Monday, February 1, 2010

Test To Apply When Party Seeking DNA In Paternity/Probate Dispute

In Doe v. SunTrust Bank, et al (2D08-1239), the Second District granted a petition for certiorari and reversed a trial court order that required the petitioners submit to DNA testing.  The court concluded the movant below failed to comply with the requirement of rule 1.360 that "the movant must make an affirmative showing that the 'condition as to which the examination is sought is really and genuinely in controversy' and that good cause exists for ordering the examination."  Judge Kelly wrote the opinion and Judge Altenbernd concurred.  Judge Silberman concurred in part and dissented in part.  After quashing the order below, the majority stated:
Because it seems likely that Madelin will again attempt to obtain discovery to assist her in establishing that she is a beneficiary of Doe's trusts, and because a request to test the relatives of a deceased putative father in the context of an action to determine the beneficiaries of a trust presents some unique issues, we believe it is appropriate to offer the parties and the court some guidance should this issue arise again.
First, we note that the issue of whether Madelin is Doe's child, and thus a beneficiary of his trusts, is clearly at the heart of this litigation. However, thus far, it appears that the only pleadings suggesting she may be his child are the Trustee's verified complaint, which simply attests to the Trustee's knowledge that Madelin claims to be Doe's child and her verified motion to compel testing which states only that she "maintains she is a child born out of wedlock" to Doe. We believe something more is required, for example, an affidavit from Madelin's mother alleging paternity and setting forth facts establishing a reasonable possibility of the requisite sexual contact with Doe.  See § 742.12(2) (requiring a sworn statement or declaration under penalty of perjury alleging paternity and setting forth facts establishing a reasonable possibility of the requisite sexual contact between the parties as a perquisite to obtaining an order for scientific testing). Such an affidavit would satisfy the requirement that the subject matter of the test be "really and genuinely" in controversy. See Schlagenhauf, 379 U.S. at 119. 
Madelin will also have to demonstrate "good cause" for her request that Adrian and Evelyn be required to provide a buccal swab sample for testing. In the typical paternity action, a compelled DNA test is dispositive of the issue in controversy, and thus good cause for the test is established. See Wicky, 34 Fla. L. Weekly at D1613. This case is not, however, a typical paternity case because it is the legitimate children of the deceased putative father who are being asked to submit a sample of their DNA for testing. Under these circumstances, we believe two considerations are important in determining the existence of good cause. First, it would seem appropriate that Madelin provide some evidence that a comparison of her DNA with the DNA of Doe's legitimate children could produce a result that would tend to prove or disprove the existence of a genetic link between Doe and Madelin. Second, it would also seem appropriate to require that she make some showing of need. For example, in the arguments presented to this court, Madelin and the Trustee have indicated that Doe was cremated, thus eliminating the possibility of any comparison with a sample derived from his remains. As far as we can tell, this fact was not presented as evidence in the trial court. Likewise, while the Trustee's verified complaint suggests that no official documentation exists that would allow Madelin to establish that Doe is her father, it seems reasonable to require a more definitive statement to that effect, perhaps from Madelin's guardian ad litem.
Finally, as we explained in Wicky, in all discovery matters the competing interests of the parties must be balanced. 34 Fla. L. Weekly at D1613. Doe did not name specific beneficiaries in his trusts; instead he instructed that the assets in the trusts be divided among his children. Other language in the trusts indicates he contemplated the possibility of having children other than Adrian and Evelyn. Given that this is an action to determine the beneficiaries of his trusts, consideration should be given to effectuating his intent as expressed in the trusts. As for Madelin, if she is in fact Doe's child, her rights with respect to the trusts are equal to those of Evelyn and Adrian. Further, her interests are akin to those of an out of wedlock child seeking to share in the intestate estate of a parent. Florida recognizes the right of an out-ofwedlock child to share in a parent's estate. See § 732.108(2). Florida also recognizes the right of a child born out of wedlock to establish paternity after the death of the father.  See § 732.108(2)(b). For that right to be meaningful, the child must have a fair opportunity to prove that the deceased is her father. What is fair may vary from case to case, but any evaluation should take into account the heightened burden of proof imposed on out-of-wedlock children who seek to establish paternity after the death of the putative father. See Berkey v. Odom (In re Estate of Odom), 397 So. 2d 420 (Fla. 2d DCA 1981) (holding that in an action to establish paternity after the death of the father, proof of paternity shall be by clear and convincing evidence), disapproved on other grounds, Wilson v. Scruggs (In re Estate of Smith), 685 So. 2d 1206 (Fla. 1996). 
On the other hand, Adrian and Evelyn have a privacy interest they seek to protect. In considering the weight to afford that interest, several factors are important. First, the intrusion is minimal—the test Madelin seeks is noninvasive, and the purpose of the test is limited to comparing her DNA to theirs. Second, rule 1.360(a)(3) provides that the court, upon request, may establish protective rules governing an examination. Thus far, Adrian and Evelyn have only asserted a generalized complaint that submitting a DNA sample invades their privacy, however, if they are able to articulate any specific privacy concern, they have the ability to ask the court to fashion protective rules to address that concern. Third, Adrian and Evelyn have affirmatively denied that Madelin is Doe's child, and they have actively opposed all efforts by her or Maria to prove that they are his children. Having taken that position, it is questionable whether they should be permitted to withhold the evidence that may put Madelin's claim and their defense to rest once and for all. They have the alternative of conceding that Madelin is a beneficiary should they wish to avoid the test.


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