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"We Are Not Crows" -- and yet ….

A Louisiana statute applies when a parent who shares custodial rights moves with a child more than 75 miles from the child's principal residence -- is that as the crow flies, or as MapQuest calculates?

|The Volokh Conspiracy |


From Holley v. Holley, decided a few months ago by the Louisiana Court of Appeals:

As to Mr. Holley's objection to relocation, she determined that "the intention of the legislature was the distance to mean traveling distance and not as-the-crow files distance." She found that "we are not crows" and determined that the "most commonly traveled route" should be utilized when calculating mileage under the relocation statutes. She consequently found that the distance between C.H.'s principal place of residence in New Orleans and the proposed relocation address in Baton Rouge is more than 75 miles and, thus, the relocation statutes apply to this case….

The legal question presented … is whether "miles" as provided in the relocation statutes should be defined and calculated in straight line, radial miles, i.e. as the crow flies, or in surface or roadway miles using the most commonly traveled or shortest route available.

Ms. Holley contends that the traditional and customary definition of the word "mile" should apply. She asserts that a "mile" is a uniform measurement of distance in a straight line, or "as the crow flies." Mr. Holley, on the other hand, contends that because the purpose of the relocation statutes is to assist relocating and non-relocating parents to share custody and maintain contact with the minor child, the most commonly traveled route of roadway or highway miles should be the applicable method of measurement.

The trial judge rejected Ms. Holley's argument, opining that "we are not crows," and applied the commonly-used highways or roadways method of measurement, accepting the most common route as determined by the MapQuest map Mr. Holley introduced into evidence. For the reasons discussed below, we find that the straight line or "as the crow flies" method of measurement is the standard and most uniform method to measure distances under the relocation statutes….

Our research reflects that, concerning the method of measurement of "miles" in a child relocation context, courts which have opined on the subject have found that the straight line or "as the crow flies" method of measurement is the most uniform and, in the absence of any contrary statutory language or provision, applies in child relocation cases. See, e.g., Carreiro v. Colbert, 5 N.Y.S.3d 327, 327 (Sup. Ct. 2014); Bowers v. Vandermeulen-Bowers, 278 Mich. App. 287, 294, 750 N.W.2d 597, 601 (2008); Tucker v. Liebknecht, 86 So.3d 1240, 1242 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2012). For example, a Florida court stated clearly that "[i]n the absence of any statutory or contractual provision governing the manner of measurement of distances, the general rule is that distance should be measured along the shortest straight line, on a horizontal plane and not along the course of a highway or along the usual traveled way." Tucker v. Liebknecht, 86 So.3d at 1242. The Court further explained that, "utilizing a method of measurement other than the straight line method would create uncertainty and generate needless debate."

Upon our review of the law in this state and others, we find that, absent any contrary statutory language or governing provision, the straight-line or "as the crow flies" method of measurement is the most uniform method to measure distances and that such method should apply in Louisiana child relocation cases. Applying the straight-line measurement method to the facts of this case, we find that the distance between Mr. Holley's residence in River Ridge and the address for the proposed relocation in Baton Rouge is less than 75 radial or straight-line miles. Accordingly, we find that the Relocation Act does not apply in this case and, thus, we reverse that portion of the trial court's judgment sustaining Mr. Holley's procedural objection to relocation.