§30.2B Paternity Fraud

The Case: Hodge v. Craig, 382 S.W.3d 325 (Tenn. 2012).

The Basic Facts: Parties were in a relationship but broke up for several weeks in October 1991. During that time, Ms. Hodge had sexual relations with another man, then reconciled with Mr. Craig. When Ms. Hodge found out she was pregnant, she told Mr. Craig she was sure that the child was his and that no one else could be the father. The parties married but divorced nine years later. After the divorce, Mr. Craig found out he was not the child's biological father and, as part of a counter-petition, sued for fraud based on misrepresentation of paternity, which Tennessee courts had not recognized as a cause of action at the time. After the trial court found for Mr. Craig, the Court of Appeals reversed the damages award. The Supreme Court held that an intentional misrepresentation claim could be based on a child's mother's intentional misrepresentations regarding the identity of the biological father and that the damages should be reinstated.

The Bottom Line:

  • "Mr. Craig filed a Tenn. R. App. P . 11 application for permission to appeal that raised two issues – whether misrepresenting the paternity of a child is actionable as fraud, intentional misrepresentation, or negligent misrepresentation and whether the award of damages based on child support, medical expenses, and insurance premiums was an improper retroactive modification of child support. We granted Mr. Craig's application for permission to appeal to address these two issues." 382 S.W.3d at 333.
  • "The threshold question in this case is whether, as a matter of public policy, Tennessee's courts should be permitted to entertain an action filed by the former spouse of a child's mother seeking to recover damages caused by the mother's misrepresentations regarding the identity of her child's biological father." Id. at 337.
  • "Those who oppose recognizing these claims insist that the courts' primary concerns should focus on the child and the family and that the putative father's interests should be secondary to those of 'the state, the family, and the child in maintaining the continuity, financial support, and psychological security of an established parent-child relationship.'Godin v. Godin, 168 Vt. 514, 725 A.2d 904, 910 (1998); see also State Office of Child Support Enforcement v. Williams, 338 Ark. 347, 995 S.W.2d 338, 340 (1999). Those who support these claims assert that there is 'a fundamental sense that it is unfair to require a man to support a child with whom he has no biological connection.' They also insist that there is a growing recognition that the courts should not force a man to support a child who is not his biological child unless he has been given an opportunity to make a voluntary choice to provide support despite his knowledge that he has no biological relationship with the child."Id. at 338-39.
  • "The General Assembly has not directly addressed the issues or interests implicated in this case. We have carefully reviewed the Constitution of Tennessee and our decisions construing it, as well as the existing statutes pertaining to families and domestic relations, and find no distinct reflection that Tennessee's public policy either favors or opposes claims or remedies of the sort pursued by Mr. Craig in this case."Id. at 341.
  • "Misrepresentations to a prospective spouse that he is an unborn child's biological father '[go] to the essence of the marital relationship.'Miller v. Miller, 1998 OK 24, ¶ 44, 956 P.2d 887, 904 (recognizing a claim for fraudulent inducement to marry). Accordingly, and in light of the historically broad reach of common-law actions for intentional misrepresentation, we have determined that the public policy of this state, reflected in the Constitution of Tennessee and the statutes enacted by the General Assembly, does not prevent the former spouse of a child's mother from pursuing common-law damage claims against the child's mother based on her intentional misrepresentations regarding the identity of the child's biological father."Id.
  • "The record in this case supports the conclusion of both the trial court and the Court of Appeals that Mr. Craig presented sufficient evidence to prove each of the elements of his intentional misrepresentation claim against Ms. Hodge. When Ms. Hodge discovered she was pregnant, she represented to Mr. Craig that he was the child's biological father and that no one else could be. This representation was false when it was made, and Ms. Hodge made this representation recklessly without knowing whether it was true or false. She knew that she had had sexual relations with Mr. Hay. Mr. Craig had no reason to know that Ms. Hodge's representation that he was the child's biological father was false, and he was justified in relying on the truth of Ms. Hodge's representation. Mr. Craig was damaged as a result of his belief that Ms. Hodge had told him the truth when she told him that he was the biological father of her child. Putting aside his decision to marry Ms. Hodge, Mr. Craig sustained monetary damages, not the least of which was his court-ordered obligation to pay child support and his payments for the child's medical expenses and insurance premiums following his divorce from Ms. Hodge."Id. at 343-44.
  • "For over two decades, we have limited the application of negligent misrepresentation claims under the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 552 to representations made in connection with a business or commercial transaction. Even though modern marriage has been characterized by some as inherently contractual, communications between a couple regarding the parentage of a child do not involve a commercial or business transaction….Accordingly, like the courts in Minnesota and South Dakota, we decline to hold that a mother's former husband may bring a negligent misrepresentation action against his former spouse based upon her negligent misrepresentations that he is the child's biological father."Id. at 345-46.
  • "As the victim of Ms. Hodge's intentional misrepresentations regarding Kyle's paternity, Mr. Craig was entitled to recover the pecuniary loss he suffered as a result of his justifiable reliance on Ms. Hodge's representations that he was Kyle's biological father and that no one else could be. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 549. The trial court did not err by ascertaining the amount of this pecuniary loss by considering the amount of child support, medical expenses, and insurance premiums Mr. Craig had paid on Kyle's behalf following the parties' divorce."Id. at 348.

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

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