FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF
LAFAYETTE, NO. C-2016-1197 HONORABLE DAVID A. BLANCHET,
Richard Damian Mere Attorney at Law COUNSEL FOR
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT: Monojit Banerjee
Shalini Banerjee DEFENDANT-APPELLEE
composed of Elizabeth A. Pickett, John E. Conery, and Candyce
G. Perret, Judges.
CANDYCE G. PERRET JUDGE
Monojit Banerjee ("Mr. Banerjee"), a Louisiana
resident, is seeking custody of his children who currently
reside with their mother, Shalini Banerjee ("Mrs.
Banerjee"), in India. Both parents became United States
citizens through the naturalization process, and their
children are United States citizens by way of birth. This
matter came before the trial court on a petition for divorce
and custody of minor children filed by Mr. Banerjee. The
trial court denied the child custody petition for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction after applying the Uniform Child
Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). We agree
with the trial court's finding of no jurisdiction for the
reasons that follow and now affirm.
court must decide whether Louisiana has subject matter
jurisdiction over this child custody matter.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Mrs. Banerjee were married in 1994 in Bangalore, India. The
couple moved to the United States, to Waterloo, Iowa, and had
two children, born in 2005 and 2007. The parties and their
children resided in Iowa until 2010. In 2010, the family
moved back to Bangalore, India, residing there together until
June 14, 2014, when Mr. and Mrs. Banerjee physically
separated. Mr. Banerjee remained in India until March 2015.
At that time, it is alleged Mrs. Banerjee threatened Mr.
Banerjee with physical violence, court action, and criminal
penalties. Mr. Banerjee, therefore, fled to the United
States, taking up residence and employment in Lafayette,
Louisiana. The children remained in India with Mrs. Banerjee
and have never resided in the state of Louisiana.
Banerjee filed for divorce on March 4, 2016, under
La.Civ.Code article 103(1). Mrs. Banerjee remains in India
with the children, and allegedly refuses to allow Mr.
Banerjee to see them. Mr. Banerjee informed the trial court
he continues to pay for rent, school, and living expenses for
his children. Mr. Banerjee also made a trip to India in May
of 2016, in the hopes of seeing his children, but alleges
Mrs. Banerjee would not permit it. Mrs. Banerjee allegedly
filed a domestic violence lawsuit in India against Mr.
Banerjee in 2014, but, according to Mr. Banerjee, no
resolution has been reached. However, Mr. Banerjee alleges
custody proceedings have never been filed in India.
for Mr. Banerjee contacted the United States Department of
State and the United States Embassy in India for assistance
with visitation, but counsel was advised neither agency could
facilitate visitation unless Mr. Banerjee obtained a custody
judgment from a United States court.
trial court heard testimony and received evidence at the
hearing on Mr. Banerjee's petition for divorce and
custody of minor child. Though the trial court granted the
divorce, the trial judge indicated he believed there was an
issue with jurisdiction over the child custody issue. At the
conclusion of the hearing, the trial court left the record
open for jurisprudence and statutory law from India to be
submitted. Thereafter, Mr. Banerjee submitted a
"Memorandum in Response to Issues Raised by This [the
trial court] Court" on June 7, 2016.
trial court reviewed the information submitted by Mr.
Banerjee and the review conducted by the hearing officer, and
then determined "India's jurisdictional standards
are in substantial conformity with the UCCJEA and the Court
does not find that the child custody laws of India violate
fundamental principles of human rights." Additionally,
the trial court concluded India takes into consideration
where the children and the parties have the most substantial
contacts and, specifically, that, in this case, that the
children and Mrs. Banerjee have never been to the State of
Louisiana. The trial court also discussed how India, not
Louisiana, would qualify as the children's Home State
under the UCCJEA. Mr. Banerjee now appeals the jurisdictional
ruling to this court.
a court has subject matter jurisdiction is reviewed on appeal
under the de novo standard of review. Chamberlin v.
Chamberlin, 14-1322 (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/22/15), 176 So.3d
1118, writ denied, 15-0972 (La. 6/19/15), 172 So.3d
1093; Otwellv. Otwell, 10-1176 (La.App. 3 Cir.
2/9/11), 56 So.3d 1232.
courts have jurisdiction over a minor's status in a
"proceeding to obtain the legal custody of a minor if he
is domiciled in, or is in, this state." La.Code Civ.P.
art. 10(A)(5). However, a second tier of inquiry into the
jurisdiction over custody issues exists under the UCCJEA,
La.R.S. 13:1801, et seq. Even if a Louisiana court
has subject matter jurisdiction, that jurisdiction must be
declined based on limitations imposed by the UCCJEA.
Albitar v. Albitar, 16-167 (La.App. 5 Cir. 6/30/16),
197 So.3d 332. The UCCJEA's limitation on jurisdiction
was designed to avoid jurisdictional competition among
states, to "assur[e] that custody litigation takes place
in the state with which the child and his family have the
'closest connection' and where relevant evidence is
located, promot[e] a stable home environment, deter
abductions, and encourag[e] cooperation among the courts of
different states." Id. at 345, quoting
Stelluto v. Stelluto, 05-74, p. 8 (La. 6/29/05), 914
So.2d 34, 39.
the UCCJEA covers custody issues involving foreign courts and
countries. Louisiana Revised Statutes 13:1805 orders
Louisiana courts to treat a foreign country as if it were a
state. Therefore, when a foreign country makes a custody
determination "under factual circumstances in
substantial conformity with the jurisdictional standards of
this Act, " Louisiana must recognize and enforce that
determination. La.R.S. 13:1805. But, "if the child
custody law of [the] foreign country violates fundamental
principles of human rights, " Louisiana is not required
to apply the UCCJEA. La.R.S. 13:1805(C).
Banerjee suggests this court has jurisdiction for two
reasons. First, Mr. Banerjee argues Louisiana has
jurisdiction under the UCCJEA because a foreign court has
refused or failed to take jurisdiction over this custody
matter. Second, he argues Louisiana is not required to apply
the UCCJEA because India's laws violate fundamental
principles of human rights by effectively denying Mr.
Banerjee contact with his children. We address both arguments