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Supreme Court rules equitable tolling does not apply in child abduction cases

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously on Wednesday in Lozano v. Alvarez [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that under the Hague Convention, the one-year period for filing a petition for a child's abduction to another country is not subject to equitable tolling. The court stated that to invoke the remedy under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the parent seeking to have the child returned to the country must file a petition within one year of the abduction. In the court's opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas stated, "We do not apply equitable tolling as a matter of some independent authority to reconsider the fairness of legislative judgments balancing the needs for relief and repose." The court also opined that the Hague Convention continues to direct the court to order a child's return after a year has passed, "unless it is demonstrated that the child is settled in its new environment." Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, filed a concurring opinion.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in the case in December. While the US Courts of Appeals for the Fifth, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits all previously held the one-year period may be equitably tolled, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in this case that the one-year period is not subject to equitable tolling and the settled defense is still available even where, as here, the abducting parent conceals the location of the child.

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