For our civil law readers: hold onto your seats as we venture into the judicial doctrines of res judicata (a.k.a., claim preclusion--but Latin makes me sound smarter) and collateral estoppel (a.k.a., issue preclusion). For American law types: welcome back to the blurriest part of you 1L Civil Procedure course.
The issue: Whether a father precluded his right to petition in a Washington court for his sons' return under the Hague Abduction Convention by failing to raise the issue when he filed for divorce and custody in California?
The facts: Father and mother--U.S. citizens--married in 1994. By 1999, they had two sons. The father, an Air Force man, was stationed at a base in Germany in 1998. The wife and kids joined him in 1999. Eight months later, the mother and kids flew to Washington. The parties disagreed about how long the kids were supposed to stay in the States. Needless to say, the boys went AWOL from the base.
Procedure below: The father filed for divorce and custody in June 2007 in California. Not to be outdone, the mother filed for the same in the state of Washington. She stipulated jurisdiction in California. They went to mediation. They agreed on joint custody and that the children would stay in Washington.
Father hired a new attorney who told the Washington state court that the UCCJEA made the matter the subject matter jurisdiction (which can be raised at any time by any party and the court, sua sponte) of Germany, back on the base. The state court didn't agree. He had backup and filed in federal court based on a Hague Child Abduction Convention return for the wrongful removal.
The district court stayed the state court proceeding on the parties' pending divorce agreement because a decision in the state court would preclude the Hague claim. The mother appealed.
The Holding: The decision in the state court would not preclude the Hague claim. Federal common law dictates that the courts apply the res judicata doctrine of the deciding state court. In general, this doctrine bars a party from raising a claim if based on the same injury in another action. But, the appellate court treats treaties differently.
The court held that res judicata cannot preclude a claim under a treaty. And the treaty also trumped any Parental Kinapping Prevention Act (PKPA) conflicts regarding subject matter jurisdiction. The same went for the collateral estoppel claims too.
Further, the court held that the district court improperly ordered the stay. The mother also appealed whether the trial court should have heard to Hague petition for other reasons, but the court of appeals didn't dismiss the case. It sent the case back to the district court for a determination on the Hague claim.
This was a 2-1 decision as THOMPSON, J. dissented.
To find out what happens next, read tomorrow's blog on the case when the parties showed up again in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004...