Md. Court upholds verdict against wealthy kidnappers

John O'Brien Apr. 14, 2008, 3:41pm


ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Legal Newsline) - Maryland's highest court recently affirmed a $3 million judgment in a civil case brought by a man whose estranged wife fled to Egypt with their children.

Michael Shannon has not seen his two sons in almost seven years. The Court of Appeals on Wednesday agreed that that is worth $3.1 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

"(A)s each day passes, Shannon is deprived of contact with the boys, who are now 11 and 8," Judge Lynne Battaglia wrote. "We view Appellants' ongoing harboring of Shannon's children in Egypt as an aggravating factor, and a high punitive award is appropriate to deter others from engaging in similar conduct.

"Evidence of the ongoing absence of the children also indicates to us that Shannon will never be fully compensated for the loss of society and companionship that he has suffered at the hands of the appellants."

Shannon married Nermeen Khalifa in 1996, and the couple had two sons, Adam and Jason. In Jan. 2000, the pair separated. A year later, a court awarded custody of Adam to Mr. Shannon and Jason to Mrs. Shannon.

Later in 2001, Mr. Shannon allowed both boys to visit a cousin in New York City under the supervision of Mrs. Shannon. Instead, she executed a plan that she had devised with her mother, Afaf Nassar Khalifa.

Afaf Khalifa has since been extradited to Maryland and sentenced to 10 years in prison, though the term was later reduced to three years. Her conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, and she was released in 2004.

A Dec. 2006 trial resulted in a jury award of $17,500 for attorneys fees, $500,000 in compensatory damages against both Khalifa and Mrs. Shannon and a combined $2 million in punitive damages against the two.

The mother and daughter protested the verdict, claiming that Maryland does not recognize the tort of interference with custody and visitation and that the punitive award was excessive because there was no reason to believe the defendants could pay it.

Mr. Shannon argued the State did recognize the tort and that the punitive award was only twice as great as the compensatory award. He also said he provided clear evidence of the Khalifas' wealth.

A report in The Capital of Annapolis says Mrs. Shannon's father, Mohammed Osama Khalifa, is a wealthy Cairo businessman who sold all his property in California years ago.

Mrs. Shannon has still not been extradited to the United States and is wanted for failing to comply with court orders, the report adds.

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