoting 22 U.S.C. § 9001(a)(4)). The second and third elements of the prima facie case are not in
dispute. See Respondent’s Proposed Mem. Opin., Doc. 36, at 17 (“The parties do not dispute that
Petitioner had rights of custody at the time Respondent returned to the United States, nor do they
dispute that these rights were being exercised.”). The only issue in dispute with respect to the prima
facie case is whether Japan was L.T’s habitual residence immediately prior to her removal from Japan
in October 2021.
“The Hague Convention does not define the term ‘habitual residence.’” Monasky v. Taglieri,
140 S. Ct. 719, 726 (2020). Federal courts share a common understanding that “[t]he place where a
child is at home, at the time of removal or retention, ranks as the child’s habitual residence.” Id. The
determination of a child’s habitual residence is a “fact-driven inquiry” and “depends on the totality of
the circumstances specific to the case.” Id. at 723, 727. “For older children capable of acclimating to
their surroundings, courts have long recognized, facts indicating acclimatization will be highly
relevant.” Id. at 727. Facts relevant to acclimatization may include “a change in geography combined
with the passage of an appreciable period of time, age of the child, immigration status of child and
parent, academic activities, social engagements, participation in sports programs and excursions,
meaningful connections with the people and places in the child’s new country, language proficiency,
and location of personal belongings.” Id. at 727 n.3 (internal quotation marks omitted). In addition to
acclimatization, “the intentions and circumstances of caregiving parents are relevant considerations,”
especially for children too young to acclimate. Id. at 727. The Supreme Court has noted that, for
example, if “an infant lived in a country only because a caregiving parent had been coerced into
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 10 of 22 PageID #: 417
remaining there,” that circumstance “should figure in the calculus.” Id. However, “[a]n actual
agreement between the parents is not necessary to establish an infant’s habitual residence.” Id. at 723.
“No single fact . . . is dispositive across all cases.” Id. at 727.
The Eighth Circuit has identified several factors relevant to the determination of habitual
residence: “the settled purpose of the move to the new country from the child’s perspective, parental
intent regarding the move, the change in geography, the passage of time, and the acclimatization of
the child to the new country.” Barzilay v. Barzilay, 600 F.3d 912, 918 (8th Cir. 2010) (“Barzilay II”)
(quotation marks omitted). Accord Cohen v. Cohen, 858 F.3d 1150, 1153 (8th Cir. 2017). “The
‘settled purpose’ of a family’s move to a new country is a central element of the habitual residence
inquiry.” Barzilay II, 660 F.3d at 918. “This settled purpose need not be to stay in a new location
forever, but the family must have a sufficient degree of continuity to be properly described as settled.”
Cohen, 858 F.3d at 1153 (quoting Silverman v. Silverman, 338 F.3d 886, 898 (8th Cir. 2003)). Settled
purpose is determined “from the child’s perspective, although parental intent is also taken into
account.” Id. (quoting Silverman, 338 F.3d at 898). “That said, parental intent need not be completely
clear, and ‘one spouse harboring reluctance during a move does not eliminate the settled purpose from
the [child’s] perspective.’” Cohen, 858 F.3d at 1153 (quoting Silverman, 338 F.3d at 899; internal
After careful consideration of the evidence presented in light of the factors set forth above, the
Court finds that Petitioner has demonstrated, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Japan was the
habitual residence of L.T. immediately prior to her removal from Japan on October 15, 2021. First,
there is significant evidence that L.T. acclimatized to Japan during her time there. There was a change
in geography combined with the passage of an appreciable period of time—L.T. moved to Japan in
November 2018 and continued to live there for almost three years before her removal, aside from a
visit to the United States for a few months from November 2019 to February 2020. L.T. attended
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 11 of 22 PageID #: 418
daycare/school in Japan for over a year immediately prior to her removal. She also participated in
sports and other extracurricular activities in Japan, including horseback riding, tennis, martial arts,
and Kumon. She attended social gatherings in Japan, including dinners and parties with Petitioner’s
family. She went on trips and vacations in Japan with her parents and with Petitioner’s family. She
spoke both Japanese and English. Although L.T. maintained contact with her mother’s family in the
United States and visited them, the preponderance of the evidence supports a finding that, from L.T.’s
perspective, “home” was in Japan, not in the United States or any other country. See, e.g., Cohen, 858
F.3d at1154 (finding the United States to be a child’s habitual residence and reasoning in part that he
had lived there for almost two years, he attended school and speech-therapy classes there, he had
friends and extended family there, and his mother had obtained employment, purchased a vehicle,
and rented an apartment there); Guzzo v. Hansen, No. 4:22-CV-15 PLC, 2022 WL 3081159, at *5
(E.D. Mo. Aug. 3, 2022) (finding Spain was the habitual residence of a child despite evidence that
the child regularly visited the United States, maintained significant family relationships in the United
States, and had stronger English than Spanish skills; reasoning in part that the child had “lived in
Spain for five years (or half of his life), spoke Spanish, and attended school, participated in
extracurricular activities, socialized with friends, and had a pediatrician in Spain”).
Second, although the evidence regarding the intentions of L.T.’s parents is conflicting, it
generally supports a finding that the parents had the settled purpose of creating a home in Japan—
perhaps not forever, but for a significant period of time. The Tsurutas have never lived together as a
family in the United States. In contrast, the Tsurutas lived together in Japan for almost three years,
where they lived in a rented apartment (and later in a house they purchased), placed their child in
daycare/school and extracurricular activities, and pursued their own business and personal interests.
See Guzzo, 2022 WL 3081159, at *5 (considering, among other factors, that “Mother and Father ‘did
what parents intent on making a new home for themselves and their child do—they [rented] a house,
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 12 of 22 PageID #: 419
pursued interests and employment, and arranged for [the child’s] . . . schooling’”) (quoting Feder v.
Evans-Feder, 63 F.3d 217, 224-25 (3d Cir. 1995)). Petitioner’s testimony and actions during the
relevant time frame consistently indicate that his intent was for the family to live in Japan, at least for
a significant period of time, for the purpose of his business. As to Respondent, despite her assertion
that she intended their travels to Japan to be temporary visits, the bulk of the evidence suggests that
she acted as if Japan was her home. She admitted that she held herself out as someone who was
residing in a home that she considered hers, she had a gym membership in Japan and went two or
three times a week, she went grocery shopping in Japan twice a week, she had an OB/GYN in Japan
she saw once a year, and her visits to the United States were short compared to the long stretches of
time she spent in Japan. Overall, the evidence supports a finding that the family was settled in Japan.
See Barzilay II, 600 F.3d at 918 (noting that the settled purpose of a family’s move “need not be to
stay in a new location forever” in order to support a finding of habitual residence; finding the United
States to be the habitual residence of the children despite evidence that it was that uncertain whether
the parents intended to remain in the United States permanently).
The Court has considered Respondent’s argument that Respondent and L.T. only remained in
Japen due to coercion by Petitioner; however, the Court finds that argument unconvincing in light of
the evidence presented. To support her claim of coercion, Respondent points to her financial
dependence on Respondent, who she claims controlled all of the family’s finances and determined
what purchases she could make; her claim that Petitioner tricked her into signing a Japanese marriage
certificate that would give him parental rights over L.T.; her claim that Petitioner confiscated L.T.’s
passport so that Respondent could not return to the United States with L.T.; and her claim that
Petitioner admitted to being motivated to “control and discipline” Respondent. Petitioner also cites
two cases that she asserts involved circumstances similar to this case. First, she relies on Tsarbopoulos
v. Tsarbopoulos, 176 F. Supp. 2d 1045 (E.D. Wash. 2001), in which the court rejected the father’s
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 13 of 22 PageID #: 420
argument that Greece was habitual residence of the children where the father had concealed
information from his wife regarding his intent to move to Greece; the father had engaged in verbal
abuse, physical abuse, and controlling behavior of the mother that was substantiated by photographs
and/or testimony of witnesses outside the family; the mother had been primarily confined to the home
in Greece by her obligations to the children and by the demands of her husband, who gave her a list
of daily tasks, punished her physically if she did not do them, and demanded to know where she was
at all times; the younger children were with their mother nearly all day, every day, in the new country,
and (with the exception of the oldest child, who went to school) had little socialization with anyone
outside the family; and the father controlled the family’s finances. Second, she relies on Ponath v.
Ponath, 829 F. Supp. 363 (D. Utah 1993), in which the court rejected the father’s argument that
Germany was the child’s habitual residence where the family had traveled to Germany on a roundtrip ticket to visit the petitioner’s family, with a scheduled return trip a month later and an indication
from the father that they would return within three months; the father had refused and prevented them
from leaving by means of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse; the mother’s clinical psychologist
found respondent’s behavior consistent with her having been verbally, emotionally, and physically
abused; and the father had been arrested in the United States for allegedly attacking his sister-in-law
in her home while attempting to see the mother and the minor child.
The Court finds these cases to be inapposite. The physical abuse, verbal abuse, and controlling
behavior that motivated the courts in both Tsarbopoulos and Ponath are simply not present here.
There is no evidence of physical abuse, violence, or threats of violence in this case. Additionally,
having considered the testimony of Petitioner and Respondent and having reviewed the text message
exchanges between the parties, the Court does not find evidence of the type of verbal abuse or
controlling behavior that would suggest that Petitioner was coerced or forced into staying in Japan.
Notably, when Respondent was asked about her allegations of verbal abuse, she described arguments
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 14 of 22 PageID #: 421
in which she participated, and she admitted that she would have considered her own statements to be
verbal abuse as well. The text exchanges submitted in the parties’ exhibits suggest a marriage with
significant argument and friction, but not a relationship of abuse or control.
Although Respondent was somewhat socially isolated due to her lack of Japanese-language
skills, there is no credible evidence that Petitioner tried to isolate Respondent or prevented
Respondent from interacting with others. She had significant free time during the day, when L.T. was
at daycare and Petitioner was at work; she freely moved around the city to shop and go to the gym
and admitted that she could make calls or do whatever she wanted; and she frequently used mobile
phones, a laptop, and other devices to communicate with friends and family in Japan and the United
States. These facts sharply distinguish the instant case from Tsarbopoulos, in which the mother’s
movements and activities strictly monitored and controlled by her husband and the mother was largely
confined to the home due to the combination of her childcare-related duties and the tasks given to her
by her husband. The Court also notes that although there was evidence that Petitioner concealed L.T.’s
passport from Respondent, Respondent always had her own passport.
Finally, Respondent’s suggestion that Respondent’s and L.T.’s presence in Japan was based
on coercion and trickery is significantly undermined by the undisputed evidence that when
Respondent did have the opportunity to take L.T. on a trip to the United States, she did not stay in the
United States, but instead voluntarily returned to Japan. In November 2019, Respondent and L.T.
traveled from Japan to Missouri, without Petitioner, and stayed with Respondent’s family. If
Respondent’s presence in Japan had been due to Petitioner’s coercion, the Court would have expected
Respondent to take that opportunity to get away from Petitioner and from Japan. Instead, Respondent
testified that she went back voluntarily in February 2020.
In sum, it appears that Respondent had mixed feelings about being in Japan and that she was,
at times, reluctant to be there. But the facts presented do not amount to coercion, and they do not
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 15 of 22 PageID #: 422
significantly undermine the other evidence suggesting that Japan was L.T.’s home and thus her
habitual residence. See Cohen, 858 F.3d at 1153 (“[O]ne spouse harboring reluctance during a move
does not eliminate the settled purpose from the [child’s] perspective.’”) (quoting Silverman, 338 F.3d
at 899; internal citation omitted); Silverman, 338 F.3d at 900 (finding that a mother’s “post-move
desire to return to the United States, and the finding by the district court that she was subject to
coercion and abuse beginning two month after her arrival, does not change the legal conclusion that
the habitual residence of the children changed from Minnesota to Israel”).
The Court has also considered Respondent’s argument that Petitioner is improperly “forum
shopping” by filing the instant petition. Respondent notes that Petitioner filed the petition for return
only after Respondent filed for divorce in Missouri and that Petitioner has had poor experiences with
divorce litigation in the United States, including a history of warrants being issued for his arrest due
to failure to pay child support. Respondent argues that Petitioner is using these proceedings as a forum
selection mechanism in order to avoid divorce proceedings in the United States. Respondent relies on
Barzilay II, in which the Court found that the children’s habitual residence was in Missouri and that
the father’s attempt to return them to Israel, where he had a better chance of a favorable custody
determination, was “precisely the sort of international forum shopping the Convention seeks to
prevent.” Barzilay II, 600 F.3d at 922. Respondent’s argument and reliance on Barzilay II are
misplaced. Here, unlike in Barzilay II, the Court has found that the relevant factors show that L.T.’s
habitual residence was in Japan, not in the United States. Thus, Japan is the forum that should
determine custody rights. It is Respondent, not Petitioner, who engaged in the sort of international
forum shopping the Convention seeks to prevent when she took the child from her place of habitual
residence to a different country and filed divorce proceedings there.
Based on the above, the Court finds that as of the time L.T. was removed from Japan, L.T.’s
place of habitual residence was Japan. The burden thus shifts to Respondent to establish an affirmative
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 16 of 22 PageID #: 423
defense to L.T.’s prompt return.
B. Affirmative Defenses
In her Answer, Respondent asserted two affirmative defenses: (1) that returning L.T. to Japan
would expose L.T. to a grave risk of physical or psychological harm; and (2) that Petitioner consented
to and acquiesced in Respondent’s retaining L.T. in the United States. Neither defense is mentioned
in the proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law submitted by Respondent, and it is unclear
whether Respondent continues to take the position that either of the defenses apply. Nevertheless, the
Court will address them below.
1. Grave Risk of Harm
Under Article 13b of the Hague Convention, a court “‘is not bound to order the return of the
child’ if the court finds that the party opposing return has established that return would expose the
child to a ‘grave risk’ of physical or psychological harm.” Golan v. Saada, 142 S. Ct. 1880, 1891-92
(2022) (quoting Abbott v. Abbott, 560 U.S. 1, 10 (2010)). “ICARA requires that a respondent opposing
return of a child under Article 13(b) must establish this exception by clear and convincing evidence.”
Rydder v. Rydder, 49 F.3d 369, 373 (8th Cir. 1995). See also 22 U.S.C. § 9003(e)(2)(A). The Eighth
Circuit has recognized “two types of grave risk that are cognizable under Article 13(b): (1) cases in
which a child is sent to a zone of war, famine, or disease; and (2) those involving serious abuse or
neglect.” Vasquez v. Colores, 648 F.3d 648, 650 (8th Cir. 2011) (citing Silverman, 338 F.3d at 900).
Only the latter is potentially relevant in this case.
The grave risk exception must be “construed narrowly,” and “[g]eneral evidence of harm is
insufficient” to satisfy the exception. Acosta v. Acosta, 725 F.3d 868, 875 (8th Cir. 2013). “[I]n order
to apply the Article 13(b) exception, the court would need to cite specific evidence of potential harm
to the individual child.” Silverman, 338 F.3d at 900. “[T]he potential harm must be severe, and there
must be a probability that the harm will materialize.” Guzzo, 2022 WL 3081159, at *7 (quoting Ermini
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 17 of 22 PageID #: 424
v. Vittori, 758 F.3d 153 (2d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted)). See also Babcock v
Babcock, 503 F. Supp. 3d 862, 882 (S.D. Iowa 2020) (noting that “the harm must be a great deal more
than minimal” and that “ [n]ot any harm will do nor may the level of risk of harm be low”) (quoting
Walsh v. Walsh, 221 F.3d 204, 218 (1st Cir. 2000)). A lack of evidence that past physical abuse of the
child has occurred “does not necessarily render Article 13b inapplicable” where there is other
evidence showing a significant risk of future abuse. See Acosta, 725 F.3d at 876 (affirming district
court’s finding of a grave risk of harm despite the absence of physical abuse of a child where the
evidence showed that the father’s inability to control his temper presented a significant danger that
he would act irrationally toward himself and his children; noting the father’s assault of a taxi driver
in his children’s presence, his abuse of the mother in the children’s presence, his shoving of one of
the children, and his telephonically expressed threats to kill his children and himself); Walsh, 221
F.3d at 220 (holding that the district court erred by discounting the grave risk of physical and
psychological harm to the children where there was “a clear and long history of spousal abuse”; a
history of “fights with and threats against persons other than [the father’s] wife”; a history of “an
uncontrollably violent temper”; a history of assaults that were “bloody and severe”; and “ample
evidence that [the father] has been and can be extremely violent and . . . cannot control his temper”).
In her Answer, Respondent alleged that Petitioner had “abused, isolated, controlled, and
assaulted Respondent and the Minor Child, both physically and verbally,” and that “[t]he Minor Child
has expressed fear of Petitioner and is afraid of further harm at the hands of Petitioner.” Respondent’s
Answer, Doc. 8, at ¶ 37. Respondent also alleged that she and the child were held in Japan against
their will for twenty months, and that Petitioner “told Respondent that if she ever tried to leave
Petitioner’s control, he would kill her.” Id. at ¶ 35. In her trial brief, Respondent argued that
Petitioner’s coercion and control over Respondent constituted spousal abuse beyond what a sevenyear-old child should witness, that L.T. had indicated to Respondent that her father frequently got
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 18 of 22 PageID #: 425
physical with her, that Respondent had witnessed physical marks on the child stemming from the
father getting physical on at least one occasion, and that Petitioner inappropriately bathed with his
When she testified at trial, Respondent offered no evidence in support of most of these
allegations. She offered no evidence that Petitioner abused or assaulted L.T., no evidence that L.T.
had expressed fear of Petitioner, no evidence related to bathing or improper sexual behavior, no
evidence Petitioner ever threatened Respondent or L.T., no evidence that Petitioner had physically,
sexually, or verbally abused L.T., and no evidence that L.T. was afraid of being harmed by her father.
She also offered no evidence that Petitioner threatened to kill Respondent if she tried to leave his
control, and no evidence that Petitioner ever physically abused Respondent. Respondent did testify
that Petitioner verbally, mentally, and psychologically abused her. When asked to describe the abuse,
Respondent testified that Petitioner would ask her every day what she was doing to better herself, that
he was always cutting her down in front of her daughter, that he was disrespecting her and her
daughter, and they would get in arguments. She testified that being around him made her skin crawl,
that he made her feel like she had to ask him for everything, that he told her she could not speak
English to her daughter, that they would leave her out in conversations during meals, and that he
would tell their daughter untrue things and then their daughter would be mean to her.
The Court finds no evidence, let alone clear and convincing evidence, that returning L.T. to
Japan would subject L.T. to a grave risk of physical or psychological harm. It appears that Petitioner
and Respondent had significant marital problems and arguments, which L.T. may have at time
witnessed. But there is no credible evidence that Petitioner has ever harmed L.T. in any way
(physically or psychologically); that Petitioner has ever threatened to harm L.T. in any way; that
Petitioner has a history of violence or abuse directed toward L.T., Respondent, or anyone else; or that
Petitioner has any unstable or violent tendencies that might suggest a risk that he would harm L.T. in
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 19 of 22 PageID #: 426
the future. There is simply no evidence of past or potential harm to L.T. that might support a finding
that returning L.T. to Japan would expose L.T. to a grave risk of physical or psychological harm. Cf.
In re Hague Application, No. 4:07CV1125SNL, 2007 WL 4593502, at *11 (E.D. Mo. Dec. 28, 2007)
(grave risk of harm exception did not apply where there was “no credible evidence before the Court
that Petitioner was abusive to or neglectful of the children” and “whatever alleged abuse Petitioner
directed to the Respondent was not directed to the children.”).
2. Consent or Acquiescence
Article 13a of the Hague Convention “provides a defense to an action for return if the
petitioner ‘consented to or subsequently acquiesced in the removal or retention’ of the child.”
Friedrich v. Friedrich, 78 F.3d 1060, 1069 n. 11 (6th Cir. 1996). “The Convention does not define
consent or acquiescence in any more definite manner, and there is no statement to guide [courts] in
the text or legislative history of the Act” Id. “The consent defense involves the petitioner’s conduct
prior to the contested removal or retention, while acquiescence addresses whether the petitioner
subsequently agreed to or accepted the removal or retention.” Baxter v. Baxter, 423 F.3d 363, 371
(3rd Cir. 2005). The Sixth Circuit has held that “acquiescence under the Convention requires either:
an act or a statement with the requisite formality, such as testimony in a judicial proceeding; a
convincing written renunciation of rights; or a consistent attitude of acquiescence over a significant
period of time.” Friedrich, 78 F.3d at 1070 (footnotes omitted). Respondent bears the burden of
establishing this defense by a preponderance of the evidence. Leonard v. Lentz, 297 F. Supp. 3d 874,
883 (N.D. Iowa 2017) (citing 22 U.S.C. § 9003(e)(2)).
In asserting this affirmative defense in her Answer, Respondent alleged that prior to leaving
Japan, she informed Petitioner of her intent to come home to the United States, that Petitioner was
aware at all times that Respondent had left Japan with the child for the United States and was in
continuous contact with Respondent; and that Petitioner did not make any effort to secure the return
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 20 of 22 PageID #: 427
of the child until 180 days had passed after the removal and until over 150 days after Respondent filed
divorce proceedings. Respondent’s Answer, Doc. 8, at ¶¶ 41-44. Respondent did not address this
defense in her trial brief or in the proposed memorandum opinion she filed after trial. However, the
section of the proposed memorandum opinion addressing forum shopping does contain some
argument that may be relevant to this defense: Respondent argues that “Petitioner appeared to have
no problem with Respondent remaining in the United States with the child until he discovered she
had filed for divorce. While Petitioner did frequently ask Respondent to come back to Japan, he did
not seek to force her to return using judicial assistance for six (6) months. Meanwhile, Respondent
repeatedly informed Petitioner that she had absolutely no intention of returning, yet Petitioner still
did not seek judicial assistance. Then suddenly, after discovering that Respondent had filed for a
divorce in the United States and several unmet demands from him for Respondent to dismiss the
divorce proceedings, he filed his complaint herein.” Respondent’s Proposed Mem. Opin., Doc. 36, at
Based on the evidence presented at trial, the Court finds that Respondent has not demonstrated,
by a preponderance of the evidence, either that Petitioner consented to the removal of L.T. before it
occurred or that Petitioner acquiesced in the removal after it occurred. With regard to the consent
defense, the evidence presented shows that Petitioner was unaware of Respondent’s plan to leave
Japan with L.T., that Respondent never disclosed that she intended to leave Japan with L.T. before
doing so, and that when Petitioner discovered that Respondent and L.T. were gone, he became
alarmed and contacted the authorities. This evidence is completely inconsisent with the suggestion
that Petitioner consented to Respondent’s taking of L.T. from Japan to the United States. With regard
to the acquiescence defense, Respondent offered no affirmative evidence of acquiescence, such as a
written or oral renunciation of rights or a consistent attitude of acquiescence over a period of time.
See Friedrich, 78 F.3d at 1070. Instead, the preponderance of the evidence supports a finding that
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 21 of 22 PageID #: 428
after the removal, Petitioner consistently wanted L.T. returned to Japan and communicated that desire
to Respondent. Indeed, Respondent herself acknowledges that Petitioner frequently asked Respondent
to return to Japan. Although it did take several months before Petitioner took legal action to secure
L.T.’s return, the evidence suggests that for most of that time, Petitioner still believed that Respondent
would return to Japan with L.T., as she had done after prior trips to the United States. None of
Respondent’s behavior shows that he acquiesced in L.T’s remaining in the United States.
For all of the above reasons, the Court finds that Respondent has not established the
affirmative defense of consent or acquiescce.
For the reasons stated above, the Court finds that Petitioner has established a prima facie case
for return of L.T. to Japan and that Respondent has not proven that there is an affirmative defense
preventing the return. Accordingly,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Petitioner Naoteru Tsuruta’s Verified Complaint and
Petition for Return of Child Under the Hague Convention (Doc. 1) is GRANTED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that L.T. shall be returned to Japan, her country of habitual
residence, at Respondent’s expense at a reasonable date and time mutually agreed upon by the parties.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Respondent shall make all necessary arrangements
associated with returning L.T. to Japan.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Respondent shall not, absent leave of this Court, remove
L.T. from the Eastern District of Missouri pending her return to Japan.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that counsel for Mother shall file a notice with the Clerk of
Court immediately upon L.T.’s arrival in Japan indicating that Mother has fully complied with the
terms of this Order.
IT IS FINALLY ORDERED that no award of attorney fees or other costs, apart from the
Case: 4:22-cv-00425-SPM Doc. #: 38 Filed: 09/19/22 Page: 22 of 22 PageID #: 429
aforementioned transportation costs associated with L.T.’s return, will be made at this time. The Court
will consider any separate requests for attorney fees that Petitioner may file, upon motion properly
A separate judgment will accompany this Memorandum Opinion and Order.
SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Dated this 19th day of September, 2022.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?