minuteman lexington MA

 

Mansfield v. Neff, 31 Mass.L.Rptr 616 (Mass. Super. 2014)

In Mansfield v. Neff, Plaintiff (“Father”) filed an action against Defendant (“Mother”) and her parents (“Maternal Grandparents”) alleging, inter alia, fraud, misrepresentation, fraudulent inducement, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligent misrepresentation based upon misrepresentations which induced Father to sign the child’s birth certificate 10 years prior. The Massachusetts Superior Court denied the Defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Mass. R. Civ. P. 12 (b)(6) and violation of the Massachusetts Anti-SLAPP statute, M.G.L. c. 231, §59H.

In 2001, Mother became pregnant and told Father he was the biological father. Father then signed the child’s birth certificate. Due to Mother’s representations, which were repeated by Maternal Grandparents, Father held himself out as the father in various court proceedings and when he entered the Marines. At the urging of Maternal Grandparents, Mother and Father married in 2005, but the marriage did not last, and custody of the child was granted to Maternal Grandparents. Over the years, Father had intermittent contact with the child, paid child support and sought to have the support modified. In 2012, Father took the position with the Probate and Family Court that he was not the biological father, which was then confirmed by a paternity test. Father then filed the pending civil action, alleging that he incurred monetary damages and experienced physical manifestations of stress such as sleep loss and depressive symptoms after learning that the Defendants “concealed the truth” regarding paternity. All three Defendants moved to dismiss on res judicata or collateral estoppel principals.

 Under M.G.L. c 209C, §11 the Father was adjudicated, by his own admission, as the child’s father as a matter of law and the time to challenge paternity had passed. See Paternity of Cheryl, 434 Mass. 23, 38 (2001). However, the Court found that the Father, who acknowledged his legal obligation, was not seeking to undo the paternity judgment but instead sought damages based on fraudulent representations which induced him to admit paternity. The Court stated: “[w]hen the decision to admit to paternity is made … based on intentionally or negligently false representations of a biological paternity, a tort action may lie.” The Court cited other jurisdictions which recognize a tort of paternity fraud or have applied tort claims in the context of false representations of paternity. Although the Court and the parties could not locate a similar past case in Massachusetts, the Court noted: “no prior Massachusetts case is necessary…this is a garden-variety claim for negligent or intentional misrepresentation.” The Court found no Massachusetts case which would bar a claim of misrepresentation, fraud or intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress in connection with knowingly making false statements of paternity to induce a man to assume the obligation of a father. The Court further found that the time limits to contest paternity established in Paternity of Cheryl “do not further constrict the limitations period on … a tort claim” seeking damages based on a woman inducing a man to agree to paternity under false pretenses. 

The Court further held the action was not barred by the anti-SLAPP statute, finding that the claims were “based on misrepresentations which occurred outside the scope of petitioning activity…” and that Father “alleges other damages which are outside the province of Probate Court orders.”