Paternity Fraud

Iowa Supreme Court Issues Opinion Regarding a Paternity Fraud Cause of Action

The Iowa Supreme Court issued an opinion on Friday, June 1, 2012 regarding a case appealed from the Iowa district court in Grundy County.  The case, Dier v. Peters  focuses on the question of whether there should be a separate cause of action, separate from common law fraud, for Paternity Fraud.

Dier v. Peters

Cassandra Jo Peters allegedly informed Joseph O. Dier that he was the father of her child, O.D., born February 10, 2009.  Dier claims that as a result of this information he made voluntary financial contributions to Peters intended to be used for the care of Peters and the child.  According to Dier, Peters knew that O.D. was not Dier’s child, but still accepted the financial contributions.

At some point after the child was born, Dier filed an application in district court to obtain custody of O.D.  As a part of that case, there was a child custody evaluation completed.  Peters became afraid that she may lose custody of O.D. and requested that a paternity test be performed.  Two paternity tests later, and Dier was excluded from being O.D.’s biological father.  As a result, on August 2, 2011, Dier filed a petition seeking reimbursement of the financial contributions he had made to Peters throughout O.D.’s life.

Peters moved to dismiss the action for failure to state a cause of action because Iowa does not recognize a cause of action for Paternity Fraud.  Of course Dier resisted this motion claiming that Peters’ actions were tantamount to fraud at common law.

The Court reviewed the appeal for errors at law, meaning they accepted the facts as found by the district court.

In her motion to dismiss, Peters is correct that Iowa, along with many other states, does not recognize a specific Paternity Fraud claim for relief.  In this case, the Iowa Supreme Court rules on whether a putative father can bring a claim for damages as a result of fraud by a biological mother either by a claim of Paternity Fraud or common law fraud.

Can a Putative Father Recoup Past Paid Support?

This case is different from the majority of paternity fraud type cases where a father tries to reclaim court-ordered support.  Here, the financial support provided by Dier was completely voluntary and not ordered by the court.  The Iowa Supreme Court has held on numerous occasions that a father may not recover support that was paid as a result of a court order.  Iowa Code 600B.41A(4) states:

 4. If the court finds that the establishment of paternity is overcome, in accordance with all of the conditions prescribed, the court shall enter an order which provides all of the following:

a. That the established father is relieved of any and all future support obligations owed on behalf of the child from the date that the order determining that the established father is not the biological father is filed.

b. That any unpaid support due prior to the date the order determining that the established father is not the biological father is filed, is satisfied.

So, if the court should find that paternity has been overcome, the putative father cannot be reimbursed for previous payments made by court order, however, any previous unpaid support and any future support obligations are seen as satisfied.

 Common Law Fraud

The present case is not controlled by this statute however, so the Court bases its decision on whether Dier’s claim should be dismissed on whether it fits into the traditional elements of common law fraud.  The Court finds that Dier’s claim does in fact fit into the framework of common law fraud.  The elements as well as the Court’s analysis are as follows:

  •  1 and 2:  False Representation – The Court finds that Dier does in fact allege that Peters represented to him that he was the father and that the two subsequent paternity tests show that representation to be false.
  • 3:  Materiality – the misrepresentation is material if it substantially affects the interests of the party alleged to be defrauded; if it induces a reasonable person to react.  The Court states that Dier reacted as a reasonable person would if they were informed they were the father of a child.  The misrepresentation caused him to contribute financially to O.D. and Peter’s lives.
  • 4:  Knowledge of falsity – Dier would need to show that Peters had actual knowledge that the representation she made to Dier was false.  Dier alleges this to be the case in his pleadings.
  • 5:  Intent to deceive – The Court finds that Dier’s allegations would survive a motion to dismiss because he indicates that not only did Peters know he was not the biological father of O.D., but that she used that misrepresentation to secure money from him.
  • 6:  Justifiable Reliance – A plaintiff is not allowed to blindly rely on any representation made to him or her.  The Court acknowledges that a paternity test could have shown from the beginning that Dier was not the father, however, is not willing to hold that a putative father is never allowed to rely on the biological mother’s word that they are indeed the father.  Therefore, Dier’s assertions are enough to survive the pleading stage.
  • 7:  Proximate Cause – the allegations that Dier has made that he spent the money based on the misrepresentation are enough to survive a motion to dismiss.
  • 8:  Damages – Dier needs to make an ascertainable showing of damages or injury to satisfy the elements of a common law fraud claim.  He does show out of pocket expenses made as a result of the misrepresentation.  The Court does rule however that he may not recover the attorney fees incurred during the custody case litigation.

The Court states that Dier does not attempt to create a new cause of action in his claim for relief, but in fact, does make an allowable claim for relief under common law fraud.

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