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There is no case or controversy, and a suit becomes moot, when the issues presented are no longer "live" or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome. But a case becomes moot only when it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatsoever to the prevailing party. As long as the parties have a concrete interest, however small, in the outcome of the litigation, the case is not moot.
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction requires the judicial or administrative authority of a Contracting State to order a child returned to her country of habitual residence if the authority finds that the child has been wrongfully removed to or retained in the Contracting State. The International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA) implements the Convention in the United States, granting federal and state courts concurrent jurisdiction over Convention actions and directing those courts to decide cases in accordance with the Convention. ICARA also requires defendants to pay various expenses incurred by plaintiffs associated with the return of children. Petitioner Mr. Chafin, a United States citizen and member of the military, married respondent Ms. Chafin, a United Kingdom citizen, in Germany, where they later had a daughter, E. C. When Mr. Chafin was deployed to Afghanistan, Ms. Chafin took E. C. to Scotland. Mr. Chafin was later transferred to Huntsville, Alabama, and Ms. Chafin eventually traveled there with E. C. Soon after Ms. Chafin's arrival, Mr. Chafin filed for divorce and child custody in Alabama. Ms. Chafin was subsequently deported, but E. C. remained in Alabama with Mr. Chafin. Several months later, Ms. Chafin filed a petition under the Convention and ICARA, seeking E. C.'s return to Scotland. The District Court concluded that E. C.'s country of habitual residence was Scotland and granted the petition for return. Ms. Chafin immediately departed for Scotland with E. C. Ms. Chafin then initiated custody proceedings in Scotland and was granted interim custody and a preliminary injunction prohibiting Mr. Chafin from removing E. C. from Scotland. Mr. Chafin appealed the District Court's order, but the Eleventh Circuit dismissed the appeal as moot, on the ground that once a child has been returned to a foreign country, a U.S. court becomes powerless to grant relief. On remand, the District Court ordered Mr. Chafin to reimburse Ms. Chafin for court costs, attorney's fees, and travel expenses.
Was the case moot by return to asserted country of habitual residence?
The Supreme Court found that the case was not moot because U.S. courts retained personal jurisdiction over the mother, and the parties continued to contest a number of issues, including where the daughter would be raised and the assessment of attorney's fees, costs, and travel expenses.