Lozano v. Montoya Alvarez
572 U.S. ___ (2014)

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Justia Opinion Summary
Alvarez and Lozano lived with their daughter in London until November 2008, when Alvarez and the child moved to a women’s shelter. In July 2009, they left the U.K., ultimately settling in New York. Lozano did not locate them until November 2010. He filed a Petition for Return of Child pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Under the Convention, if a parent files a petition within one year of the child’s removal, a court “shall order the return of the child forthwith.” When the petition is filed after that period, the court is to order return, “unless it is demonstrated that the child is now settled in its new environment.” Because it was filed more than one year after removal, the district court denied the petition, finding that the child was now settled. The Second Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. There is no presumption that equitable tolling applies to treaties and the parties to the Convention did not intend that it apply to the one-year period. The International Child Abduction Remedies Act, 42 U. S. C. 11601–11610, enacted to implement the Convention, neither addresses equitable tolling nor purports to alter the Convention and, therefore, does not affect this conclusion. Even if the Convention were subject to a presumption that statutes of limitations may be tolled, the one-year period is not a statute of limitations. The remedy available to the left-behind parent continues to be available after one year; expiration of one year simply mandates consideration of a third party’s interests. The drafters did not choose to delay the period’s commencement until discovery of the child’s location.

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

LOZANO v. MONTOYA ALVAREZ

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the second circuit

No. 12–820. Argued December 11, 2013—Decided March 5, 2014

When one parent abducts a child and flees to another country, the other parent may file a petition in that country for the return of the child pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Convention or Convention). If the parent files a petition within one year of the child’s removal, a court “shall order the return of the child forthwith.” But when the petition is filed after the 1-year period expires, the court “shall . . . order the return of the child, unless it is demonstrated that the child is now settled in its new environment.”

          Respondent Montoya Alvarez and petitioner Lozano resided with their daughter in London until November 2008, when Montoya Alvarez left with the child for a women’s shelter. In July 2009, Montoya Alvarez and the child left the United Kingdom and ultimately settled in New York. Lozano did not locate Montoya Alvarez and the child until November 2010, more than 16 months after Montoya Alvarez and the child had left the United Kingdom. At that point, Lozano filed a Petition for Return of Child pursuant to the Hague Convention in the Southern District of New York. Finding that the petition was filed more than one year after removal, the court denied the petition on the basis that the child was now settled in New York. It also held that the 1-year period could not be extended by equitable tolling. The Second Circuit affirmed.

Held: Article 12’s 1-year period is not subject to equitable tolling. Pp. 7–16.

     (a) The doctrine of equitable tolling, as applied to federal statutes of limitations, extends an otherwise discrete limitations period set by Congress. Thus, whether tolling is available is fundamentally a question of statutory intent. Because Congress “legislate[s] against a background of common-law adjudicatory principles,” Astoria Fed. Sav. & Loan Assn. v. Solimino, 501 U. S. 104 , including equitable tolling, see Holmberg v. Armbrecht, 327 U. S. 392 , equitable tolling is presumed to apply if the period in question is a statute of limitations and if tolling is consistent with the statute, Young v. United States, 535 U. S. 43 –50. Pp. 7–8.

     (b) In assessing whether equitable tolling applies to treaties, which are “ ‘compact[s] between independent nations,’ ” Medellín v. Texas, 552 U. S. 491 , this Court’s “duty [i]s to ascertain the intent of the parties” by looking to the document’s text and context, United States v. Choctaw Nation, 179 U. S. 494 . The parties to the Hague Convention did not intend equitable tolling to apply to Article 12’s 1-year period. Pp. 8–16.

          (1) There is no general presumption that equitable tolling applies to treaties. Though part of the established backdrop of American law, equitable tolling has no proper role in the interpretation of treaties unless that principle is shared by the parties to the “agreement among sovereign powers,” Zicherman v. Korean Air Lines Co., 516 U. S. 217 . Lozano has identified no such shared principle among the Convention signatories, and the courts of several signatories have explicitly rejected equitable tolling of the Convention. Thus, the American presumption does not apply to this multilateral treaty. The International Child Abduction Remedies Act, 42 U. S. C. §§11601–11610, which Congress enacted to implement the Convention, neither addresses the availability of equitable tolling nor purports to alter the Convention, and therefore does not affect this conclusion. Pp. 9–11.

          (2) Even if the Convention were subject to a presumption that statutes of limitations may be tolled, Article 12’s 1-year period is not a statute of limitations. Statutes of limitations embody a “policy of repose, designed to protect defendants,” Burnett v. New York Central R. Co., 380 U. S. 424 , and foster the “elimination of stale claims, and certainty about a plaintiff’s opportunity for recovery and a defendant’s potential liabilities,” Rotella v. Wood, 528 U. S. 549 . Here, the remedy the Convention affords the left-behind parent—return of the child—continues to be available after one year, thus preserving the possibility of relief for that parent and preventing repose for the abducting parent. The period’s expiration also does not establish certainty about the parties’ respective rights. Instead, it opens the door to consideration of a third party’s interests, i.e., the child’s interest in settlement. Because that is not the sort of interest addressed by a statute of limitations, the 1-year period should not be treated as a statute of limitations. Young, supra, at 47, distinguished. Pp. 11–13.

          (3) Without a presumption of equitable tolling, the Convention does not support extending the 1-year period during concealment. Article 12 explicitly provides for the period to commence on “the date of the wrongful removal or retention” and makes no provision for an extension. Because the drafters did not choose to delay the period’s commencement until discovery of the child’s location—the obvious alternative to the date of wrongful removal—the natural implication is that they did not intend to commence the period on that later date. Lozano contends that equitable tolling is nonetheless consistent with the Convention’s goal of deterring child abductions, but the Convention does not pursue that goal at any cost, having recognized that the return remedy may be overcome by, e.g., the child’s interest in settlement. And the abducting parent does not necessarily profit by running out the clock, since both American courts and other Convention signatories have considered concealment as a factor in determining whether a child is settled. Equitable tolling is therefore neither required by the Convention nor the only available means to advance its objectives. Pp. 13–15.

          (4) Lozano contends that there is room for United States courts to apply equitable tolling because the Convention recognizes that other sources of law may permit signatory states to return abducted children even when return is not available or required by the Convention. But this contention mistakes the nature of equitable tolling, which may be applied to the Hague Convention only if the treaty drafters so intended. For the foregoing reason, they did not. Pp. 15–16.

697 F. 3d 41, affirmed.

     Thomas, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Alito, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Breyer and Sotomayor, JJ., joined.

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