Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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Klotz’s now-deceased husband received medical services from the Hospital and incurred a $1,580 debt; he left no estate. The Hospital retained CSW to collect the debt. CSW mailed collection letters to Klotz. Klotz claims she is not liable for the debt, arguing that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), 15 U.S.C. 1691, preempts New Jersey’s common-law doctrine of necessaries (where a spouse is jointly liable for necessary expenses incurred by the other spouse) and sued CSW for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692e and 1692f. Preemption of the doctrine would allow Klotz to pursue her FDCPA case. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. The ECOA does not preempt New Jersey’s doctrine of necessaries. One ECOA regulation provides that “a creditor shall not require the signature of an applicant’s spouse . . . on any credit instrument if the applicant qualifies under the creditor’s standards of creditworthiness for the amount and terms of the credit requested.” Rejecting an argument that the doctrine effectively treats her as a spousal co-signer in violation of the spousal-signature prohibition, the court reasoned that Klotz’s medical debt falls within an exemption for incidental credit and rejected an argument that CSW failed to follow the procedural requirements of the doctrine of necessaries. View "Klotz v. Celentano Stadtmauer and Wale LLP" on Justia Law

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Over the past eight years, the Hudson County family court has required Malhan to pay $300,000 in child and spousal support to his putative ex-wife, Myronova. Malhan claims that New Jersey officials violated his federal rights when they failed to reduce his support obligations after he was awarded custody of their two children and Myronova obtained a job that pays more than his own. The district court dismissed Malhan’s second amended complaint, holding that it lacked jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and that to the extent it had jurisdiction, it declined to exercise it under Younger v. Harris. The Third Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. Malhan does not complain of injuries caused by a state court judgment; none of the interlocutory orders in Malhan’s state case are “judgments.” Rooker-Feldman does not apply when state proceedings have neither ended nor led to orders reviewable by the U.S. Supreme Court. With respect to “Younger abstention,” the court noted that Malhan’s wife, not the state, began the family court case. The case has not sought to sanction Malhan for wrongdoing, enforce a parallel criminal statute, or impose a quasi-criminal investigation. Malhan is not trying to “annul the results” of a past garnishment. View "Malhan v. Secretary United States Department of State" on Justia Law

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Under the now-repealed 8 U.S.C. 1432(a)(2), a “child” born outside of the U.S. to noncitizen parents became a citizen upon the naturalization of her surviving parent if one of her parents was deceased. Section 1101(c)(1) defined “child” as including a child born out of wedlock only if the child was legitimated under the “law of the child’s residence or domicile” or “the law of the father’s residence or domicile . . . except as otherwise provided in” section 1432, which exempted mothers of born-out-of-wedlock children from the legitimation requirement. That affirmative steps to verify paternity, including legitimation, may be taken if a citizen-parent is an unwed father has withstood constitutional scrutiny, on the basis that the relation between a mother and a child “is verifiable from the birth.” Tineo was born in the Dominican Republic to noncitizen parents who never married. His father moved to the U.S. and naturalized. His noncitizen mother died. At the time, under the laws of either the Dominican Republic or New York, legitimation could only occur if his birth parents married. Tineo’s father was forever precluded from having his son derive citizenship through him, despite being a citizen and having cared for his son. Threatened with removal, Tineo brought a Fifth Amendment challenge on behalf of his now-deceased father. The Third Circuit held that, in this circumstance, the interplay of the statutory sections are inconsistent with the equal-protection mandate of the Due Process Clause. View "Tineo v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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H.C. was born in 2010. His parents separated in 2011 and divorced in 2014. Wife claims that violence was a factor but did not raise that issue in the divorce proceedings. Husband denies those allegations. In 2013, wife began a relationship with her childhood acquaintance, “Deleon,” who resided in New Jersey. She obtained a visa for H.C. to travel to the U.S. with husband’s consent. She visited Deleon by herself and married him in 2014. She did not tell husband about the marriage but indicated that she intended to bring H.C. to the U.S.to live; he refused to consent. Wife filed a domestic violence complaint in Guatemala and obtained a TRO. She took H.C. to the U.S., then sent a message informing husband she was there with H.C. She did not disclose their address “[o]ut of fear.” Husband filed an Application for Return of the Child with the Guatemala Central Authority, which forwarded that application to the U.S. State Department. About 16 months later, having discovered that the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction required him to file where H.C. lived, he filed a Petition in New Jersey. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of relief under the Convention and the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA). While ICARA’s one-year filing requirement is not subject to tolling, the delay in filing did not eliminate husband’s remedies under the Convention; the court recognized but declined to exercise its independent authority to order H.C.’s return. There was sufficient evidence that H.C. was well settled in the U.S. View "Castellanos-Monzon v. De La Roca" on Justia Law

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J.B., a U.S. citizen, was born in Ukraine in 2008 to Charles, a U.S. citizen, and Olga, a Ukrainian citizen and lawful U.S. permanent resident. In 2011, Charles secured a job in Germany; Olga was accepted to a Ph.D. program at the University of Pittsburgh. Olga and J.B. moved to Pittsburgh, separately from Charles. In 2013, J.B. underwent surgery. Charles went to Pittsburgh to be with J.B. He unsuccessfully sought jobs in the U.S. The three then went to Germany. In 2015, Olga returned to Pittsburgh to complete her Ph.D. program, taking J.B. The parties agreed to divorce. Charles sent an email, indicating that he might move to another country. Olga responded that J.B. was happy in Pittsburgh, so by the end of the year, returning to Berlin might not be his wish. Charles did not object. In 2016, the parties exchanged emails indicating that they may have previously agreed that J.B. would live with each for a year at a time. A Pennsylvania court issued an interim custody order, allowing J.B. to continue to reside with the Olga. Charles sought J.B.’s return to Germany under the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. The Third Circuit affirmed denial of relief. To the extent an agreement could be discerned, the parents’ intent was that J.B. would move to the U.S. not for a visit, but with a settled purpose. Because J.B. had acclimatized to his life in the U.S. at the time of the retention, that was then his habitual residence and the retention was not wrongful under the Convention. View "Blackledge v. Blackledge" on Justia Law

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In 2014, father had partial custody of S.H.; S.H. accused mother of abuse and fled from her home to father. Father sought a temporary order of full custody. A Pennsylvania judge granted mother emergency custody. S.H. was referred to Centre County’s Children and Youth Services (CYS) because of the abuse allegations. CYS concluded that the allegation did not meet the definition of child abuse but continued its investigation, giving S.H. the option of moving into a group home or remaining with his mother. S.H. did not want to stay with her. Mother arranged for S.H. to stay in Youth Haven and objected to any contact with father, claiming that she had sole custody. CYS and Youth Haven allowed contact. After a visit, father complained about Youth Haven, which told CYS that S.H. could not stay due to problems with father. CYS informed father that he could no longer contact S.H. at Youth Haven. Hamilton filed a federal suit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that conspiracy to deprive him of his constitutional rights by “placing S.H. in a shelter tantamount to confinement” and “arbitrarily and capriciously terminating all paternal visits and contact.” While that case progressed, S.H. left Youth Haven. A new Pennsylvania judge vacated the prior emergency custody order, granted father physical custody of S.H., and prohibited contact between S.H. and mother. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal, finding that the case was mooted when father obtained custody. View "Hamilton v. Bromley" on Justia Law

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The fathers of minor children in New Jersey challenged the state law governing child custody proceedings between New Jersey parents. In a suit against state court judges, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, they argued that the “best interests of the child” standard that New Jersey courts use to determine custody in a dispute between two fit parents is unconstitutional. The fathers alleged that their parental rights were restricted, or that they were permanently or temporarily separated from their children, by order of the New Jersey family courts without adequate notice, the right to counsel, or a plenary hearing, i.e. without an opportunity to present evidence or cross-examine and that although mothers and fathers are, in theory, treated equally in custody disputes under New Jersey law, in practice courts favor mothers. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the suit, after holding that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not bar the suit, which was not challenging the state court judgments, but the underlying policy that governed those judgments. The court concluded that the judicial defendants were not proper defendants, having acted in an adjudicatory capacity and not in an enforcement capacity. View "Allen v. DeBello" on Justia Law

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Dominguez moved to Dutch Sint Maarten in 2007. Dominguez met Didon and moved into his Dutch Sint Maarten apartment in 2009. In 2010, A.D. was born; in 2011, Dominguez’s daughter from a previous relationship, J.D., joined them. Didon and Dominguez successfully petitioned the French consulate to change J.D.’s birth certificate to list Didon as her father. The family resided in Dutch Sint Maarten, Didon worked and the children attended school in French Saint Martin. In 2014, Dominguez took the children to New York for her sister’s wedding, showing Didon round-trip tickets. Dominguez did not return with the children. Didon pursued a custody action. A French court granted him full custody of both children in an ex parte order. Didon’s investigator located them in Pennsylvania. Didon filed a Hague Convention petition. Following an ex parte telephone hearing, the Pennsylvania district court ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to serve Dominguez, and to confiscate the passports of Dominguez, A.D., and J.D. After hearings at which both parties presented evidence, the court granted Didon’s petition. The Third Circuit vacated. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction allows a parent to petition for the return of a child when that child has been removed or retained from her “habitual residence” country in violation of the parent’s custody rights in that country. The Hague Convention is recognized by French Saint Martin but is not recognized by Dutch Sint Maarten. Rejecting an argument that a child could have two concurrent “habitual residence” countries, the court concluded that the children were habitual residents only of the country in which they “lived”—Dutch Sint Maarten. View "Didon v. Castillo" on Justia Law

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Mammaro filed a civil rights suit, claiming that the temporary removal of her child from her custody by the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency was a violation of her substantive due process right as a parent. The removal, following a domestic violence incident between Mammaro and her husband, was based on allegations of neglect by Mammaro’s husband and brother-in-law, supplemented by two positive drug tests of Mammaro, and Mammaro’s decision to take the child from supervised housing, The district court held that several individual caseworkers were not entitled to qualified immunity. The Third Circuit reversed, finding there was no clearly established law, so that a reasonable caseworker would have understood that temporarily removing a child in these circumstances would violate substantive due process. View "Mammaro v. N.J. Div. of Child Prot. & Permanency" on Justia Law

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Before Paul filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Paul and Candace were in divorce proceedings in New Jersey. No final judgment existed nor was there a division of marital assets. Based on an estimate of her expected share of marital assets, Candace filed a timely proof of claim for $577,935 against Paul’s bankruptcy estate, apparently premised on her stake in a partnership that was legally titled in Paul’s name and, therefore, passed to his bankruptcy estate. It would likely be distributed as shared marital property in a divorce decree. The trustee sought to expunge the claim, arguing that Candace’s interest in equitably dividing marital property in Paul’s bankruptcy estate was not a “claim” under 11 U.S.C. 101(5), because the state court had not entered a final divorce decree before Paul’s filing. The bankruptcy judge found that the claim for equitable distribution arose prepetition and must be allowed. On direct appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed. Although Candace did not have an equitable distribution decree in hand at the time Paul filed for bankruptcy, the focus should not be on when the claim accrues, but whether a claim exists. Given the Bankruptcy Code’s expansive definition of “claim,” a non-debtor spouse has an allowable pre-petition claim against the bankruptcy estate for equitable distribution of marital property when the parties are in divorce proceedings before the bankruptcy petition is filed. View "In re: Paul Ruitenberg, III" on Justia Law