SANCHEZ v. SANCHEZ
MEMORANDUM OPINION FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW, AND ORDER signed by MAG/JUDGE L. PATRICK AULD on 03/31/2021. ORDERED that the Petition (Docket Entry 2 ) is DENIED. A Judgment will be entered accordingly.(Taylor, Abby)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
NESTOR ARIEL MEDINA SANCHEZ,
DAYSI VANESSA HERRERA SANCHEZ,
MEMORANDUM OPINION, FINDINGS OF
FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW, AND ORDER
Return of Child to Petitioner (Docket Entry 2 (“Petition”))1 and
(“Response”)), which asserts, as an affirmative defense to the
Exception” (id. at 2-9). (See Docket Entry 24 (referring this case
to undersigned Magistrate Judge for all proceedings and entry of
final judgment, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)).)
credible evidence at trial clearly and convincingly established “a
grave risk that [the subject child’s] return would expose [her] to
. . . psychological harm,” Hague Convention, art. 13(b), 1988 WL
411501, at *5, the Court denies the Petition.
“The Hague Conference on Private International Law adopted the Hague
Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in 1980.”
Chafin v. Chafin, 568 U.S. 165, 168 (2013) (citing T.I.A.S. No. 11670 (available
at 1988 WL 411501) (hereinafter “Hague Convention”)).
The Petition demands “the return of [Petitioner’s then-]eightyear-old daughter, N.D.M.H., [because she] was, without [his]
consent or acquiescence, wrongfully removed from Honduras and
brought to th[e United States] by her mother, Respondent . . . .”
(identifying both Petitioner and Respondent as “citizen[s] of
The Response admits that “N.D.M.H. was born in . . .
Honduras . . . to Petitioner and Respondent” (Docket Entry 9 at 2),
that “N.D.M.H. was eight (8) years old at the time she was removed
to the United States” (id.), “that N.D.M.H.’s country of habitual
N.D.M.H. from Honduras without the consent of Petitioner” (id. at
“However, pursuant to Article 13(b) of the Hague Convention,
[the Response] claims the [Grave Risk E]xception, as it applies to
[N.D.M.H.’s] return to Honduras.” (Id.) Based on that affirmative
defense, the Response asks “[t]hat the Court grant a final judgment
in favor of Respondent and deny Petitioner’s request for [N.D.M.H.]
to be returned to Honduras.”
(Id. at 14.)
The parties agreed to a pretrial schedule (see Docket Entry
15), which the Court adopted (with minor clarifications) (see Text
Order dated Nov. 30, 2018; see also Minute Entry dated Feb. 7, 2019
(extending certain deadlines)).
At the conclusion of the pretrial
period, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation of Undisputed Facts
(Docket Entry 39 (“Joint Stipulation”)) and the Court ruled on
Petitioner’s objections (Docket Entry 32) to Respondent’s final
conference (see Minute Entry dated Mar. 20, 2019).
The Court also
“notif[ied] the parties that, in connection with the adjudication
of Respondent’s Article 13(b) defense, the Court may take judicial
notice, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 201(b)(2), (c)(1), and
(d), of the United States Department of State’s September 20, 2018
Travel Advisory for Honduras and Honduras 2018 Human Rights Report,
Department of State’s official website.”
(Text Order dated Mar.
A three-day bench trial followed, at which Respondent,
her mother and sister, an expert witness retained by Respondent,
Petitioner, and the girlfriend of one of Petitioner’s brothers (who
Orocuina, Honduras, throughout the relevant period) all testified.
(See Docket Entries 41-43, 47-52.)
At the conclusion of the bench
trial, the Court denied Petitioner’s oral motion under Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 52(c) and took the case under advisement.
Minute Entry with Docket Entry 43.)
The Court now enters this Order denying the Petition pursuant
to the Hague Convention’s Grave Risk Exception (based on Findings
of Fact and Conclusions of Law stated below as required by Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(1)).
“The Hague Convention sets forth a detailed framework for
addressing claims of international child abduction during domestic
disputes between parties in signatory nations.
After the United
States ratified the [Hague] Convention, Congress implemented it
through ICARA[, the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, 22
U.S.C. § 9001-9011.]”
Padilla v. Troxell, 850 F.3d 168, 175 (4th
Cir. 2017) (internal footnote and citation omitted); see also id.
at 175 n.5 (“The United States ratified the [Hague] Convention in
1988 . . . .”); Pleites Hernandez v. Garcia Pena, 820 F.3d 782, 786
(5th Cir. 2016) (“The Hague Convention . . . signatories . . .
include the United States and Honduras . . . .”).
here, the [Hague] Convention provides that [A] a child who was
‘wrongfully removed’ from h[er] place of habitual residence in
violation of a person’s custody rights must be returned to that
place unless [B] certain ‘narrow exceptions’ apply.”
F.3d at 175 (quoting Contreras Alcala v. Garcia Hernandez, 826 F.3d
161, 169 (4th Cir. 2016)).
Under part A of that framework:
preponderance of the evidence, that [N.D.M.H.] w[as]
“wrongfully removed . . . within the meaning of the
Thus, [Petitioner] had to prove
(1) [N.D.M.H.] w[as] “habitually resident” in
[Honduras] at the time [Respondent] removed [N.D.M.H.] to
the United States; (2) the removal was in breach of
[Petitioner’s] custody rights under [Honduran] law; and
(3) [Petitioner] had been exercising those rights at the
time of removal.
Miller v. Miller, 240 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal
citation omitted) (quoting ICARA provision now codified at 22
U.S.C. § 9003(e)(1), as well as Hague Convention, art. 3, 1988 WL
411501, at *2).
Petitioner has carried that burden, as the
parties’ Joint Stipulation establishes that, while “Honduras was
the habitual residence of [N.D.M.H.]” (Docket Entry 39 at 2),
“Respondent removed [N.D.M.H.] from Honduras without Petitioner’s
permission or knowledge and brought [N.D.M.H.] to the United
States” (id.), in contravention of Petitioner’s ongoing “exercis[e
of] his custody rights with [N.D.M.H.] as defined under Honduran
law” (id.; see also id. (twice referencing Respondent’s removal of
N.D.M.H. from Honduras to United States as “wrongful removal”)).
That determination moves the Court to part B of the (abovequoted) Hague Convention framework (as formulated by the United
States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit), pursuant to which
N.D.M.H. “must be returned to [Honduras] unless certain narrow
exceptions apply,” Padilla, 850 F.3d at 175 (internal quotation
marks omitted); see also id. (“Once a petitioner has shown a
wrongful removal occurred, the burden shifts to the respondent to
establish that one of the exceptions in the [Hague] Convention
excuses return of the child.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Put another way, as a function of “substantiation by [Petitioner]
that removal of [N.D.M.H.] from [Honduras] was wrongful, [her]
return [to Honduras i]s required unless . . . [R]espondent . . .
establishe[s] one of four available defenses.” Miller, 240 F.3d at
§ 9003(e)(2)); see also id. at 398-99 (outlining four exceptions in
Articles 12, 13, and 20 of Hague Convention).
As noted in the
Introduction, Respondent has asserted only one such affirmative
defense, i.e., the Grave Risk Exception within Article 13 of the
Hague Convention, pursuant to which “the judicial or administrative
authority of the requested State is not bound to order the return
of the child if the person . . . oppos[ing such] return establishes
that . . . b there is a grave risk that [such] return would expose
the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the
child in an intolerable situation.”
Hague Convention, art. 13,
1988 WL 411501, at *4-5 (emphasis added). Importantly, Respondent,
establishing . . . by clear and convincing evidence that . . . the
[Grave Risk E]xception set forth in [A]rticle 13b . . . of the
[Hague] Convention applies[.]”
22 U.S.C. § 9003(e)(2) (emphasis
added); see also Miller, 240 F.3d at 402 (“[T]he defense of ‘grave
risk’ must be proven by clear and convincing evidence.”).
For the reasons that follow, Respondent carried that burden at
trial (albeit not on most of the grounds raised in the Response)
and the Court thus declines “to order the return of [N.D.M.H.],”
Hague Convention, art. 13, 1988 WL 411501, at *4.
Allegations of Response
The Response initially invoked the Grave Risk Exception based
on these (verified (see Docket Entry 9 at 17)) allegations:
1) “returning [N.D.M.H.] to Honduras would place her at grave
risk for serious sexual, physical, and emotional abuse in the
future, both at Petitioner’s hands and the hands of third-parties
such as ‘Dario,’ wh[ose sexual abuse of N.D.M.H.] was facilitated
and condoned by  Petitioner and N.D.M.H.’s paternal grandmother”
(id. at 10 (emphasis added)); see also id. at 5-7 (averring that
“Petitioner hit N.D.M.H. with a telephone cord without rational
reason,” that “Petitioner worked for a man named ‘Dario’ who coowned
“Petitioner’s mother sent [Respondent] away to sell food, as a ruse
to get [N.D.M.H.] away from [Respondent while] Petitioner took
N.D.M.H. for a walk [during which Dario sexually assaulted her],”
that Dario later began “more frequently” visiting the family home,
and that, “[d]uring one visit, Dario showed N.D.M.H. pornographic
videos in the home with Petitioner’s full knowledge and consent”);
2) “[g]iven that N.D.M.H. has already been subjected to
physical abuse by Petitioner, as well as sexual abuse which was
facilitated and condoned by Petitioner at the hands of a thirdparty, this risk [of physical or psychological harm to N.D.M.H.] if
returned to Honduras is grave” (id. at 13 (emphasis added)); see
also id. at 11-12 (“[N.D.M.H.] has already been subjected to
physical and sexual abuse, and the likelihood of that recurring is
high if returned to Honduras, given the history. . . .
has failed to adequately protect N.D.M.H. from sexual abuse, and
horrifically) facilitated, her to said sexual abuse . . . .”); and
[N.D.M.H.] has also been exposed to the domestic violence against
[Respondent perpetrated by Petitioner], which should be taken into
account by this Court” (id. at 11 (emphasis added); see also id. at
physical abuse . . . .
Petitioner continued regularly beating
[Respondent] . . . .”), 6 (“[In 2016], Petitioner beat [Respondent]
so horrifically that she was bleeding.”)).
In support of those averments, Respondent attached to her
Response various records of her interactions with the United States
Department of Homeland Security, including (in Exhibit 6) a “Record
of Determination/Credible Fear Worksheet” (id. at 30) and “Credible
Fear Interview Notes” (id. at 35), arising from her interview on
June 15, 2017 (see id.), “under oath” (id. at 36), as well as (via
Exhibit 7) her “I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding
of Removal” (id. at 45), which she signed under penalty of perjury
and completed with the aid of counsel (see id. at 53), and (via
translation of her “letter in support of [her a]sylum application”
(id. at 63), dated November 17, 2017 (see id. at 67).
(See id. at
29-67; see also id. at 8 (referencing Exhibits 6-9); Docket Entry
23 at 14-52 (including same exhibits as final pretrial disclosures
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(3)(A)(iii)); Docket
Entry 43 at 1 (documenting admission of same exhibits at trial).)
Most prominently, Respondent declared in those documents that:
1) “[Petitioner] would never let [Respondent] out [of the
family home]” (Docket Entry 9 at 40; see also id. (“He would only
take me out when I had to go to work, otherwise I was locked up 24
hours a day.”));
2) “every day” Petitioner “hit [Respondent], sen[t her] to
work and threaten[ed her]” (id. at 39; see also id. (averring that,
on “daily” basis, “[Petitioner] told [Respondent] he was going to
kill [her] and [her] entire family if [she] left him”));
3) after Respondent “reported [Petitioner] because he didn’t
want [her] to report” his boss Dario for sexually abusing N.D.M.H.,
Petitioner “sent [Respondent] to the hospital because he beat [her]
so bad” (id. at 40; see also id. (“[He] almost killed me. . . .
[H]e would rather keep his job than protect his child[.]”)); and
4) “[Petitioner] always harmed [N.D.M.H.] with words” (id. at
42) and he “always hit [N.D.M.H.]” (id. at 43; see also id. at 64
(“[N.D.M.H.] was afraid of [Petitioner], because he would beat her
all the time for nothing.”)).
If clear and convincing evidence at trial had shown that
Petitioner previously had “facilitated and condoned” (id. at 10)
sexual abuse of N.D.M.H. by a third-party in Honduras, the Court
would have ruled the Grave Risk Exception satisfied based on that
factual finding alone; however, although trial testimony did show
in clear and convincing fashion that, while in Petitioner’s care,
N.D.M.H. suffered a sexual assault by a friend of Petitioner’s
family, no competent and/or credible evidence before the Court
supports a conclusion (under any standard) that Petitioner (or any
of his family members) “facilitated [or] condoned” (id.) that
Respondent also failed to prove by clear and convincing
evidence that N.D.M.H. faces a grave risk of physical or emotional
abuse by Petitioner, if returned to Honduras; to the contrary, the
record reflects (at most) that (on a few occasions) he subjected
her to corporal punishment that (at least arguably) lies within
bounds permitted in the United States and that falls well short of
the level necessary for denial of return under the Grave Risk
Respondent imposed equally harsh physical discipline on N.D.M.H.
Respondent’s trial testimony similarly did not support (and indeed
contradicted) many (including the most serious) of her earlier
Ultimately, documented fabrications by Respondent
about such matters (perjuriously presented to officials in the
United States for the purpose of procuring asylum and then tendered
in like manner to this Court to support her position in this case)
render unreliable most of her testimony in this proceeding.
Notwithstanding those considerations, credible evidence before
the Court regarding past (and possible future) sexual abuse of
N.D.M.H., including unrebutted expert testimony and Petitioner’s
own testimony (detailed below), proves the existence (clearly and
Honduras] would expose [her] to . . . psychological harm,” Hague
Convention, art. 13(b), 1988 WL 411501, at *5.
Domestic Violence against Respondent
In pressing the Grave Risk Exception, Respondent argued that
N.D.M.H.’s “expos[ure] to [Petitioner’s] domestic violence against
[Respondent ]should be taken into account by this Court.”
Entry 9 at 11.)
The United States Supreme Court has endorsed the
basic legal premise of that argument.
See Abbott v. Abbott, 560
demonstrate that returning to [the country of habitual residence of
the child] would put [the respondent’s] own safety at grave risk,
the court could consider whether th[at risk] is sufficient to show
that the child too would suffer ‘psychological harm’ or be placed
‘in an intolerable situation.’” (quoting Hague Convention, art.
13(b), 1988 WL 411501, at *5, and citing Baran v. Beaty, 526 F.3d
1340, 1352-53 (11th Cir. 2008), and Walsh v. Walsh, 221 F.3d 204,
220-21 (1st Cir. 2000))).
More specifically, as other courts have
Exception] when the respondent shows by clear and convincing
evidence a sustained pattern of physical abuse and/or a propensity
circumstances, can [thus] establish a grave risk of harm to the
Ermini v. Vittori, 758 F.3d 153, 164 (2d Cir. 2014)
(internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added); see also Luis
Ischiu v. Gomez Garcia, 274 F. Supp. 3d 339, 351 (D. Md. 2017)
(“Courts have found grave risk based on domestic abuse of the
spouse in the presence of the children, even without abuse directed
at the children themselves.”).
However, “limited incidents [of
domestic abuse] aimed at persons other than the [subject] child,
even if witnessed by the child, have not been found to constitute
a grave risk.”
Ermini, 758 F.3d at 165; see also Luis Ischiu, 274
F. Supp. 3d at 351 (“Not every case involving [inter-parental]
abuse . . . presents a grave risk [of harm to their children].”).
To assess Respondent’s allegations that Petitioner abused her
(and exposed N.D.M.H. to such abuse), “[i]t is well for us to begin
at the beginning,” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, No. 88-1259,
865 F.2d 1259 (table), 1988 WL 138679, at *1 (4th Cir. Dec. 15,
Based on the Joint Stipulation (including as
to the birth-dates of all three), Petitioner (then age 20) and
Respondent (then age 13) conceived N.D.M.H. in the summer of 2009.
(See Docket Entry 39 at 1.)2
Per Petitioner’s own words, his
action in that regard was “not legal” (Docket Entry 49 at 12) and
“we could consider it to be rape” (id. at 14), because Respondent
then remained a “child” (id. at 15).
Although unlawful (with good
reason, see United States v. Burns, No. 07CR556, 2009 WL 3617448,
at *12 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 27, 2009) (unpublished) (observing that
“statutory rape” involves “large potential for harm to the young
woman involved,” even “where the guilty party was not abusive”)),
Respondent’s trial testimony confirms that her sexual exploitation
by Petitioner did not result from his use or threat of violence;
rather, “he was saying pretty things to [her] and [she] fell in
love and [she] went to live with him.”
(Docket Entry 47 at 5.)
According to Respondent’s sworn statements when she entered
the United States (as quoted above), that living arrangement
quickly morphed into seven years of imprisonment and involuntary
servitude, enforced by daily beatings and death threats from
(See Docket Entry 9 at 39-40.)
To bolster that story
of constant, violent subjugation, Respondent averred that she
received no education beyond sixth grade.
(See id. at 39.)
time of trial (and despite unreservedly proffering her asylumrelated statements as evidence in this case (see Docket Entry 23 at
At one point, Petitioner testified that Respondent moved into his family
home in April 2008, became pregnant in October 2008, and turned 14 in November
2008 (see Docket Entry 49 at 8-10); however, based on the birth-dates in the
Joint Stipulation, as Respondent’s counsel remarked during the trial,
Petitioner’s “math [wa]s a little off” (id. at 10).
14-52; Docket Entry 43 at 1)), Respondent’s depiction materially
changed; for example, she admitted that, “[a]fter [she] moved in
with [Petitioner], [she] continued to go to school” (Docket Entry
47 at 46), ultimately “obtain[ing] a computer science degree” (id.
at 47), when she “graduated . . . in December 2014” (id.).
other words, contrary to the portrait Respondent painted upon
crossing into the United States, Petitioner did not forcibly end
her scholastic career as a sixth-grader, as (while living with him)
she “actually [acquired] six or seven more years of education than
sixth grade” (id. at 49), i.e., the equivalent of “an associate’s
degree here in the United States” (id. at 48).
Of similar import, after Respondent testified that, “[a]t the
beginning [of her cohabitation with Petitioner,] everything was
fine” (id. at 7) and her counsel asked “how did that change as time
progressed?” (id.), Respondent did not describe acts or threats of
violence doled out by Petitioner each day to keep her in bondage;
instead, she said:
“Well, shortly after I moved in with him I
realized that he was still with the girlfriend that he had before
Any such cad-like conduct – though undoubtedly
distressful to Respondent (particularly given her then-tender age)
– decidedly differs from the dire domestic confinement she related
in seeking asylum (and in raising the Grave Risk Exception).
During the trial, Respondent also testified – in contravention
of her former assertion that Petitioner “only let [her] leave the
house to work” (Docket Entry 23 at 29) – that she and another woman
living in the home took their daughters “to parks . . . [and] the
river” (Docket Entry 47 at 67), as well as that (besides leaving
the house regularly for years to attend school) Respondent went
“out [to] do [her] homework with [her] classmates” (id. at 51) and
completed “a cake decorating course” (id. at 68).
about-face at trial, Respondent replaced her allegations of “daily”
threats by Petitioner that he would “kill [her] and [her] entire
family if [she] left him” (Docket Entry 23 at 24), with testimony
that “one time,  before [she] left [him], . . . he threatened to
kill [her]” (Docket Entry 47 at 44 (emphasis added); see also id.
at 35 (placing that incident on “day before [Petitioner’s] mom
kicked [Respondent] out of the house” and clarifying that his
mother’s “insults . . . that [Respondent] was doing bad things to
[Petitioner],” not any threat, “sparked [Respondent] . . . to
leave” Orocuina for Roatan),3 71 (admitting to “mov[ing] out after
States citizen (to whose home she repaired upon arriving here and
whom she married six months later (see id. at 90-91)))).4
Respondent even deceived Homeland Security officials about how she left
Orocuina, telling them that she and N.D.M.H. “took a bus that took [them] to
Roatan which [wa]s 12 hours by bus” (Docket Entry 23 at 51), before admitting at
trial that they traveled not by “bus,” but “[b]y plane” (Docket Entry 47 at 34).
Additionally, Respondent offered hearsay testimony that, on the “day when
[she] left for Roatan and [Petitioner] found out” (Docket Entry 47 at 44), he
“said the same thing” (id.), i.e., he “threatened to kill [her]” (id.), “when he
went to look for [her] with the police at [her] mom’s” (id.). Respondent’s
mother, however, testified that Petitioner actually (and more ambiguously) said:
Moreover, Respondent (by her own admission at trial) fled with
N.D.M.H. out of concern that Petitioner would get custody of
N.D.M.H., rather than fear that he would kill anyone.
. . . Why were you afraid?
(See id. at
Well, because of the
threats that [Petitioner] had made of taking [N.D.M.H.] away
. . . .”); accord id. at 77-78; see also id. at 31 (“I did not feel
comfortable to go to court to fight for my daughter . . . .”), 92
(refusing to concede that Petitioner’s “letter just asking for
[Respondent] to return” N.D.M.H. to Honduras “was not a threat to
kill [Respondent],” countering:
“How is that not a life threat if
he’s taking away my -- my life, my daughter.
I live for [her].”).)
Nor did Respondent substantiate at trial her earlier averments that
Petitioner “regularly beat[ her]” (Docket Entry 9 at 5) – or “hit”
her “every day” (id. at 39) – thereby (invariably) “expos[ing
N.D.M.H.] to th[at] domestic violence” (id. at 11).
Respondent did testify to two incidents (A) when, after she
insisted on taking (then-newborn) N.D.M.H. to a hospital for
treatment (see Docket Entry 47 at 9), Petitioner “hit [Respondent]
in the face and threw [her] on the floor” (id. at 10), and
(B) when, after returning to the family home from the hospital, he
again “hit [her] in the face” (id. at 11).
Upon inquiry as to the
“‘If you don’t tell me where [Respondent] is, you’re going to pay for that.’”
(Docket Entry 50 at 26.) According to Respondent’s mother, “[she] understood
that to mean he would kill [her not Respondent.]” (Id.; see also Docket Entry
48 at 55 (setting forth Petitioner’s denial “that [he] threatened [Respondent’s]
family with death so they would give [him] her contact information”).)
“next act of violence from [Petitioner]” (id. at 12), Respondent
replied merely that they “always argued” (id.).
Later in her
examination, Respondent claimed that, “[w]hen [she] asked to go to
[her] mother’s instead of going to work” (id. at 14), Petitioner
“always pushed [her], and [other] times he hit [her if she]
. . . argued with him” (id.), but – when asked “how many times 
that happen[ed]” (id.) – she answered only “several times” (not
regularly or daily) (id.).
Furthermore, in response to a question
about “the worst extent of [her] injuries from [Petitioner],”
Respondent stated “[i]t would only look red.”
(Id. at 14-15.)5
As to the “several times” (over approximately six years) when
Petitioner allegedly “pushed” or “hit” Respondent (id. at 14),
leaving at “worst” (id.) a mark that “look[ed] red” (id. at 15),
she managed (despite persistent probing by her counsel) to identify
but two concrete instances:
1) when – at age 19 (see id. at 17) – Respondent, then “five
months pregnant . . . had an argument [with Petitioner]” (id. at
16), during which “[h]e hit [her]” (id.) “in the face” (id.), “he
pushed [her,] and [she] fell on the floor” (id.);6 and
Consistent with the above-noted testimony regarding the (relatively
limited) frequency and severity of Petitioner’s assaultive conduct, Respondent’s
mother testified that she “personally saw  physical marks on [Respondent]
. . . several times” (Docket Entry 50 at 12; see also id. at 12-13 (“I saw her
legs. They were bruised.)), and Respondent’s sister testified that she witnessed
Petitioner and Respondent “scuffling or pushing around” (id. at 33).
That description (though deeply disturbing) depicted a much less violent
encounter than the one to which Respondent swore in her Response. (See Docket
Entry 9 at 6 (“When [Respondent] was six (6) months pregnant, Petitioner beat her
2) when – after Respondent reported Petitioner’s “abuse” to
law enforcement authorities and they “told him that [she] had
denounced him or tried to press charges” (id. at 32) – “[h]e hit
[her] because [she] went and denounce[d] him” (id.).7
Otherwise, Respondent defaulted to inaccurate generalities
resting on examples that did not involve Petitioner striking her:
When is the next time you recall any physical
violence at the hands of [Petitioner]?
A. Well, every time I went out because he wouldn’t let
me go out.
And when you say you went out, where were you going?
Only to my mother’s.
And you were approximately 14, 15 at that time?
A. Well, when I lost the baby, I was already of age.
was already 18. No. I’m sorry. Nineteen.
Q. But you said that every time you went -- tried to go
to your mother’s . . . [Petitioner] would get physical?
so horrifically that she was bleeding.”); see also id. (implying that bleeding
corresponded with miscarriage); but see Docket Entry 47 at 15 (stating that
“worst . . . injuries” inflicted by Petitioner “only look[ed] red”), 16
(acknowledging that above-referenced “argument” occurred “a week prior” to
“los[ing] . . . baby”).) Respondent also testified that the pregnancy which
ended in miscarriage came about because Petitioner “forced [her] to have sex with
him” (Docket Entry 47 at 15); however, when asked “how  he force[d her]” (id.),
Respondent did not refer to use or threat of force, but commented only that
Petitioner “always told [her she] had to be with him” (id.).
testimony on that front thus diverges from her mother’s testimony that “one time
[Petitioner] forced [Respondent to have sex] . . . and she was all scratched.”
(Docket Entry 50 at 11-12; see also id. at 12 (“Q. Where were the scratches on
her body? . . . A. The neck, the arms, and the legs.”).)
Respondent’s trial testimony did not repeat the assertion in her Response
that the above-described (or some other) report she made against Petitioner
actually occurred in (or progressed to) a Honduran court, where “the judge got
smart with [Respondent]” (Docket Entry 9 at 42), i.e., “[t]he judge asked if
[she] would have sex with [the judge] to help [her] with [her] case” (id.; accord
id. at 44). (See Docket Entry 47 at 3-104 (lacking any such account).)
And would that be before you went or after you went?
A. Well, sometimes before, sometimes after because my
brother would go and take me out, but they never
Well, many -- many times.
And he always
showed his aggressiveness. The first thing, he wanted to
snatch my daughter from me.
When you say “snatch,” what do you mean?
A. One of the times he did that my brother came looking
for me in . . . his friend’s car. Well, one time I was
already in the car and he told my brother that if I
didn’t go out he was going to break the windows -- the
. . . .
Q. Do you recall how old you were when that incident
A. No. I was not of age yet because [N.D.M.H.] was very
(Id. at 16-18 (emphasis added).)8
Significantly, at trial, Respondent entirely abandoned her
portrayal of the most brutal attack she originally had accused
Petitioner of perpetrating against her, i.e., the alleged “beating
[Respondent received] because [she (A)] was going to report [the
sexual assault Petitioner’s] boss had done to [N.D.M.H.]” (Docket
Entry 9 at 40), and then (B) actually “reported [Petitioner]
On cross-examination, Respondent made admissions belying the notion that
“[Petitioner] wouldn’t let [her] go out” (Docket Entry 47 at 17) and/or that she
“[o]nly [went] to [her] mother’s” (id.). (See id. at 46-49 (testifying to six
or seven years of school attendance while living with Petitioner), 51 (agreeing
that “sometimes [she] did go out and do [her] homework with [her] classmates”),
67 (admitting that she, a house-mate, “and the[ir] girls [went] to parks . . .
[and] the river”), 68 (acknowledging completion of “cake decorating course”).)
because he didn’t want to report [his boss]” (id.), which “sent
[Respondent] to the hospital because [Petitioner] beat [her] so
bad” (id.) that he “almost killed [her]” (id.).
In contrast to
those startling allegations, Respondent testified at trial that:
1) Respondent never made any such report (about Petitioner’s
failure to report Dario) (see Docket Entry 47 at 22 (“I didn’t find
a way to take action because I was feeling alone with that.”));
2) “since 2013,” Petitioner “had his own business,” which
“Dario doesn’t own any of” (id. at 54; see also id. at 55-56
(conceding that Dario “wasn’t the store owner” and that “it was
[Petitioner’s store]”)); and
3) during their debate about alerting authorities to Dario’s
abuse of N.D.M.H., Petitioner did not beat Respondent (let alone so
rather, he simply “told [her] not to say anything” (id. at 23) and
then made an ambiguous statement (which she purportedly took as a
threat) (see id. (“[H]e said to me, ‘You know what I’m saying to
you.’”)), “so [she] just left it at that” (id.; see also id. (“I
didn’t go [make a report] because of what [Petitioner] said.”)).9
For his part, Petitioner (under questioning from his counsel)
expressly denied that he struck Respondent during an argument over
At trial, Respondent similarly dropped her averment in the Response that
“Petitioner would verbally degrade [her] by saying things like ‘You are a bitch,’
‘You are good for nothing,’ ‘You are my property,’ and ‘Here, we do as I say’”
(Docket Entry 9 at 4 (commas added and moved)). (See Docket Entry 47 at 3-104
(offering no such testimony); see also id. at 96 (failing to identify any
“insults or names [Petitioner] call[ed her]” in response to direct inquiry).)
taking N.D.M.H. to a hospital when she fell ill as an infant (see
Docket Entry 48 at 19) and/or that he “hit [Respondent] while she
was pregnant with [their child lost to miscarriage]” (id. at 29;
see also id. at 28-29 (refuting that said pregnancy resulted from
In addition, across more than 60 transcribed pages of
impeach Petitioner’s foregoing denials nor ever asked him a single
question about any alleged abuse of Respondent.
49 at 4-66.)
(See Docket Entry
Likewise, after the live-in companion of one of
Petitioner’s brothers gave testimony (on direct examination) that
(while sharing a house with them for seven years) (A) she “never
saw” Petitioner hit Respondent and (B) Respondent never claimed “he
hit her” (Docket Entry 52 at 9), Respondent’s counsel opted against
pursuing any domestic-violence-related line-of-questioning while
cross-examining that witness (see id. at 17-31).
Lastly, Respondent’s expert, Bobbie Bingham, who (over the
course of five sessions) evaluated N.D.M.H.’s exposure to trauma
(see Docket Entry 51 at 15), testified that N.D.M.H. did not
“report any . . . domestic violence [against Respondent]” (id. at
80); see also id. at 56 (affirming that N.D.M.H. “did not discuss”
In fact, when Ms. Bingham posed the
question, “‘Did you see someone who was beaten up, shot at or
killed?” (id. at 31), N.D.M.H. did not mention Petitioner beating
Respondent, but “said, ‘Yes, my grandfather’” (id.; see also id. at
26 (“[N.D.M.H. told [Ms. Bingham] that her grandfather had died
when she was 5 years old[,] . . . her great-grandfather killed a
bad guy earlier, and ‘The bad guy’s son came and shot [her]
grandfather in the back while he was at a chicken fight.’”), 27
grandfather[’s body] after he died”)).
N.D.M.H.’s omission of any
reference to Petitioner abusing Respondent bears great significance
because, although “children often engage in what’s called gradual
disclosure” (id. at 80), “N.D.M.H., in [Ms. Bingham’s] professional
assessment, was very eager to tell her story” (id. at 45).
“The assessment of the [above-discussed, domestic-violence]
significantly on the credibility of the witnesses.”
274 F. Supp. 3d at 351.
In considering that matter, the Court
cannot refrain from acknowledging “the term that’s been going
Lecture: #MeToo and Procedural Justice, 22 Rich. Pub. Int. L. Rev.
181, 187 (2019).
Notably, even commentators sympathetic to such
messaging have felt compelled to recast it, see id. (“‘Believe All
emphasizing in particular that “[i]t is not a demand to believe all
women - whatever they say, regardless of what is said after that,”
id. at 188; see also id. (“#MeToo creator Tarana Burke has said,
‘when we say we believe survivors, it’s not believe them without
investigation.’”), but instead a call “[t]o approach the inquiry
with an openness to their truthfulness,” id., without going so far
as to “assum[e] that [a woman’s] side is always right,” id. at 189.
Taking that tack, the Court cannot find that “[R]espondent
show[ed] by clear and convincing evidence a sustained pattern of
physical abuse [by Petitioner against her] and/or a propensity [on
his part] for violent abuse,” Ermini, 758 F.3d at 164 (internal
quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added).
Most significantly, as
inconsistencies in [Respondent’s trial] testimony [and] her [prior
sworn statements],” Church v. Maryland, 180 F. Supp. 2d 708, 741
(D. Md.), aff’d, 53 F. App’x 673 (4th Cir. 2002).
Under even the
most charitable reading of the record, Petitioner significantly
“change[d] h[er] story [and] . . . the very fact that [s]he made
inconsistent statements would tend to undermine h[er] credibility.”
Latif v. Obama, 677 F.3d 1175, 1206 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (Henderson,
J., concurring in the judgment) (internal ellipsis and quotation
marks omitted); see also Monroe v. United States, Nos. 1:13CR252,
(unpublished) (recognizing that witness’s “story itself may be so
internally inconsistent . . . that a reasonable factfinder would
not credit it” (internal quotation marks omitted)), recommendation
adopted, 2016 WL 9447054 (M.D.N.C. Dec. 5, 2016) (unpublished),
appeal dismissed, 690 F. App’x 103 (4th Cir. 2017).
The Court here discredits Respondent’s testimony to an even
greater degree because she failed to meaningfully “attempt to
explain or reconcile these glaring inconsistencies,” Church, 180
F. Supp. 2d at 743, a number of which “cross the thin line between
flagrant misrepresentation and blatant lie,” United States v.
Bolton, No. 2:16CR7, 2017 WL 2844171, at *6 (S.D. Miss. July 3,
2017) (unpublished), aff’d, 908 F.3d 75 (5th Cir. 2018), cert.
denied, ___ U.S. ___, 140 S. Ct. 47 (2019).
For example, when
Petitioner’s counsel cross-examined Respondent about her previous,
manifestly false averment regarding her educational attainment,
Respondent gave these evasive and unpersuasive answers:
Q. . . . [D]o you recall crossing the border into the
United States and . . . [going] through the credible fear
interview . . . ?
And you were sworn to tell the truth, weren’t you?
. . . .
You were asked the question ‘What grade did you
finish in school?’ And you said ‘6th grade.’
Q. But you –- you got a computer science degree, didn’t
So you didn’t tell that person the truth, did you?
A. When I was interviewing with that person, I was very
nervous. The only thing that mattered to me more was to
tell about my daughter because my daughter is what
matters to me the most.
But you actually have six or seven more years of
education than sixth grade.
Q. Did someone tell you that you needed to appear like
a poorly educated woman?
. . . .
I at that time felt very nervous because for the
first time in my life I was in something like that and I
focused specifically on my daughter.
Q. And so the question about what grade you were in or
graduated from was really hard for you?
I -- from the little that I understood, I
didn’t -- I didn’t -- the many questions that they asked
me, what I focused on mostly was [sic] the ones about my
Q. Didn’t they at the end also ask you if you understood
. . . .
Q. And they also asked you at the beginning if you had
any questions to please stop them.
Yes, but I -- many times they were asking me
questions and I was always answering, but I focused more
when it was about my daughter.
(Docket Entry 47 at 48-50 (emphasis added).)
As that excerpt shows, when confronted with an (undeniably)
untrue assertion she had woven into the narrative of horrific
domestic abuse she presented (both at the border and to this
Court), Respondent (A) deliberately dodged direct questions about
whether she told a falsehood and whether she did so as part of
manipulative plan (see id. at 49-50), (B) unconvincingly endorsed
the characterization of the task of giving her final school-year as
“really hard” (id. at 50), and (C) implausibly implied (in a
halting fashion indicative of prevarication) that nervousness, lack
of comprehension, and preoccupation with discussing her daughter’s
hardships (rather than her own) caused her to forget about a halfdozen or more years of (additional) schooling (see id. at 49-50).10
Respondent fared no better when cross-examined about her
inaccurate description(s) of Dario as Petitioner’s “boss” (Docket
Entry 9 at 40, 42, 65), first conceding that “Dario doesn’t own any
of [Petitioner’s] business” (Docket Entry 47 at 54; see also id.
(“They’re friends.”)), but then engaging in evasion tactics when
pressed about a contrary representation in her asylum application
(see id. at 55-56 (“Q.
. . . [You stated that ‘Petitioner] worked
for a man named “Dario” who is the store owner, where [Petitioner]
[But Dario] wasn’t the store owner of where [Petitioner]
worked, was he?
Well, I always argued with [Petitioner]
because he was also hanging out with bad people.
Contrary to Respondent’s instant excuses for her errant educational
accounting, the record reflects that (i) the asylum interviewer took great pains
to relieve Respondent of any pressure to proceed or to answer if she felt anxiety
or uncertainty (see, e.g., Docket Entry 9 at 36 (offering “to reschedule so that
[Respondent] can have more time”), 37 (verifying that Respondent remained
“comfortable having [her] interview” and advising that, “if [she] need[ed] to
take a break, just [to] let [the interviewer] know”), 39 (“[P]lease listen
carefully and take your time. If you don’t understand a question, please ask
me.”)), and (ii) Respondent displayed no difficulty divulging details pertaining
to herself (not just N.D.M.H.), including by interjecting information about
herself in response to inquiries about N.D.M.H. (See generally id. at 38-43.)
answer my question?
[Dario] wasn’t the store owner[, was he]?
They conducted business at [Petitioner’s] business.
answer my question.
[Dario] wasn’t the store owner[, was he]?
A. No, it was [Petitioner].” (internal
parenthetical omitted) (quoting Docket Entry 9 at 65))).
statement to the Court that “‘Petitioner worked for a man named
“Dario” who co-owned  Petitioner’s family store’” (id. at 56
(quoting Docket Entry 9 at 5)), as follows:
“Well, what I know is
that they conduct business, they make business.
That’s why I say
Ultimately, Respondent twisted herself into a
[Petitioner’s] business” (id. at 54) and that “[Dario] wasn’t the
store owner” (id. at 55).
(See id. at 57 (“Q.
Dario co-own  Petitioner’s store?
But, again, did
Well, from the businesses
[sic] that they did, apparently, yes.”).)
In sum, “the testimony of [Respondent] lacked the earmarks of
credibility . . . .
The [C]ourt carefully observed the demeanor of
[Respondent] as she answered the questions of counsel and it was
apparent to the [C]ourt that her responses were both evasive and
United States v. Ponce-Duarte, No. 3:11CR97, 2011 WL
2791244, at *1 (W.D.N.C. July 14, 2011) (unpublished); see also The
character.”); Garcia v. Berkshire Life Ins. Co. of Am., 569 F.3d
inconsistent answers and inability to provide an explanation for
the fabrications during the hearing cast further doubt on her
accounting of events. . . .
A party’s willingness to fabricate
evidence bears on character and credibility . . . .”); Monroe, 2016
WL 9447757, at *6 (noting that, “in assessing the credibility of
witnesses, trial courts consider variations in demeanor and tone of
voice” (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted)).
testimony at face value (which, for reasons just stated, the Court
cannot), that evidence established only “limited incidents [of
domestic abuse] aimed at persons other than [N.D.M.H.], [which]
even if witnessed by [N.D.M.H.], have not been found to constitute
a grave risk,” Ermini, 758 F.3d at 165 (internal quotation marks
In that regard (as previously detailed), Respondent
testified that (A) Petitioner twice struck Respondent in the face
(and threw her to the ground on the first such occasion), both
shortly after N.D.M.H.’s birth (see Docket Entry 47 at 9-11), (B)
Petitioner “pushed” and/or “hit” Respondent “several times” during
the ensuing six years (id. at 14), without causing any injury
beyond a red-looking mark (see id. at 15), and (C) “one time,
[immediately] before [Respondent] left [Petitioner], . . . [he]
threatened to kill [her]” (id. at 44).
Such conduct (albeit clearly condemnable) does not match (in
volume or viciousness) the violence visited on the children’s
mothers in decisions (approvingly cited by the Supreme Court in
identified the inter-parental abuse there as a basis for applying
the Grave Risk Exception.
See, e.g., Ermini, 758 F.3d at 165 (“The
credibly that [the petitioner] had hit her at least 10 times
. . . .
The [district] court credited [her] account of having her
head shoved into the kitchen cabinets while [he] attempted to
suffocate and strangle her, . . . which [their children] observed.”
(internal quotation marks omitted)); Baran, 526 F.3d at 1342-43
(reciting how, for five years, the petitioner “bec[ame] intoxicated
on an almost daily basis,” and how, “[w]hen drunk, [he] was
violent” and “intimidated [the respondent] physically,” including
“physically abusi[ng ] her,” by “slap[ping her] so hard she fell to
the ground,” “push[ing] her in the presence of his daughter,
frightening and upsetting the child,” “pinn[ing the then-pregnant
respondent] between a door and the wall, [while] pushing on the
door in a manner that applied intense pressure to her abdomen,”
“hurl[ing] furniture at [her],” “subject[ing her] to a six-hour,
expletive-laden barrage of verbal abuse and threats while she held
[their child] in her arms,” and “sw[inging] a portable telephone at
[her] head, causing [her] to fear for her life”); Walsh, 221 F.3d
at 209-10 (recounting eight or more episodes of the petitioner
physically abused the respondent, resulting (at various times) in
“[h]er face, chest, and knees all [becoming] swollen and bruised,
her arms  marked by hard gripping, and . . . a broken tooth,”
injury to “her coccyx,” as well as “bruises and scratch marks [so
severe a doctor] concluded that [her] life and health were at
respondent’s testimony about multiple “incidents of physical and
sexual abuse” and “threat[s] to kill her if she fled,” leading to
“diagnos[is of] PTSD, depression, and anxiety”).
Rather, Respondent’s trial testimony about domestic violence
(if believed) places this case within the range of circumstances
that courts have deemed insufficient to satisfy the Grave Risk
See, e.g., Souratgar v. Lee, 720 F.3d 96, 100 (2d Cir.
2013) (affirming order of return and denial of affirmative defense
under Article 13(b), notwithstanding fact that “district court
found spousal abuse by [the petitioner], including shouting and
offensive name-calling, and several incidents of physical abuse in
which he kicked, slapped, grabbed, and hit [the respondent]”
(internal quotation marks omitted)); see also Luis Ischiu, 274 F.
Supp. 3d at 351 (“Not every case involving [inter-parental] abuse
. . . presents a grave risk [of harm to their children].”).
Regrettably, “[m]any cases for relief under the [Hague] Convention
arise from a backdrop of domestic strife.
Spousal abuse, however,
is only relevant under Article 13(b) if it seriously endangers the
Souratgar, 720 F.3d at 103-04.
Here, to the extent
Respondent “was subjected to domestic abuse on certain occasions –
albeit less than she [originally] claimed, at no time [during those
occasions] was [N.D.M.H.] harmed or targeted,” id. at 104; in fact,
proximity at the five discrete times Petitioner allegedly struck or
threatened to kill Respondent (see Docket Entry 47 at 9-12, 14-16,
32, 44),11 and Respondent’s own expert testified that N.D.M.H.
reported no exposure to inter-parental abuse (see Docket Entry 51
at 56, 80), despite open-ended questioning about witnessing harm to
others (see id. at 31).
“For [the Court] to hold [Respondent’s]
convincing showing of [related] grave risk of harm to the child, to
be sufficient to decline repatriation, would unduly broaden the
Article 13(b) defense and undermine the central premise of the
[Hague] Convention . . . .”
Souratgar, 720 F.3d at 105-06; see
quotation marks omitted)).
Respondent gave a non-responsive, (over)generalized answer to the
specific question of “[w]here was [N.D.M.H.] when the[ first] two instances of
violence occurred” (Docket Entry 47 at 11). (See id. at 12 (“My daughter was
always with me.”); see also id. (“Q. And who watched [N.D.M.H.] when you had to
go to school?
The grandmother and her father.”).)
If (despite that
ambiguity) the Court assumed (then-infant) N.D.M.H.’s presence nearby during the
two assaults in question, the Court would not infer any related psychological
harm to N.D.M.H., as Respondent’s expert witness confirmed that, at that point,
N.D.M.H. lacked “any memory capabilities” (Docket Entry 51 at 95).
No reader should misinterpret this analysis as a minimization
of the plague of domestic violence.
More than a quarter-century
ago, Congress compiled a “legislative record [which], considered as
problem,” Brzonkala v. Virginia Polytechnic Inst. & State Univ.,
legislative history of Violence Against Women Act of 1994, Pub. L.
No. 103–322, §§ 40001–40703, 108 Stat. 1796, 1902–55), and the
Fourth Circuit recently reiterated that it remains so, see Harley
v. Wilkinson, 988 F.3d 766, 769 (4th Cir. 2021) (quoting with
approval determination in United States v. Staten, 666 F.3d 154,
In any event, the Court shares the view that “[e]ven a
single incident of [such] abuse is one too many from a societal
standpoint,” Floyd-Evans v. Moorehead, No. 3:14CV214, 2016 WL
5374148, at *6 (S.D. Miss. Sept. 26, 2016) (unpublished).
perspective, however, does not alter the Court’s obligation (A) to
Respondent’s credibility) based on the evidence at trial, and
(B) to dispassionately apply those facts to the law enshrined in
ICARA and the Hague Convention (as construed by the Supreme Court
and the Fourth Circuit or, in the absence of such construction on
any given point, as persuasively illuminated by other courts). See
generally 28 U.S.C. § 453 (setting forth judicial oath to, inter
alia, “administer justice without respect to persons, and . . .
faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all duties . . .
under the Constitution and the laws of the United States”).
Having done so, the Court holds that Respondent failed to
prove by clear and convincing evidence (or even a preponderance)
that Petitioner subjected Respondent to abuse which gives rise to
“a grave risk that [N.D.M.H.’s] return [to Honduras] would expose
[N.D.M.H.] to physical or psychological harm,” Hague Convention,
art. 13(b), 1988 WL 411501, at *5.
Physical and Emotional Abuse of N.D.M.H.
Respondent further has sought relief under the Grave Risk
Exception on the ground that “N.D.M.H. was in imminent danger of
. . . physical and emotional abuse before coming to the United
States from Honduras and returning her to Honduras would place her
at grave risk for serious . . . physical and emotional abuse in
the future . . . at Petitioner’s hands . . . .”
(Docket Entry 9 at
10 (emphasis in original); see also id. at 13 (“Given that N.D.M.H.
has already been subjected to physical abuse by Petitioner . . .,
this risk [of physical and emotional abuse] if returned to Honduras
is grave or severe.
It is more than only a prospect of abuse.”).)
In support of that contention, the Response alleges the following:
1) “[o]n one occasion during a house party, Petitioner took
out a gun and fired it into the air with N.D.M.H. present” (id. at
5 (emphasis added)); and
2) “[o]n another occasion, Petitioner hit N.D.M.H. with a
telephone cord without rational reason” (id. (emphasis added)).
Along with those two averments as to two instances of alleged
emotionally and/or physically abusive conduct by Petitioner toward
N.D.M.H., the asylum-related documents appended to the Response
include these related (and more sweeping) assertions:
1) Petitioner “always harmed [N.D.M.H.] with words” (id. at
[He] had no love for anything.”));
2) Petitioner “always hit [N.D.M.H.]” (id. at 43; see also id.
(“[He] would always hit [her] . . . when he was drunk.”));
3) “[o]ne day there was a house party and . . . [Petitioner]
(declaring that, when Respondent protested that irrational spanking
of N.D.M.H., Petitioner “took out a gun and started firing into the
air [while N.D.M.H.] was there,” and adding that “[t]hese scenes
were very often, to take out the gun and shoot in the air maybe
. . . to terrify [Respondent and N.D.M.H.]”)); and
4) “[N.D.M.H.] was afraid of [Petitioner], because he would
beat her all the time for nothing” (id.; see also id. (“He hit her
with what he found around him, but more often with the phone cord.
There was no excuse to hit [her].”)).
Just as with Respondent’s original allegations about her own
mistreatment (analyzed in the preceding subsection), her trial
testimony materially diverged from her above-quoted averments about
Petitioner mistreating N.D.M.H. To begin, contrary to Respondent’s
prior assertion(s) that Petitioner “always harmed [N.D.M.H.] with
words” (id. at 42) and that “[he] had no love for anything” (id. at
64), Respondent testified – in response to the question:
[Petitioner]?” (Docket Entry 47 at 18) – that “[h]e was loving”
Moreover, although (after repeating that his relationship
discipline, not to verbal abuse or discharge of firearms (see id.
(“[B]ut when he got mad, he would hit her with a phone cable.”)).
In fact, at no point, did Respondent testify (either generically or
particularly) that Petitioner ever, never mind “very often, [would]
take out [a] gun and shoot in the air [near N.D.M.H.]” (Docket
Entry 9 at 64) or that he ever “harmed [N.D.M.H.] with words” (id.
at 42), let alone that he did so “always” (id.).
(See Docket Entry
47 at 3-104 (lacking any such testimony).)12
Furthermore, Respondent’s trial testimony contradicted her
previous claims that Petitioner “always hit [N.D.M.H.]” (Docket
Entry 9 at 43 (emphasis added)), “always hit [her] . . . when he
Under cross-examination, Respondent actually disavowed telling the
asylum officer that Petitioner “‘always harmed [N.D.M.H.] with words’” (Docket
Entry 47 at 63-64). (See id. at 64.) Additionally, Petitioner denied at trial
that “anyone in th[e family] house sho[t a] gun around the children[.]” (Docket
Entry 49 at 65.)
was drunk” (id. (emphasis added)), “spanked [her] without reason”
(id. at 64 (emphasis added)), and “beat her all the time for
nothing” (id. (emphasis added)), relating much more restrained
application of corporal punishment for misbehavior by N.D.M.H. (not
constant drunken or otherwise purposeless beatings):
How would you describe the relationship between
[N.D.M.H.] and [Petitioner]?
A. He was loving. He was loving, but when he got mad,
he would hit her with a phone cable.
What would he get mad about with [N.D.M.H.]?
Sometimes she wouldn’t listen to him.
That’s -that’s when he hit her. And then one time I remember
that she was hit with the phone cable was [sic] when she
crossed from his mother’s business to his business
Q. Okay. So you said when he would get mad at her he
would hit her with a phone cord. How many times do you
recall that occurring?
Several times. . . .
(Docket Entry 47 at 18 (emphasis added); see also id. at 18-19
(“[Petitioner] would only hit [N.D.M.H.] . . . from the legs down
to the feet. . . .
purple. . . .
The[ resulting marks] looked between red and
[They lasted t]wo or three days. . . .
knew Petitioner struck N.D.M.H. with a cord b]ecause he would tell
[Respondent, as would] his mother, and [N.D.M.H.].”).)13
After the above-excerpted exchange, even Respondent’s counsel referred
to Petitioner’s use of a cord not as wanton, alcohol-fueled (or otherwise
heartless) child abuse, but as a “form of physical discipline” (Docket Entry
47 at 19). Nonetheless, on re-direct examination, said counsel attempted to
resuscitate the statement Respondent made at the border that Petitioner “‘always
Petitioner, in turn, tendered the following testimony at trial
regarding this subject:
Q. What did you do to discipline [N.D.M.H.] when she got
A. Oh, when [she] disobeyed, I would get her attention
verbally, and I would try to intimidate her so that she
would not do the same things again.
Or she would be punished by saying, “Okay. Today
you are not going to get to watch your favorite programs
on TV,” or taking the TV away, right.
hit . . . [N.D.M.H.] when he was drunk’” (id. at 95 (quoting Docket Entry 9 at
43)), by stating (in lieu of posing a proper question) that Respondent “testified
today numerous times that that was [her] story, that’s what [she] ha[s] told them
all along” (id. at 96). The transcript of Respondent’s trial testimony, however,
contains no – much less “numerous” (id.) – attestations about any drunken
beatings of that sort. (See id. at 3-104 (offering no such averments).) At one
point on cross-examination, Respondent did inject a non-responsive comment that
Petitioner “always hit [N.D.M.H.] with a cable” (id. at 64 (emphasis added); see
also id. (“I stick to what I said, that [Petitioner] hit [N.D.M.H.] or mistreated
her with a cable.”)); however, to the extent Respondent used the word “always”
there to mean “frequently” (as opposed to “exclusively”), she did not then or
thereafter square that ambiguous assertion with her earlier admission that
Petitioner “hit [N.D.M.H.] with a phone cord” (id. at 18) only “several times”
(id.). (See id. at 64-103 (lacking any such explanation).) Consistent with the
notion that Petitioner struck N.D.M.H. with a cable a few times as corrective
punishment, Respondent’s mother testified (A) that she once “saw  marks on
[N.D.M.H.’s feet],” whereupon N.D.M.H. said Petitioner “‘hit [her] with a
charger,’” and (B) that, when “confronted,” he responded that he had to teach her
“to not be stubborn.” (Docket Entry 50 at 21.) Respondent’s sister likewise
gave testimony that, “[o]ne time,” she “saw in [N.D.M.H.’s] feet that she was hit
with the charger’s cable.” (Id. at 36; see also id. at 39 (“Q. [ Y]ou don’t know
how those [marks] got there[, do you]? . . .
[N.D.M.H.] told me that
[Petitioner] had hit her.
I don’t know what mischievous thing she did at
Finally, Ms. Bingham testified that, after N.D.M.H. answered
affirmatively to the trauma-assessment question, “Were you hit, punched or kicked
very hard at home?” (Docket Entry 51 at 38), Ms. Bingham “asked [N.D.M.H.] to
tell [Ms. Bingham] more specifically what happened . . . [and N.D.M.H.] described
that [Petitioner] had beaten her with a cord” (id.; see also id. at 37
(“[N.D.M.H. stated that [Petitioner] had . . . beaten her on more than one
occasion with a cord.”)). “[W[hen asked to tell [Ms. Bingham] more about that
cord, [N.D.M.H.] described it as like a telephone cord, and . . . sa[id] that
[Petitioner] would wet the cord so that it would hurt even more and that that was
his form of discipline.” (Id. at 38; but see id. at 50 (“Q. Did [N.D.M.H.]
describe any physical injuries to her body as a result of being beaten with the
cord? A. Not that I recall.”), 70 (“Q. . . . Did [N.D.M.H.] report she was
afraid of [Petitioner]? . . . A. No, she did not report to me that she was
afraid of [him].”), 89 (agreeing that N.D.M.H.’s mental health “diagnosis was
specifically related to being the victim of an alleged sexual assault and then
being held against her will by the man reportedly assaulting her”).)
Did you ever spank [N.D.M.H.] when she got in
Q. And other than spanking her, did you hit her anywhere
else on her body to discipline her?
A. No, no.
I just scolded her with a slipper, as we
And where on her body did you scold her with a
In -- on her bottom.
Q. During her testimony, [Respondent] said that you hit
[N.D.M.H.] with a telephone cord. Did you ever do that?
A. I did not hit her.
Intimidate her, yes, but not to
What do you mean by “intimidate”?
A. That is when she was disobeying, I would say, “I’m
going to hit you with this if you don’t pay attention.”
But you never used it to hit her with it?
Q. [Respondent] also testified that you left marks on
your daughter’s body. Did you ever do that?
Q. To your knowledge, what would happen if [N.D.M.H.]
went to school with marks on her body?
. . . If [she] went to school with bruises or
something of that kind, her school teacher would have to
report to the prefector; and the prefector would have to
report to the principal; and the principal would have to
report to their superior, the department head; and then
the person responsible for the children and both parents
in the home would have to be told.
And how do you know that?
A. Because the educational law sets out that if a child
has serious injuries that the parents must be called in
order to have a dialogue about what is going on in the
Were you or [Respondent] ever called?
Q. And to your knowledge, did [Respondent] ever spank
And would she use any objects?
(Docket Entry 48 at 16-17; see also Docket Entry 49 at 25 (“Q.
you never hit her with any kind of cable?
The long-time girlfriend of one of Petitioner’s brothers (see
Docket Entry 52 at 5), who (along with her daughter) lived in the
family home with Respondent and Petitioner throughout their cohabitation (see id. at 8), corroborated Petitioner’s above-quoted
account of his (measured) use of physical discipline:
What do you do when your child disobeys you?
I punish her.
How do you punish her?
I hit her with a slipper or I slap her.
Where do you slap her?
On her legs or feet.
While [N.D.M.H.] lived in Honduras, did you ever
observe [Petitioner] discipline her?
And what did he do to discipline her?
He punished her the same way that I punish my
To your knowledge, did [Petitioner]
[N.D.M.H.] with a wet phone cord?
(Id. at 10-11.)
Said witness also charged that Respondent imposed more severe
corporal punishment on N.D.M.H. (for highly questionable reasons):
What about [Respondent]?
A. Sometimes she would punish her very harshly, and I
told her not to do it that way because that’s not how
What do you mean by “very harshly”?
A. Well, she would hit her and just because the girl
wasn’t learning, and I would tell her, “No, that's not
how things are done.”
How would she hit her?
A. One time she hit her with a bar. And she came to me
for help and I said, “No, I’m not the mom, but don’t hit
her that way.”
. . . .
THE INTERPRETER: Interpreter correction. The word that
was used may have been a stick rather than a bar.
Did you say stick or bar?
. . . .
. . .
You said earlier that [N.D.M.H.] wouldn’t
learn. What do you mean by that?
. . . .
The teacher had her learning her tables and her
. . . .
And what would happen if she didn’t learn that?
A. [Respondent] would punish [N.D.M.H.].
How would she punish her?
She punished her with a stick.
(Id. at 11-12.)
Tellingly, Respondent chose not to re-take the
stand in rebuttal to dispute the testimony that she struck N.D.M.H.
with a “stick” (id. at 12), as punishment for problems “learning
her tables and her ABCs” (id.).
(See id. at 32 (“THE COURT:
. . . Are you going to have any rebuttal evidence, [counsel for
[Counsel for Respondent]:
No, Your Honor.”).)
To evaluate how the foregoing evidence impacts Respondent’s
defense in this case, the Court first notes that “[t]he laws about
corporal punishment in the home vary widely across the globe.”
Melissa L. Breger, Lucy Sorensen, Victor Asal, & Charmaine N.
Examining Cross-National Laws and Trends in Homes across the Globe,
26 Wm. & Mary J. Race, Gender & Soc. Just. 483, 493 (2020).
United States, “corporal punishment, such as spanking and paddling,
Reforming and Clarifying Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, 47 J.
Legis. 101, 105 (2021), despite the fact that (for decades) the
“[e]limination or curtailment of corporal punishment would [have]
be[en] welcomed by many as a societal advance,” Ingraham v. Wright,
430 U.S. 651, 681 (1977).
The enduring solicitude of the states
for parental physical discipline rests on a federal constitutional
foundation, recognized nearly a half-century ago by this Court
(convened as a three-judge panel, as then-prescribed for many
“[T]he fourteenth amendment concept of liberty
embraces the right of a parent to determine and choose between
means of discipline of children.”
Baker v. Owen, 395 F. Supp. 294,
299 (M.D.N.C.), aff’d, 423 U.S. 907 (1975).
More recently, North Carolina’s intermediate appellate court
protected ‘paramount right’ to raise [the parent’s] children as the
parent sees fit.”
State v. Varner, 252 N.C. App. 226, 228, 796
S.E.2d 834, 836 (2017) (quoting Petersen v. Rogers, 337 N.C. 397,
402, 445 S.E.2d 901, 904 (1994)), discretionary review deemed
improvidently granted, 371 N.C. 107, 813 S.E.2d 218 (2018).
‘moderate’ corporal punishment,” id. (quoting State v. Pendergrass,
19 N.C. 365, 366 (1837)), defined “to include any punishment which
did not [(A)] produce ‘permanent’ injury,” id. at 229, 796 S.E.2d
original), (B) result from the parent’s desire “to ‘gratify his [or
her] own bad passions,’” id. (quoting Pendergrass, 19 N.C. at 367),
or (C) “use a ‘cruel or grossly inappropriate’ procedure or
device to discipline the minor,” id. at 230, 796 S.E.2d at 837
(quoting N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(1)(c)).
As that expression of parental prerogative reflects, although
parents in the United States enjoy broad (constitutionally based)
freedom to administer physical discipline, they “have no . . .
unlimited right to inflict corporal punishment on their children.”
Sweaney v. Ada Cnty., 119 F.3d 1385, 1391 (9th Cir. 1997) (emphasis
added); see also Bowers v. Maryland, 389 A.2d 341, 348, 283 Md.
115, 126 (1978) (“[A] parent was not permitted under the common law
to resort to punishment which would exceed that properly required
for disciplinary purposes or which would extend beyond the bounds
of moderation.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
way, in this country (and consistent with the Constitution), “case
law and dependency statutes acknowledg[e] that corporal punishment
by parents is lawful unless it crosses the line to abuse.”
v. Florida, 906 So.2d 1115, 1116 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2005), review
denied, No. 05-968, 917 So.2d 195 (table), 2005 WL 3561077 (Fla.
Nov. 17, 2005) (unpublished); see also Boland v. Leska, 454 A.2d
75, 78, 308 Pa. Super. 169, 176 (1982) (“At some point . . .,
permissible corporal punishment no longer is such, but becomes
“However, drawing a line between prohibited
child abuse and permissible disciplinary corporal punishment is not
an easy task.”
Sada v. City of Altamonte Springs, 434 F. App’x
845, 850 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted); see
also L.E.H. by & through D.L.H. v. Kansas Dep’t of Soc. & Rehab.
Servs., No. 111,576, 2015 WL 5036725, at *7 (Kan. Ct. App. Aug. 21,
difficult task in determining when physical discipline imposed by
a parent crosses the line and becomes child abuse.”).14
Given the constitutional license afforded parents in the
United States to use corporal punishment in child-rearing, as well
as the difficulty judges and child-welfare officials face in
differentiating authorized and unauthorized physical discipline
when applying this nation’s laws, the Court must exercise great
caution in pronouncing particular parental practices in other
countries so far out-of-bounds as to warrant denial of return under
the Grave Risk Exception (which the Fourth Circuit has denominated
a “narrow” defense, Miller, 240 F.3d at 402).
Abbott, 560 U.S. at 20 (instructing that, in resolving Hague
Convention cases, “[j]udges must strive always to avoid a common
tendency to prefer their own society and culture”); Breger et al.,
supra, at 494 (“In certain cultures, corporal punishment is not
viewed as detrimental but rather as a tool to aid in child
In other words, “[w]hether this [C]ourt believes
Indeed, academics have authored tomes on the topic. See, e.g., Doriane
Lambelet Coleman, Kenneth A. Dodge, & Sarah Keeton Campbell, Where and How to
Draw the Line between Reasonable Corporal Punishment and Abuse, 73 Law & Contemp.
Probs. 107 (2010).
that corporal punishment is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is beside the
point,” Wise by and through Wise v. Pea Ridge Sch. Dist. #109, 675
F. Supp. 1524, 1530 (W.D. Ark. 1987), and so too the fact that,
here, just as in 1975, “corporal punishment of children is today
discouraged by the weight of professional opinion,” Baker, 395
F. Supp. at 300; see Breger et al., supra, at 499 (“[I]n 2019, the
American Academy of Pediatrics published an updated statement
. . . relating to parental discipline.
Th[at] policy statement
condemns corporal punishment as an effective means of parental
discipline.” (internal parenthetical and footnote omitted)).
In lieu of personal preference or pediatricians’ prescriptions
about parental physical discipline – and “[a]s there is no bright
line rule[ in binding precedent – the C]ourt look[s] to [nonbinding] precedent and reason[s] by analogy in deciding [this
matter],” BDL Int’l v. Sodetal USA, Inc., 377 F. Supp. 2d 518, 522
n.7 (D.S.C. 2005).
Fortunately, “[t]his isn’t the first time a
court in an ICARA case has been asked to decide whether the
administration of corporal punishment triggers the [ G]rave [R]isk[
E]xception. . . .
[R]esearch suggests that, in most instances,
courts have declined to make such a finding.”
Farr v. Kendrick,
No. CV19-8127, 2019 WL 2568843, at *14 (D. Ariz. June 21, 2019)
(unpublished), aff’d on other grounds, 824 F. App’x 480 (9th Cir.
2020); see also Altamiranda Vale v. Figuera Avila, 538 F.3d 581,
“contested assertion that [the petitioner] once struck his son with
Exception’s] demanding burden”); Castro Sarabia v. Ruiz Perez, 225
F. Supp. 3d 1181, 1191-92 (D. Or. 2016) (“While I am reluctant to
describe the corporal punishment . . . in this case as ‘minimal,’
I conclude [the respondent] has failed to demonstrate by clear and
convincing evidence that these facts fit the [ G]rave [R]isk[
E]xception. . . .
On a few occasions, [the child] appears to have
been hit with a belt.
On two other occasions, [the child] may have
been hit with a branch or switch. . . .
cause the court some concern.
Th[ose] instances . . .
But they do not rise to the level of
. . . clear and convincing evidence of a ‘grave risk.’”), appeal
dismissed, slip op. (9th Cir. May 23, 2017); Diaz Lopez v. Rios
Alcala, 547 F. Supp. 2d 1255, 1257, 1261-62 (M.D. Fla. 2008)
(“[T]he [subject] children stated that the[ petitioner] had hit
them with his hand and a belt. . . .
This evidence only indicates
that [he] has used corporal punishment to discipline the children
. . . .
[T]he alleged abuse . . . is not so severe that it rises
to the level of an intolerable situation.”).
This Court similarly declines to find the Grave Risk Exception
satisfied by the conflicting evidence in this case (detailed
above), which (at most) shows that “[s]everal times” (Docket Entry
47 at 18) – to discipline N.D.M.H. for darting across a street
without permission and for refusing to “listen to him” (id.) –
Petitioner “hit her with a phone cable” (id.), “only . . . from the
legs down to the feet” (id.), resulting in “red [to] purple” marks
“last[ing]” for “[t]wo or three days” (id. at 19).
such “[s]poradic or isolated incidents of physical discipline
directed at the [subject] child . . . have not been found to
Souratgar, 720 F.3d at 104.15
Consistent with that determination, the Court observes that,
via a decision authored by an esteemed judge now sitting on the
Fourth Circuit, the North Carolina Court of Appeals has held that
a “[f]ather’s punishment of [his child] in the form of a spanking
The two cases the Court uncovered which concluded that a petitioner’s
corporal punishment practices provided a basis for denial of return under the
Grave Risk Exception involved much more extensive and extreme conduct than the
record here reveals.
See Farr, 2019 WL 2568843, at *6-7 (“The petitioner]
administers corporal punishment to [his three children] with great frequency.
. . . [He] stat[ed] that he would physically discipline [two of] the [c]hildren
two or three times in an average week and would physically discipline [the third
child] between seven and fourteen times in an average week . . . . [H]e uses
various objects. He previously used a section of PVC pipe or a wooden dowel and
currently uses an assortment of plastic rulers . . . . [H]e usually administers
between one and six strikes, depending on the sin that precipitated the session.
. . . [T]here were more than five instances in which the [c]hildren sustained
injuries.”), *13 (“It is difficult to say what was most troubling – the frequency
of the [corporal] punishment, the unusually stylized manner in which it was
administered, or the risk of injury it posed.”), *15 (“Some of the behavior that
elicited spankings was minor disobedience, if it can be characterized as
disobedience at all. Indeed, [the petitioner] admitted that he administered an
average of more than one set of spankings each day over a period of three years,
which suggests that he wasn’t reserving [corporal] punishment for major
transgressions . . . .” (emphasis in original)); Di Giuseppe v. Di Giuseppe, No.
07CV15240, 2008 WL 1743079, at *6 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 11, 2008) (unpublished) (“[The
p]etitioner admitted while on the stand that she ‘only’ uses corporal punishment,
and only spanking, against her children approximately two or three times a month
. . . . [She] then went on to explain that she had also slapped her children
with an open hand across the face hard enough to leave marks and on one occasion
hard enough to result in the child hitting her head on a cupboard and drawing
blood. [She] also admits she was called to school when her daughter was accused
of biting  another child, and . . . bit her own daughter in front of school
officials as a form of discipline.” (emphasis omitted)).
or whipping that resulted in a bruise did not constitute abuse
. . . .”
In re C.B., 180 N.C. App. 221, 224, 636 S.E.2d 336, 338
omitted), aff’d, 361 N.C. 345, 643 S.E.2d 587 (2007).
in North Carolina may punish their children by administering
“whipping[s] that result in  bruis[ing],” id., then a federal
court in North Carolina surely should not treat a small number of
similar disciplinary actions by Petitioner towards N.D.M.H. (in
Honduras) as clearly and convincingly creating “a grave risk . . .
[of] physical or psychological harm,” Hague Convention, art. 13(b),
1988 WL 411501, at *5, warranting denial of her repatriation, see
generally Farr, 2019 WL 2568843, at *14 (“In making this assessment
[of whether a petitioner’s use of corporal punishment meets the
Grave Risk Exception], it is helpful to examine some of the factors
states typically consider when determining whether a parent’s use
of corporal punishment . . . constitutes child abuse.”), especially
in light of the undisputed testimony that Respondent (who retains
custody of N.D.M.H. in North Carolina) previously “punish[ed] her
very harshly” (Docket Entry 52 at 11), by beating her “with a
stick” (id. at 12), when she struggled with school-work (see id.).16
To rule otherwise (illogically) (A) would deny Petitioner access to
N.D.M.H. based on corporal punishment imposed in Honduras, which likely would not
have resulted in an abuse finding (and thus denial of his access to N.D.M.H.) if
imposed in North Carolina, while (even more illogically) (B) leaving N.D.M.H. in
the exclusive custody of Respondent in North Carolina, despite the fact that she
had used similar physical discipline to punish N.D.M.H. (with less apparent
justification). Of further note as to the first of those points, although Ms.
Bingham testified that, “[i]f these types of allegations were made and occurred
For all of these reasons, Respondent has not proven by a
preponderance of the evidence, much less clearly and convincingly,
that Petitioner physically or emotionally abused N.D.M.H. in a
manner that would establish “a grave risk that [her] return [to
Honduras] would expose [her] to physical or psychological harm,”
Hague Convention, art. 13(b), 1988 WL 411501, at *5.
Sexual Abuse of N.D.M.H.
The dispositions in the preceding two subsections leave the
issue(s) of whether “returning [N.D.M.H.] to Honduras would place
her at grave risk for serious sexual . . . abuse in the future
. . . [at] the hands of third-parties such as Dario, which was
N.D.M.H.’s paternal grandmother” (Docket Entry 9 at 10 (internal
quotation marks omitted)), as well as whether, “[g]iven that
N.D.M.H. has already been subjected to . . . sexual abuse which was
[allegedly] facilitated and condoned by Petitioner . . ., th[e]
risk [of physical or psychological harm to N.D.M.H.] if returned to
Honduras is grave” (id. at 13; see also id. at 11-12 (“Petitioner
has failed to adequately protect N.D.M.H. from sexual abuse, and
here in the United States” (Docket Entry 51 at 49), she “certainly would have to
report to the authorities . . . the alleged inappropriate discipline” (id.),
i.e., “[t]he beating with the cord” (id.), after which she believed “the
Department of Social Services would come in and assess the situation” (id. at
50), Ms. Bingham did not testify that such physical discipline actually would
result in the commencement of a child-protection proceeding, let alone an abuse
adjudication or the removal of N.D.M.H. from Petitioner’s custody (see id. (“They
may or may not remove the child or file a petition based on what their findings
are during that investigation.” (emphasis added))).
horrifically) facilitated, her to said sexual abuse . . . .”), 13
(“[A] presumption that [N.D.M.H.] will suffer . . . sexual abuse if
returned to Petitioner in Honduras should exist considering how and
why she suffered in the past and that it is the exact same
aftermath), the Response makes the following (shocking) assertions:
1) “Petitioner worked for a man named ‘Dario’ who co-owned 
Petitioner’s family store” (id. at 5);
2) “[i]n 2015, Petitioner’s mother sent [Respondent] away to
sell food, as a ruse to get [N.D.M.H.] away from [Respondent] and
Petitioner took N.D.M.H. for a walk” (id.);
3) in the course of that walk, Dario sexually abused N.D.M.H.
(see id. at 5-6);
reported the abuse to the police, as he did not want problems with
Dario or for him to have a ‘bad reputation’” (id. at 6);
5) although Petitioner’s father subsequently kept Dario away,
“[a]fter the death of Petitioner’s father on March 19, 2016” (id.),
Petitioner’s mother would continue to interfere with [Respondent’s]
ability to protect [N.D.M.H.], by sending [Respondent] out of the
home” (id. at 7 (internal quotation marks omitted));
pornographic videos in the home with Petitioner’s full knowledge
and consent” (id.); and
7) “[d]ue to . . . the desperate need to protect [N.D.M.H.]
from sexual . . . abuse, [Respondent and N.D.M.H.] fled to the
United States” (id. at 7-8).
The asylum-related documents Respondent submitted along with
the Response include these (equally or more shocking) allegations:
1) “[Petitioner’s] boss wanted to abuse [N.D.M.H. in 2015]”
(id. at 40; see also id. at 65 (“Petitioner] worked for a man named
‘Dario’ who is the store owner, where [Petitioner] worked.”));
2) “[after Petitioner’s] mother sent [Respondent] to sell
food” (id. at 65), “[Petitioner] and his father took [N.D.M.H.] out
for a walk [during which Dario sexually abused N.D.M.H.]” (id.; see
also id. (“[N.D.M.H.] was 5 years old.”));
3) when “they returned” (id.), “[N.D.M.H.] ran terrified and
crying to [Respondent to] tell [her what Dario] had [done]” (id.);
4) “[Petitioner] did not deny it, he just told [Respondent]
not to dare report Dario to police, because [Petitioner] did not
“[Petitioner] never talks about what his boss did to [N.D.M.H.]
[N.D.M.H.]”), 65 (“[Petitioner] and his mother would not let
[Respondent] go to the police and they threatened to kill [her],
because they did not want [Dario] to have a ‘bad reputation.’”));
5) “[Petitioner’s] father went to look for [Dario] and beat
him, [as Petitioner’s father] was the only one that could do
something to [Dario]” (id. at 65);
6) “[Petitioner] gave [Respondent] a beating because [she] was
going to report what his boss had done” (id. at 40);
7) after Respondent “reported [Petitioner] because he didn’t
[Respondent] and sent [her] to the hospital because he beat [her]
so bad” (id.; see also id. (“The police told [Petitioner] that
[Respondent] reported him and [he] almost killed [her].”));
8) after “[Petitioner’s] father was killed” (id. at 65),
“[t]hings changed a lot without him at home” (id.), including
“Dario visit[ing] the house more frequently” (id.);
9) once, “while [Petitioner’s] mother sent [Respondent] to
work selling food, . . . Dario showed [N.D.M.H.] pornographic
videos and [Petitioner] allowed it” (id.);
10) “[Respondent] made the decision to escape [to Roatan]”
(id. at 66), but Petitioner obtained “an order from [a] judge to
give [N.D.M.H.’s] custody to [Petitioner]” (id.), so Respondent
“decided to go to the United States with [N.D.M.H.]” (id.); and
11) “if [N.D.M.H.] returned to Honduras” (id. at 43), “[s]he
will always be in fear because the man who tried to rape her is
always hanging out with [Petitioner]” (id.).
(particularly as to the role of Petitioner and his mother in aiding
and authorizing Petitioner’s employer first to molest N.D.M.H. and
then to groom her with pornography, not to mention Petitioner’s
near-murder of Respondent for alerting law enforcement officials
about his refusal to report Dario’s sexual abuse of N.D.M.H.), the
Court easily could conclude that the Grave Risk Exception applied;
foregoing narrative as fallacious fiction.
For starters (as
discussed previously), Respondent admitted under oath that:
1) Petitioner did not work for Dario, as “since 2013 . . .
[Petitioner] had his own business,” which “Dario doesn’t own any
of” (Docket Entry 47 at 54; see also id. at 55-56 (conceding Dario
“wasn’t the store owner” and “it was [Petitioner’s store]”));
2) Respondent did not report Petitioner to anyone in Honduras
for his failure to notify authorities about Dario’s sexual abuse of
N.D.M.H. (see id. at 22 (acknowledging that “[she] didn’t find a
way to take action”)); and
3) Petitioner did not beat Respondent (and certainly not
within an inch of her life) due to her desire to advise anyone that
Dario had sexually abused N.D.M.H. (or for any other related
reason), but rather merely “told [her] not to say anything” (id. at
23), before adding “‘You know what I’m saying to you’” (id.), at
which point, she “just left it at that” (id.).17
Respondent’s trial testimony also failed to substantiate the
bulk of her other (above-quoted) statements on this front.
example (and most noteworthy), although the Response declares that
Petitioner and his mother “facilitated and condoned” Dario’s sexual
abuse of N.D.M.H. (Docket Entry 9 at 10), with “Petitioner’s mother
sen[ding Respondent] away to sell food, as a ruse to get [N.D.M.H.]
away from [Respondent]” (id. at 5 (emphasis added)), to allow
Petitioner “at minimum [to] knowingly permit, and more likely
(and horrifically) [to] facilitate, [N.D.M.H.’s] sexual abuse [by
Dario]” (id. at 11-12 (emphasis added)), Respondent’s (following)
account at trial shows no such complicity by Petitioner or his
mother in the sexual abuse Dario perpetrated against N.D.M.H.:
Q. So where were you th[e] day [Dario sexually abused
I was in [Petitioner’s] mother’s business.
And who was taking care of [N.D.M.H.] that day?
According to Respondent, “[she] was always afraid of what [Petitioner]
told [her]” (Docket Entry 47 at 23), and thus she “didn’t go [report Dario]
because of what [Petitioner] said” (id.).
In contrast to the above-quoted
allegation that Respondent made when applying for asylum (charging both
Petitioner and his mother with threatening to kill Respondent if she reported
Dario to authorities), Respondent’s trial testimony did not accuse Petitioner’s
mother of conveying any (even veiled) threat of that sort. (Compare Docket Entry
9 at 65, with Docket Entry 47 at 23; see also Docket Entry 48 at 26 (“Q. . . .
[Respondent previously] state[d] that you and your mother did not want
[Respondent] to go to the police [about Dario], and that you threatened to kill
her. Did you do that? A. At no point in time, never.”).)
A. [Petitioner] because he was taking care of her and
And to your knowledge, where did they go?
A. The river [that] was close to the house where I was
And how do you know they went down to the river?
A. Because that’s the version that I was told when they
came back to the business.
And who told you that?
. . . .
What happened to [N.D.M.H.] that day?
When [Petitioner] arrived with [N.D.M.H.] and her
grandfather, the grandfather had a very angry face.
[N.D.M.H.] came in frightened and crying. . . .
. . . .
And then what happened?
I asked [Petitioner] what was going on with
[N.D.M.H.]. Then he told me that he had left [her] alone
in the car for a moment. Then he told me they -- they
have a friend that I only know as Dario.
[Petitioner] told me that [Dario] had come to the car
where [N.D.M.H.] was and he [sexually abused her].
After that I went to [N.D.M.H.] and she started to cry
and I checked her over and I bathed her and she told me
what [Dario] had done.
Q. What was [Petitioner’s] reaction and demeanor when he
was telling you what happened to [N.D.M.H.]?
A. He, along with his family, not leaving out his dad,
took it as if it were normal.
Q. When you say “not leaving out his dad,” what do you
mean by that?
A. Because the grandpa went and looked for [Dario], and
he told me that he wanted to kill [Dario] for what
[Dario] had done to [N.D.M.H.], and he also became
enemies with [Dario], but only the grandfather.
(Docket Entry 47 at 20-22.)
Nor did N.D.M.H.’s description to Ms. Bingham of the events of
that day (as quoted below) suggest that Petitioner “facilitated and
condoned” (Docket Entry 9 at 10), or “knowingly permitted . . .
said sexual abuse” (id. at 11-12):
Q. What instructions [were] given [to N.D.M.H.] before
administering this [trauma-assessment] test?
A. We talked about the reasons that she was there . . .
and one of the reasons that she had identified was that
she came to talk about . . . what happened with the bad
man. And so . . . [I] sa[id], “Sometimes people have
scary or bad things happen to them where someone could
have been or was badly hurt or killed. Has anything like
that ever happened to you?”
And then you ask[ed] her to please describe what
And what was her response to that first
A. Her response was: “I was with my dad and my grandpa,
[and] a friend of theirs. When we went to the river, my
daddy told me to wait with the friend, and grandpa said,
‘No, she shouldn’t – she should not stay with the man.’”
And that’s all she said at that time.
(Docket Entry 51 at 29-30; see also id. at 33-34 (relating that
N.D.M.H. chronicled assault by Dario “that meets the definition of
a sexual trauma,” without any indication Petitioner authorized such
47 (explaining that “[N.D.M.H.] told [Ms. Bingham] that
when [Petitioner] and [N.D.M.H.’s] grandfather came back from the
river and [N.D.M.H.] was crying . . . ‘Dad got very, very angry,’
and that [Petitioner] and [Dario] almost got into a fight. . . .
[I]t sounded like that [Petitioner] responded in a manner
. . . as
a father would have responded had . . . he come upon his child
having allegedly just experienced a sexual trauma.”), 70 (“Q.
fact, [N.D.M.H.] reported that after the incident [at the river]
occurred, [Petitioner] actually beat [Dario] up . . . or got angry?
He got angry.”).)
“[a]fter the death of Petitioner’s father” (Docket Entry 9 at 6),
“Dario began to visit the [family] residence more frequently” (id.
at 7 (internal quotation marks omitted); accord id. at 65), with
Petitioner’s mother “continu[ing] to interfere with [Respondent’s]
ability to protect [N.D.M.H.], by sending [Respondent] out of the
[Petitioner]’s mother sent [Respondent] to work selling food,
. . . Dario showed [N.D.M.H.] pornographic videos and [Petitioner]
allowed it” (id. at 65), find no support in Respondent’s testimony
at trial, which described only one visit by Dario (during which he
never interacted with N.D.M.H., much less showed her pornography):
Q. Did you ever personally observe Dario back in the
store when you were working after [Petitioner’s father]
A. . . . Aside from that, shortly after [Petitioner’s
father] died [Dario] came not to the business but to the
. . . .
And who was home when that occurred?
A. Almost everyone was there because what I remember is
that [N.D.M.H.] was outside playing and when . . . [she]
saw that [Dario] came in, she came running to the room
where I was. And [she] said to me, “Mom, that man has
come.” “I’m afraid of him,” she said.
Q. What did you observe about her demeanor or appearance
when she ran into the room that you were in?
A. [She] was showing a lot of fear and I told her not to
worry, . . . [and] we locked ourselves in a room and then
[Dario] came inside as if nothing had ever happened and
her grandmother offered him a coffee, which I have never
forgotten. That was when I turned to [Petitioner] and I
told him to stop letting [Dario] in because of everything
that had happened.
Q. And what was [Petitioner]’s reaction when you said
A. He just told me that it was his mom’s house and that
he could not limit the people who could come.
Q. Were there any other instances that you recall Dario
coming around after that?
A. Since I saw that [Petitioner] wasn’t doing anything,
it was at that point that I said, “No, I’m leaving.
Because I’m not going to let [Dario] do something to
Q. And when you say you’re leaving, did you mean for the
day or that you were going to actually leave the
A. Well, I didn’t say it like that because I knew that
-- with the threat that [Petitioner] was going to take
[N.D.M.H.] away from me, I knew that he wasn’t going to
allow me to leave.
. . . .
Q. After Dario continued coming to the residence, how
long did you remain living there?
Very little time.
(Docket Entry 47 at 28-30; see also id. at 28 (granting motion to
pornographic videos to [N.D.M.H.]” when asked “how often would
Dario come back to the residence or the store”); Docket Entry 51 at
78-79 (documenting Ms. Bingham’s testimony that “[Respondent] had
stated that [N.D.M.H.] had been forced to watch pornography with
encounter with Dario when] . . . he came to the restaurant” (at
which point she “ran and hid underneath a table”), “[N.D.M.H.]
never mentioned an incident of watching pornography,” which, “in
[Ms. Bingham’s] professional opinion,  would have come up when
[N.D.M.H.] mentioned to [Ms. Bingham] the second . . . event”).)18
Conversely, when Petitioner took the stand, he unequivocally
(and, in the Court’s view, credibly) denied that he “helped Dario
to sexually abuse [N.D.M.H.].”
(Docket Entry 48 at 27.)
connection with that denial, Petitioner gave a fairly detailed
account of the events leading up to and following Dario’s sexual
abuse of N.D.M.H. (see id. at 20-28) and then underwent lengthy and
pointed cross-examination about those matters (see Docket Entry 49
In providing background information to Ms. Bingham, Respondent evidently
only recounted one post-assault visit by Dario. (See Docket Entry 51 at 78.)
That testimony (taken as a whole) raises legitimate
questions about the judgment Petitioner exhibited in (A) leaving
(then-preschool-aged) N.D.M.H. at the riverside with Dario (whom
Petitioner identified as “an alcoholic” (Docket Entry 48 at 20)),
while Petitioner, his father, and others waded out into the river
to fish (see id. at 21-23; Docket Entry 49 at 43-47), as well as
(B) (upon learning from N.D.M.H. what Dario had done (see Docket
Entry 48 at 23; Docket Entry 49 at 47-51)) choosing neither to
report him to proper authorities nor to seek professional care for
N.D.M.H. (see Docket Entry 48 at 23-26; Docket Entry 49 at 56-62).19
However, after hearing (and observing) Petitioner testify (as well
as having considered all the evidence at trial), the Court finds no
basis to conclude that he “facilitated and condoned” (Docket Entry
9 at 10), or “knowingly permitted [Dario’s] . . . sexual abuse [of
Petitioner’s testimony that he “did [not] provide Dario access to
[N.D.M.H.] after this incident” (Docket Entry 48 at 27).20
Nonetheless, the Court still must consider whether the record
establishes by clear and convincing evidence “a grave risk that
[N.D.M.H.’s] return [to Honduras] would expose [her] to physical or
Indeed, Petitioner himself acknowledged that, “perhaps looking back, it
was wrong . . . not to have done something.” (Docket Entry 49 at 58.)
In doing so, the Court notes that, despite stating to asylum officials
that “the man who tried to rape [N.D.M.H.] is always hanging out with
[Petitioner]” (Docket Entry 9 at 43), Respondent offered no testimony at trial
supporting that statement (see Docket Entry 47 at 3-104).
psychological harm,” Hague Convention, art. 13(b), 1988 WL 411501,
at *5, in light of (as Respondent’s counsel put it) “the one thing
[Petitioner] and [Respondent] agree on, which is that [N.D.M.H.]
was sexually molested [by Dario] while she was in [Petitioner’s]
care [in Honduras]” (Docket Entry 49 at 41).
In that regard, Ms.
Bingham, a professionally trained and accredited mental health
expert (see Docket Entry 51 at 3-7), who assessed N.D.M.H. over
five sessions (see id. at 15), testified to these salient points:
1) “[N.D.M.H.] clearly had some symptoms of . . . PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder]” (id. at 33);
2) “[N.D.M.H.] met the initial [PTSD] criteria of . . .
(“[N.D.M.H.’s abuse by Dario] meets the definition of a sexual
trauma.”), 37 (“Category A is:
Were you exposed to a traumatic
consistent with children who had suffered sexual abuse”));21
3) N.D.M.H. also presented with an “elevated score” for
“Criterion B1 [of PTSD symptom Category B], which is recurrent
involuntary and intrusive distressing memories” (id. at 34-35; see
also id. at 34 (explaining that N.D.M.H. “responded ‘almost every
While speaking with Ms. Bingham, both Respondent and N.D.M.H. apparently
used the nickname “Queso” to refer to the man who molested N.D.M.H., elsewhere
identified in the record (including in Ms. Bingham’s examination) as “Dario.”
(See, e.g., Docket Entry 51 at 22, 57; see also id. at 78 (“Q. Okay. In your
report, you had stated that . . . [Respondent] had reported [N.D.M.H.] was
exposed to Queso or Dario a second time. A. Yes.”).) To avoid confusion,
quotations that follow above replace references to “Queso” with “Dario.”
day’ . . . to the question of ‘[w]hen something reminds me of what
happened , I get very upset, afraid or sad’”), 37 (testifying that,
at points in the assessment, N.D.M.H. “stopped and put her hands in
her face and busted out crying”));
4) “[N.D.M.H.] did not meet symptom[s in] . . . Category C”
(id. at 35; see also id. (“Symptom Category C is ‘persistent
avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event, beginning
after the traumatic event occurred . . . .’”));
5) “[f]or [N.D.M.H.], there were four responses that met the
criteria . . . [of C]ategory [D] that were elevated” (id.; see also
cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic event, beginning
or worsening after the traumatic event or events occurred, as
evidenced by two (or more) of the [specified criteria]’”));
alterations in arousal and reactivity associated with the traumatic
event, beginning or worsening after the traumatic event’” (id. at
36), N.D.M.H. demonstrated qualifying conditions of “exaggerated
startle response” (id.) and “[p]roblems with concentration in
school as well” (id.);
7) “so out of essentially five [PTSD symptom] categories,
[N.D.M.H.] met four of the five” (id. at 37);
8) although (during the assessment) N.D.M.H. mentioned events
beyond her sexual abuse by Dario (such as corporal punishment),
which Ms. Bingham also considered traumatic, N.D.M.H.’s “response
[as] to [Dario’s sexual abuse] was much, much more elaborate” (id.
at 41), and “the focus of [Ms. Bingham’s] analysis continued to be
on the original response [N.D.M.H.] gave about the incident [with
Dario] at the river” (id.; see also id. at 57 (confirming that
“[N.D.M.H.] is experiencing an ongoing psychological stressor as it
relates to being the victim of sexual assault and held against her
will by a man reportedly assaulting her”));
9) ultimately, “[Ms. Bingham] diagnosed [N.D.M.H.] with what’s
titled ‘Other Specified Trauma and Stress-Related Disorder’” (id.
prolonged duration of more than six months without prolonged
duration of the stressor.”));
10) “the diagnosis was specifically related to [N.D.M.H.]
being the victim of an alleged sexual assault and then being held
against her will by the man reportedly assaulting her” (id. at 89);
11) “[N.D.M.H.] sa[id that] she was afraid to go back to
Honduras” (id. at 56; see also id. at 57 (“[N.D.M.H.] presented
with clinical symptoms . . . .
And they are consistent with her
. . . allegations of what happened with [Dario], and she . . . did
express concern about what would happen to her if she went back to
Honduras and [Dario] was there.”), 70 (“[N.D.M.H.] said she was
afraid of returning to Honduras, she was afraid of [Dario].”), 94
(“[N.D.M.H.] did say to [Ms. Bingham] that [N.D.M.H.] was afraid to
go back to Honduras because she was afraid of [Dario].”));
12) “there [was not] anything in [N.D.M.H.’s] assessment that
indicated that she wasn’t telling the truth” (id. at 91); and
13) “it would further traumatize [N.D.M.H.] to send her back
[to Honduras]” (id. at 93).
In regard to that last point, the Court asked Ms. Bingham to
explain “[w]hy” (id.), whereupon she stated:
[N.D.M.H.] came to my office with a presentation of a
child who was one diagnostic criteria shy of full-blown
posttraumatic stress disorder.
In the context of my
office when she spoke about these traumas and she spoke
about what happened, she cried, she became dysregulated
in that office setting. She expressed fear of the man
who allegedly sexually perpetrated her, and I think that
that fear would certainly be exacerbated if she were to
return to Honduras.
I believe that it’s predictable,
from a clinical perspective, that she would soon meet the
criteria of posttraumatic stress disorder.
(Id. (emphasis added).)
After observing Ms. Bingham testify and thoroughly reviewing
the entire record,22 the Court discerns no reason to question her
Petitioner chose not to present any expert evidence to counter Ms.
Bingham’s testimony. (See Docket Entry 52 at 32 (“THE COURT: All right. Then
what about your mental health witness? Have you made a decision about whether
you want to continue this [trial] to allow an opportunity for that witness to
appear? [Counsel for Petitioner]: Nope, we do not want to continue it.”).) In
requesting denial of Respondent’s Grave Risk Exception defense under Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 52(c), Petitioner’s counsel argued that “[Ms.] Bingham didn’t
conduct a forensics exam” (Docket Entry 51 at 110); however, that argument lacks
significance for at least two reasons. First, although “[Ms. Bingham is] not a
certified forensic interviewer, [she] ha[d] been trained in forensic
interviewing, and [she] utilized that protocol.” (Id. at 63; see also id. (“[A]
forensic interview is essentially a legally sound method of interviewing, in this
case children, that doesn’t utilize leading questions. It utilizes open-ended
questions, establishes ground rules, [and] establishes [that the child
understands the difference between] truth or [falsity] . . . .”).) Second, Ms.
above-quoted testimony and therefore adopts each of the 13 points
noted (as well as her elaboration on the last point) as the Court’s
own (clearly and convincingly established) findings of fact. Based
on those findings, along with the undisputed, clear and convincing
evidence that N.D.M.H. suffered sexual abuse by Dario in Honduras,
the Court concludes, by clear and convincing evidence, that “a
grave risk [exists] that [N.D.M.H.’s] return [to Honduras] would
expose [her] to . . . psychological harm,” Hague Convention, art.
13(b), 1988 WL 411501, at *5, because she “faces a real risk of
being hurt . . . psychologically, as a result of repatriation,”
Blondin v. Dubois, 238 F.3d 153, 162 (2d Cir. 2001).
Petitioner contended that, because Ms. Bingham acknowledged
that her testimony about the likelihood of N.D.M.H. experiencing
further traumatization and progression to satisfaction of the fifth
(and final) symptom category for PTSD constituted a “clinical
prediction” (Docket Entry 51 at 96), involving some “speculat[ion]
. . . of what might happen” (id.), not an expression of certain
“know[ledge] that that is what would happen” (id.), the Court
should conclude that this case “more [closely follows] along the
Bingham gave cogent reasons (based on her experience) to reject the premise that
“a forensic evaluation would have been a far more comprehensive assessment of
[N.D.M.H.]” (id. at 64). (See id. at 64-65; see also id. at 66 (“THE COURT: If
you had . . . a certification in forensic interviewing, would that have changed
your ability to make an assessment about the credibility of what [Respondent] or
[N.D.M.H.] was telling you? A. I don’t believe so . . . .”).)
lines of McManus[ v. McManus, 354 F. Supp. 2d 62 (D. Mass. 2005)]
than . . . Blondin” (Docket Entry 51 at 111). The Court disagrees.
First, unlike this case, where (as documented above) Ms.
Bingham (A) diagnosed N.D.M.H. with a trauma-related disorder,
(B) definitively concluded that she meets four of the five symptom
categories for PTSD, and (C) forecast exacerbation of her symptoms
upon return to Honduras due to her clearly expressed association of
such return with an increased risk of contact with Dario (and
further sexual violence), the evidence in McManus reflected a much
less specific possibility of a much more generalized form of
psychological “distress,” McManus, 354 F. Supp. 2d at 70, which (in
any event) that court deemed likely to occur “regardless of whether
[the subject children] stay in Massachusetts or return to Northern
Ireland, . . . as a result of their parents’ marital and parenting
Further, the fact that the Grave Risk Exception
traumatic stress disorder,” Blondin, 238 F.3d at 163 (internal
brackets omitted), does not mean that only “an ‘almost certain’
recurrence of traumatic stress disorder,” id., falls within the
(admittedly “narrow,” Miller, 240 F.3d at 402) bounds of the Grave
See generally New England Power Generators Ass’n,
Inc. v. Federal Energy Regul. Comm’n, 707 F.3d 364, 370 (D.C. Cir.
2013) (“Their argument boils down to a single misconception:
because the existence of a contract rate mandates application of
the Mobile–Sierra presumption, the absence of a contract rate
An example of the logical fallacy ‘denying the
antecedent,’ th[eir] reasoning is invalid.” (internal footnote
Finally, other courts have found “[a] grave risk of
psychological harm,” Acosta v. Acosta, Civ. No. 12-342, 2012 WL
2178982, at *9 (D. Minn. June 14, 2012) (unpublished), aff’d, 725
F.3d 868 (8th Cir. 2013), based on evidence of “behavior indicative
of psychological harm,” id., despite the fact that “no clinical
diagnosis exists,” id.; see also id. (“[T]here is no requirement
that psychological harm have actually occurred.
It is sufficient
that a grave risk exists.” (internal citation omitted)); Ostevoll
v. Ostevoll, No. C-1-99-961, 2000 WL 1611123, at *15-17 (S.D. Ohio
Aug. 16, 2000) (unpublished) (finding grave risk of psychological
harm despite fact that expert had not rendered PTSD diagnosis for
impression . . . [of] at the very least severe stress disorder’”).
As a final matter, the Court must “return to the place where
we started,” Oregon Short Line R.R. Co. v. Department of Revenue,
139 F.3d 1259, 1265 (9th Cir. 1998), i.e., Petitioner’s (admittedly
unlawful) decision, as a 20-year-old man, to impregnate a 13-yearold girl, and (even more significantly) his “[f]ail[ure] to learn
from [that] mistake,” United States v. Hamilton, 19 F.3d 350, 352
psychological harm to N.D.M.H. that the Court has found (based on
Ms. Bingham’s testimony), the Court concludes that Petitioner’s
testimony embracing the prospect of N.D.M.H. entering into the same
type of statutory-rape relationship which he induced Respondent to
enter with him establishes “a grave risk that [N.D.M.H.’s] return
[to Honduras] would expose [her] to . . . physical or psychological
harm,” Hague Convention, art. 13(b), 1988 WL 411501, at *5.
In that regard, despite acknowledging that his commencement
(at age 19 or 20) of a sexual relationship with (a then-13-yearold) Respondent was “not legal” (Docket Entry 49 at 12) and “could
[be] consider[ed] . . . rape” (id. at 14), as she was but a “child”
arrangements as the norm in Honduras, including testifying:
1) when asked “is it appropriate for a 19-year-old man to be
flirting with a girl who . . . had just turned 13, a few weeks
[earlier]” (id. at 10), “we in my country see that at an early age
young people, whether they’re older or a little younger, . . . they
do fall in love” (id.);
2) in response to a request for clarification if Petitioner
“say[s] that in [Honduras] it’s appropriate or okay for a 19-yearold to fall in love with a 13-year-old” (id.), that “[i]t’s not
right, and it’s not wrong either” (id. at 10-11; see also id. at 11
(“We feel that people are young, right, and if we start to like
each other and we run into each other, . . . we can be with one
And it’s not by force or anything, right.”));
3) that, although “it is illegal” (id. at 11), “for a 19-yearold man to date a 13-year-old girl in Honduras” (id.), “if both
families are in agreement, there’s not any problem with it” (id.;
see also id. at 12 (“[H]ere if the couple seems to be okay and
stable, then they can keep on going and being together.
it is in my country.
There’s not a problem with it.”)); and
4) as to whether “a 19-year-old man [legally may] have sex
with a 13-year-old girl in Honduras” (id. at 12):
“it depends on
how the family takes it” (id.; see also id. at 14 (“[W]e could
consider it to be rape, but allow me to explain.
In my country,
young people, even as young as 10 years old, may start to have sex
with people of their own age, right.”)).
Petitioner then gave this testimony about N.D.M.H. following
that same path down which he previously led Respondent:
Q. If [N.D.M.H.] were returned to you, okay, and let’s
say at 13 years old she meets a guy that she likes and
he’s 19 or 20, would you let [her] date that man?
We’re going to explain.
. . . .
Would you let [N.D.M.H.] date a 19-year-old or
. . . .
. . . [L]ike any other human being, she has
feelings; and if she tells me, “Daddy, I love such and
such person,” I will talk to her, tell her the good
things, the bad things, what we can do . . . .
. . . .
Q. So you would let her date that man if she said she
A. Like I was telling you, I would talk to her first,
you know, because the youth nowadays, if . . . you don’t
let them, then they’re going to start coming up with
ideas like maybe take their own lives and things.
So the answer is yes?
A. As I say, we need -- we need to make decisions for
Q. So you would let her date this man because it’s good
for her health?
A. Well, if she’s -- if she’s in love, I would need to
be checking on that.
Q. Okay. Would you let a 13-year-old [N.D.M.H.] leave
your house and live with that man?
A. As I say, I would need -- I would need to talk to
her, sit with her and talk about it.
Q. But it’s your testimony that if she said, “Papi, I’m
in love,” you would let her go live with her 19- or
A. Well, that’s when decisions are made. If she says
that she’s in love, we’ll then bring that young man here
and let’s see his qualities, but not exactly about money.
But I would try to get him to come to the house to see my
Q. If you found out that a 20-year-old man was having
sex with 13-year-old [N.D.M.H.], would you call the
So you would not call the police?
A. Well, . . . as I repeat myself, I would talk to her
and have her explain to me . . . .
(Id. at 16-18 (emphasis added).)
appeared to (cryptically) admit that the more money a man possessed
the more inclined Petitioner would become to the prospect of 13year-old N.D.M.H. moving in with the man – Petitioner closed with
this summary of his (misogynistic) views on young teen girls:
[W]e send them to school and then they become, like,
young women and they feel like they’re older because they
have a nice body because -- well, they’re in the
developing stage. They’re growing up.
. . . .
Because at that -- at that puberty stage, the girls, they
-- they flirt a lot, as we say, because we might think
they’re doing their homework and they’re not.
. . . .
Because we -- we send them to do their homework, and then
it’s in school when they fall in love and they say -- and
when they say, “I’m going to do homework,” they go and
they see each other with -- her and the boy.
(Id. at 18-19 (emphasis added).)
With his testimony on this subject, Petitioner has clearly and
convincingly established that he will not protect N.D.M.H. from
predatory older males who (following what he described as routine
custom in Honduras) may seek to involve her (at ages as young as
10) in exploitative, sexual relationships of the sort that resulted
in Respondent giving birth at 14 to N.D.M.H.
psychological harm,” Hague Convention, art. 13(b), 1988 WL 411501,
See Burns, 2009 WL 3617448, at *12 (observing that
“statutory rape” involves “large potential for harm to the young
woman involved,” even “where the guilty party was not abusive”);
see also Nunez-Escudero v. Tice-Menley, 58 F.3d 374, 378 (8th Cir.
1995) (“To ensure that the child is adequately protected, the
Article 13b inquiry must encompass some evaluation of the people
Accordingly, the Court rules the Grave
Risk Exception satisfied on that ground as well.24
Given Petitioner’s admission that Honduran law criminalizes sex between
adults and children (see Docket Entry 49 at 14 (“Q. . . . Is it illegal for a
20-year-old-man to have sex with a 13-year-old girl? A. Yes, it’s illegal.”),
15 (“Q. . . . Can a 20-year-old man go to jail for having sex with a 13-year-old
in Honduras? A. As long as the mother takes action, it’s likely.”)), protecting
N.D.M.H. from this risk does not represent the type of cultural chauvinism
against which the Supreme Court has cautioned, see Abbott, 560 U.S. at 20
(directing courts to “strive always to avoid a common tendency to prefer their
own society and culture” in resolving Hague Convention cases).
“[C]ourts retain the discretion to order return even if . . . the [Grave
Risk E]xception is proven.” Miller, 240 F.3d at 402 (internal quotation marks
omitted). The decision to exercise that discretion generally involves reliance
on the premise “that courts in the abducted-from country are as ready and able
as we are to protect children.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). In this
instance, even if Honduran courts adequately could address the second grave risk
found above (i.e., of physical or psychological harm to N.D.M.H. arising from
Petitioner’s lack of concern about statutory rape), the nature of the first grave
risk found above (i.e., of psychological harm to N.D.M.H. arising from
aggravation of her trauma-related mental health condition by return to Honduras)
does not lend itself to amelioration by Honduran courts. As a result, the Court
declines to exercise its discretion to order return.
Lastly, the Response
requests “[t]hat an award of legal costs, fees and expenses incurred to date by
Respondent be [o]rdered pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 11607 (2000).” (Docket Entry 9
at 15 (missing space added).) That provision from ICARA, now codified at 22
U.S.C. § 9007, provides for an order to “the respondent to pay necessary expenses
incurred by or on behalf of the petitioner, including court costs[ and] legal
fees,” 22 U.S.C. § 9007(b)(3), when a “court order[s] the return of a child,” id.
In other words, “the shifting of fees and costs authorized by § 9007(b)(3) only
benefits prevailing petitioners . . . .” Carvajal Vasquez v. Gamba Acevedo, No.
3:18CV137, 2018 WL 10374690, at *2 (M.D. Tenn. July 5, 2018) (unpublished);
accord White v. White, 893 F. Supp. 2d 755, 758-59 (E.D. Va. 2012).
Respondent has established by clear and convincing evidence
that the Grave Risk Exception in Article 13(b) of the Hague
determination, the Court highlights these Findings of Fact and
throughout the Discussion section):
Findings of Fact
1) N.D.M.H. was habitually resident in Honduras at the time
Respondent removed N.D.M.H. to the United States;
2) Respondent’s removal of N.D.M.H. to the United States
breached Petitioner’s custody rights under Honduran law;
3) Petitioner had been exercising his custody rights under
Honduran law at the time Respondent removed N.D.M.H. to the United
4) Respondent submitted false sworn statements to the Court
regarding alleged domestic violence perpetrated against her by
5) Respondent’s trial testimony did not support and, in fact,
contradicted many (including the most serious) of her original
allegations of domestic violence;
statements rendered unreliable most of her testimony before this
7) even if believed, Respondent’s trial testimony about acts
of domestic violence by Petitioner against her did not show any
targeting or traumatizing of N.D.M.H.;
8) as to any physical or emotional abuse of N.D.M.H. by
Petitioner, the evidence at trial showed (at most) that Petitioner
used a cord or cable to administer corporal punishment to N.D.M.H.
on “several occasions,” when she ran across a street without
permission or failing to listen, leaving marks on her legs or feet
that lasted two or three days;
9) N.D.M.H. does not fear Petitioner;
10) Respondent administered equally harsh corporal punishment
with less justification, by striking N.D.M.H. with a stick when she
struggled in school;
Petitioner’s family, while in Petitioner’s care;
12) neither Petitioner nor his mother knowingly facilitated,
condoned, or permitted that sexual assault on N.D.M.H.;
N.D.M.H. after that sexual assault;
14) Petitioner did not report the sexual assault to proper
authorities and did not obtain professional care for N.D.M.H.;
15) as a result of that sexual assault, N.D.M.H. clearly
displayed symptoms of PTSD;
16) N.D.M.H. met the initial PTSD criterion of exposure to a
Criterion B1 of PTSD symptom Category B, which concerns “recurrent
involuntary and intrusive distressing memories”;
18) N.D.M.H. did not meet symptoms in Category C;
criteria of Category D, which concerns “negative alterations in
cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic event”;
20) in symptom Category E, which concerns “marked alterations
in arousal and reactivity associated with the traumatic event,”
N.D.M.H. demonstrated qualifying conditions of “exaggerated startle
response” and “problems with concentration in school”;
21) out of five PTSD symptom categories, N.D.M.H. met four;
potentially traumatic events beyond her sexual abuse by Dario, she
gave a “much, much, more elaborate response” about that sexual
abuse and N.D.M.H.’s assessment continued to focus on the original
response she gave about the incident with Dario at the river;
23) N.D.M.H. received a diagnosis of “Other Specified Trauma
and Stress-Related Disorder”;
24) that diagnosis was specifically related to N.D.M.H.’s
prior sexual abuse;
particularly because of her fear of the man who sexually assaulted
26) nothing in N.D.M.H.’s assessment indicated that she failed
to tell the truth;
27) it would further traumatize N.D.M.H. to send her back to
28) N.D.M.H. presented as a child one diagnostic criterion shy
of full-blown PTSD;
29) when N.D.M.H. spoke about what happened, she cried and
became dysregulated in an office setting;
30) N.D.M.H.’s fear of the man who sexually abused her would
certainly be exacerbated if she were returned to Honduras and “it
is predictable, from a clinical perspective,” that she would soon
meet the criteria of PTSD if returned to Honduras;
31) Petitioner, as a 19- or 20-year-old man, commenced a
thereafter moved in with Petitioner;
32) Respondent was 14 years old when she gave birth to
33) Petitioner acknowledged that such relationship constitutes
rape under Honduran law and that such conduct could result in
characterize such relationship as “wrong”;
35) Petitioner indicated that he would not prohibit N.D.M.H.,
relationship with an adult;
36) Petitioner further declined to foreclose the possibility
that he would permit a 13-year-old N.D.M.H. to live with an adult
with whom she maintained a sexual relationship; and
relationship, rather than call the police to report the rape of his
daughter, he would ask her for an explanation and would investigate
the man’s “qualities.”
Conclusions of Law
1) Petitioner proved by a preponderance of the evidence that
N.D.M.H. was wrongfully removed from Honduras to the United States
within the meaning of the Hague Convention;
2) Respondent failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence
a grave risk that N.D.M.H.’s return to Honduras would expose her to
physical or psychological harm within the meaning of the Hague
Convention, based on domestic violence committed by Petitioner
3) Respondent failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence
a grave risk that N.D.M.H.’s return to Honduras would expose her to
physical or psychological harm within the meaning of the Hague
4) Respondent proved by clear and convincing evidence a grave
physical or psychological harm within the meaning of the Hague
Convention, based on both (A) the sexual abuse she suffered at the
hands of a third-party while in Petitioner’s care in Honduras,
which has caused her to develop a trauma-related mental health
condition, which a return to Honduras likely would exacerbate, and
(B) Petitioner’s willingness to allow N.D.M.H. to fall victim to
statutory rape, in the same manner that he victimized Respondent;
5) the nature of the grave risk to which N.D.M.H.’s return to
Honduras would expose her in regards to her trauma-related mental
health condition does not fall into the category of risks that
Honduran courts effectively could mitigate and thus an inadequate
basis exists for a discretionary order of return notwithstanding
the grave risk determination in Respondent’s favor under the Hauge
6) ICARA does not permit expense-, fee-, and/or cost-shifting
for the benefit of prevailing respondents.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Petition (Docket Entry 2) is
A Judgment will be entered accordingly.
/s/ L. Patrick Auld
L. Patrick Auld
United States Magistrate Judge
March 31, 2021
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