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Magnus Norinder v. Sharonfuentes

September 6, 2011


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 10-CV-391-WDS-William D. Stiehl, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wood, Circuit Judge.


Before MANION, WOOD, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

Although the federal courts normally have nothing to do with child custody issues, there is an exception for cases that arise under the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 11601 et seq., which implements the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the Convention), T.I.A.S. No. 11,670, 1343 U.N.T.S. 89 (Oct. 25, 1980). This is one of those cases.

Petitioner, Magnus Norinder, filed this suit against his wife, Sharon Fuentes, seeking the return of their son, JRN, to Sweden. Norinder is from Sweden and Fuentes is from the United States; both countries are parties to the Convention. The Act entitles a person whose child has wrongfully been removed to the United States in violation of the Convention to petition for return of the child to the child's country of "habitual residence," unless certain exceptions apply. See generally Abbott v. Abbott, 130 S. Ct. 1983 (2010); Altamiranda Vale v. Avila, 538 F.3d 581, 583-84 (7th Cir. 2008).

The battle here is over which country-Sweden or the United States-is JRN's habitual residence. Norinder asserts that Sweden is, and that Fuentes abducted JRN to the United States in violation of the Convention. The district court agreed and ordered JRN returned to Sweden, where Norinder is living and where Fuentes and JRN lived until recently. In this appeal, Fuentes challenges the district court's conclusion and asserts that the court should have chosen the United States instead. Both for that reason, and because she charges that there is a grave risk that JRN's return to Sweden will expose him to physical or psychological harm (a defense under the Convention that the abducter may invoke to block return of a child), she argues that the district court's order should be reversed. Finally, Fuentes asserts that the district court unfairly limited discovery before resolving the case and ordered her to pay too much in fees and costs to Norinder. We conclude that the district court's decisions are sound in all respects, and we therefore affirm.


Norinder and Fuentes, who are both physicians, met on the Internet in 2006. Norinder, a citizen of Sweden, lived in Boras, Sweden at the time; and Fuentes, who is a citizen of the United States, lived in Texas. The relationship progressed quickly: in February 2007, Fuentes visited Sweden and the couple got engaged; in April, she returned and they conceived a child; in August they were married in Sweden. After the wedding, Fuentes returned to Houston, Texas, to complete a fellowship in pathology. Norinder was chief physician of a hospital in Boras at the time. He took paternity leave in January 2008 to join Fuentes in Houston. JRN was born there the next month. In July, the whole family moved to Sweden.

It was not long before the relationship became rocky. Fuentes and Norinder had many fights, some of which escalated into physical confrontations. There are charges that JRN was harmed in the midst of these fights. On a number of occasions, Fuentes moved out of the family's house in Sweden-once to an apartment she apparently had rented in secret. Professional difficulties compounded the personal strife. Fuentes did not keep the job that Norinder secured for her at his hospital in Boras, and Norinder was suspended from work while the hospital investigated charges instigated by Fuentes that Norinder had substance abuse problems. Fuentes accused Norinder of drinking too much and abusing prescription drugs, and there is some evidence that he has had difficulty with drugs and alcohol in the past. While the two were in Sweden, divorce proceedings were initi- ated and then abandoned on a number of occasions. None of this, however, is directly relevant to the resolution of this case. Our authority over Norinder's petition extends only to the question whether JRN was abducted and should be returned to Sweden; we do not sit to resolve a messy domestic conflict. See 42 U.S.C. § 11601(b)(4); Hague Convention art. 19; Shalit v. Coppe, 182 F.3d 1124, 1128 (9th Cir. 1999); Friedrich v. Friedrich, 78 F.3d 1060, 1063-64 (6th Cir. 1996).

The event that gave rise to this proceeding occurred after two years of the unhappiness we have just recounted. On March 17, 2010, under the guise of a two-week vacation to Texas, Fuentes traveled to the United States with JRN in tow. On April 7, 2010-the day she was scheduled to return to Sweden-Fuentes sent Norinder a text message saying that she was keeping their son and planned to remain in the United States. Norinder hired a lawyer and for about a month searched for Fuentes and JRN. They were not in Texas or any other place that he might have expected. Eventually, he found them in southern Illinois, and on May 26, 2010, his lawyer there filed the petition for return of the child that is now before us.


That brings us to the district court proceedings and to Fuentes's first argument on appeal. She contends that the district court improperly cut off her pretrial discovery, thereby seriously undermining her ability to show that Norinder poses a grave risk of harm to JRN. Fuentes frames this as a legal challenge; in her view the district court erred by refusing to apply the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to the proceedings. That accusation, not surprisingly, is not a fair summary of the district court's rulings.

The district court was properly trying to move this case along on an expedited basis. Norinder's petition was filed on May 26, 2010, and on June 4 the district court set June 22 as the date for the start of a bench trial. (All dates are in 2010, and so we do not repeat that.) On June 8, Fuentes hired a lawyer. A few days later, on June 15, Norinder filed a discovery plan that recommended completing discovery by June 18. On June 16, Fuentes's lawyer filed his first appearance in the case. On June 21, the day before trial was set to begin, Fuentes filed a response to Norinder's petition and in it requested additional discovery for the first time. She said that the court's current schedule would interfere with her effort to gather evidence needed for trial, and her lawyer submitted an affidavit outlining what she was requesting: medical records relating to Norinder's alleged alcohol and drug use; documents that might reveal past domestic violence; Norinder's prescription drug records; ...

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