Michael Shannon and Nermeen Khalifa Shannon had two sons Adam Osama Shannon, born February 9, 1997, and Jason Osama Shannon, born January 10, 2001. Mr. Shannon had been awarded physical custody of Adam and visitation with Jason. Ms. Khalifa’s mother, Afaf Nassar Khalifa, visited from Egypt and Mr. Shannon agreed that both boys could travel to New York to visit a cousin. Nermeen and her mother promptly, and by pre-arrangement, flew with the boys to Egypt where they remain. Mr. Shannon has not seen his sons since.
Michael sued Nermeen, his former wife, her mother, Ms. Khalifa, and her sister.A jury awarded Michael compensatory damages of $500,000 from the defendants and punitive damages of $1,100,000 against Nermeen and $900,000 against her mother.
The Maryland Court of Appeals in Khalifa v Shannon, 2008 Md. Lexis 182, upheld the awards after an extensive review of Maryland law on abduction, enticement and other old theories of recovery for legal wrongs. The Court held that its prior cases recognized a tort of interference with parent-child relations, including interference with visitation, so long as such interference was substantial, as it clearly was in this case. The Court also upheld the punitive damages award. A concurring opinion differed with the majority saying that the Court was recognizing a new tort (a theory of recovery for legal harm) but agreeing with the result.
The Court was writing in broad stokes in this case saying that interference with custody or visitation is something a parent can sue over.It will left for future, less egregious cases, to define the limits of the tort of interference with parent-child relations.There will be many questions such as how much interference is enough (or rather too much) what defenses can be raised, and how damages will be determined.