Paternity Action Filed by a Child Subject to Doctrines of Res Judicata and Privity in Arizona
Posted on : December 3, 2016, By: Christopher Hildebrand
Paternity Action Filed by a Child Subject to Doctrines of Res Judicata and Privity in Arizona
Once an issue is litigated between two parties, neither can seek to litigate it again. This rule is called res judicata. It applies both to the parties to the original case and those in privity with them.
Is a child in privity with his mother? That is, will a child’s paternity case be barred because of a paternity action brought years before by his mother?
The Arizona Supreme Court considered this issue in the case of Hall v. Lalli, 977 P.2d 776 (1999).
Facts and Background
Mr. and Mrs. Lalli married in 1971. In 1978, Mr. Lalli sued for divorce. Mrs. Lalli did not appear and Mr. Lalli obtained a default divorce. He told the court that the couple had three children and that Mrs. Lalli was not pregnant. The court gave Mr. Lalli custody of the three children.
Paternity Action Filed by a Child Subject to Doctrines of Res Judicata and Privity in Arizona.
In fact, Mrs. Lalli was pregnant at the time of the divorce and she gave birth to a son four months later. Mrs. Lalli raised her son and was assisted by aid from the Arizona Aid to Families with Dependent Children program.
The State of Arizona brought a paternity action against Mr. Lalli in 1979. The agency sought reimbursement for the benefits paid to Mrs. Lalli for the child. When Mrs. Lalli provided a letter stating that Mr. Lalli was not the child’s natural father, the state dismissed the complaint with prejudice.
In 1995, the child was still a minor. Mrs. Lalli filed an action on his behalf claiming that Mr. Lalli was his natural father. Mr. Lalli asked the court to dismiss the suit. He argued that the claim was barred by the doctrine of res judicata; which precludes a lawsuit from being filed after the issue was resolved in a prior lawsuit.
Mr. Lalli claimed that the 1979 Arizona paternity action had been brought by the same “parties or their privies” bringing this action. He cited the case of Bill v. Gossett, 647 P.2d 649 (1982). That case held that a minor child’s paternity action is barred by a mother’s earlier paternity action.
The trial court agreed and dismissed the cases. The child appealed the trial court’s dismissal of the case. The Court of Appeals reversed, and the Arizona Supreme Court granted review.
Jennifer, thank you for being my attorney. I could not have been more pleased with the outcome of my family court hearing. Everything you have done for me throughout this case reflects in the final ruling of the judge. You helped me keep my head together and taught me a lot about myself as a person. I learned so much about my life from observing and listening to you. I will take all the advice you gave me to continue taking responsibility for my choices, continue to put the kids' needs first, and always stay truthful. Your diligence, dedication, and persistence in my case made what seemed impossible, possible. You are a wonderful person and an amazing attorney and I am stronger and more confident because of you.
I just want to again thank the Firm for working with me all that it has. I could not have done anything without everyone's assistance. You, Chris and Stacey have been and continue to provide me with compassion and hard work towards my case. Also a very special thanks to Kip for taking my case in the beginning. Also continued support from him and his dedication to providing me with his expertise in this matter.
After interviewing several law firms, I came across Jennifer Shick, and her firm, who I hired to represent me for my Family Court case. Jennifer has extensive knowledge of the law and is determined to bring the truth to every issue involved within the case. Throughout my case, Jennifer was prepared meticulously as well as went above and beyond all of my expectations. Even when the other party tried to differ from the truth, lie to the Judge, and turn situations around, Jennifer remained attentive and provided substantial evidence to show the judge the facts as well as the proof to support what was the best interests of my children. Additionally, Jennifer helped me endure many difficult experiences, situations and inspired me to remain positive throughout the entirety of my case. Her kindness, compassion, and professionalism helped me through very difficult times and made the process feel a thousand times lighter on my shoulders. She truly has my children and my best interest at heart and I trust her perspective as well as her honesty on each and every aspect of my case. She lessened the burden on my shoulders and even when I felt like the case was not going to go in my favor, Jennifer was open-minded and reassured me that the Judge would, in fact, see the truth, which he did and the case went in my favor. After nine months of court, everything finally came together. I cannot declare how much Jennifer has been an outstanding attorney. She addressed each and every issue with diligence, she cares about her clients and their families. Jennifer genuinely cares about her clients and her dedication to the details of the case was remarkable. Overall, I am extremely pleased with Jennifer’s services and I am truly thankful that I was so blessed to have her represent my children and me. I highly recommend Jennifer as one of the best attorneys in Arizona and if the situation ever arises, I will definitely have her represent my children and me again.
Dear Stacey and Kip, How can I ever thank you enough for helping me through the most difficult time in my life? I couldn't put into words my heartfelt gratefulness. You both were so compassionate and professional at every given moment throughout this process with me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You helped me to regain my freedom.
I was a client of Attorney Kevin Park for the dissolution of a divorce in 2016. And since I had never had the need to hire an attorney before for any purpose, I was somewhat apprehensive of the process. But the very calm and professional demeanor of Mr. Park eased my fears. He adeptly answered all my questions and I clearly knew the process and what to expect. And the skilled manner he communicated with opposing counsel was perfect. When it came down to negotiating with my spouse’s counsel, I knew I had selected the best attorney for my situation. What I noticed and appreciated was that he was using just the right amount of pressure with opposing counsel as was necessary. If you find yourself in this situation, you will want a seasoned professional like Mr. Park on your side. I'm very grateful that he was my attorney and not the opposition!
Chris is a smart and aggressive attorney for his clients. Chris always tries to reach a fair settlement of his cases. I’ve represented clients when Chris was the opposing counsel and while he is professional and amicable to work with, he does not back off on what he needs to do for his client
Kevin Park of Arizona Estate Planning Attorneys was just what I needed for my divorce. He was very approachable and personable. He was quick to recognize what I needed and provided it quickly and efficiently. I hope to never need a divorce lawyer again, but if I know anyone else who does, I will definitely recommend Kevin.
I feel that Tracey Van Wickler is certainly one of the best family lawyers around. She is logical, intelligent, and truly cares. Tracey always does what is in the clients best interest, does it well, timely and with integrity. She is good at keeping her clients informed as to what is going on and clear in her communication both written and verbally. I have recommended Tracey to other people and will continue to recommend her. I recommended Tracey to someone who was having issues with their ex-wife and his response was, “I know how good she is because I went up against her and she ate me for lunch”. This same person was so impressed with her, he even recommended her to someone else, WOW, that is impressive! I am exceptionally happy with her attention to detail, her ability to explain things in ways that are easy to understand, as well as her ability to keep everyone focused on the most important things. I would recommend Tracey to anyone who may be in need of her services.
I retained Hildebrand Law after interview a number of firms in the valley. Working with Michael C. was incredibly easy and informative. My case progressed in such a organized and thought out way to ensure that my needs were met. Michael was incredibly proactive and was able to see far ahead into my case to steer clear of some roadblocks. I would not hesitate to recommend Michael Clancy, and Hildebrand Law in general, to anyone.
I have worked with Hildebrand law for about 8 years. They are always ready to serve, provide guidance and give you a few options. When they provide you options they also take the time to walk you through the pros and cons of each and give you a recommendation of what is best, but will listen to you and support whatever course you choose after making and educated choice. I’d recommend them to my closest friends and feel Chris Hildebrand is now a friend to me.
Despite the unfortunate situation I found myself in, Chris Hildebrand @ Hildebrand Law helped me maneuver every step with professionalism, expertise, and even a sensitivity that was an added bonus.Chris and his staff helped me even when I didn't know I needed the help. In other words. . . they made sure we did not leave anything undone. And in the rare instance we needed the expertise of another professional, Chris knew exactly who to recommend.Chris also knew, because of his experience, what to anticipate down the road of litigation. That meant we were better prepared to meet the challenges head on, which lead to a more equitable and fair outcome. I appreciated that Chris did his best to meet my every need in a timely fashion, even if I had a simple question that required only a phone call or e-mail or if we needed to talk face-to-face.I highly recommend Chris Hildebrand @ Hildebrand Law, PC.
The doctrine of res judicata protects people from the burden of litigating issues that have already been litigated and determined. It precludes a claim when a court entered a previous judgment on the same issue between the same parties. The same parties or their “privies” cannot go back to court on an issue determined in the former action.
Is Res Judicata Applicable in this Case?
The Arizona Supreme Court looked at the facts of the case to determine if res judicata applied in this case. It found that the 1979 litigation concerned the same issues raised here.
The Court found that the 1979 case satisfied all factors required for res judicata to apply, except one. The child was not a named party to the first action. If he was in privity with either the state or his mother, res judicata would still bar his present claim. If he was not in privity with one or the other, res judicata does not apply.
A court considering privity looks at the relationship between the party to the prior suit and the party to the present suit. They must have substantially the same interests so that one would have protected the other’s interests in the earlier litigation. The Bill v. Gossett case was the first time an Arizona court discussed privity between a parent and his or her child. The Arizona Supreme Court reviewed that case closely.
The Court agreed that the facts in Bill v. Gossett were similar to the facts here. In that case, the state and the child’s mother sued the putative father to establish paternity. However, in the Bill v Gossett case, the parties agreed that the mother would take a polygraph test. If the examiners determined her answers were untruthful, the state would dismiss the case. If her answers were determined to be truthful, the father would concede paternity.
However, the examiners only asked the mother one question in the polygraph test. That was whether she had sex with other men during the possible conception dates. The examiners found her negative response to be untruthful. Per the stipulation, the case was dismissed. When the child subsequently brought her own paternity action, the trial judge dismissed the child’s case based on res judicata.
Filing Paternity Action by a Child Subject to Doctrines of Res Judicata and Privity in Arizona.
The determinative question in both cases was whether mother and child were “in privity” during the previous paternity claim. The Bill v. Gossett court relied on a Minnesota decision ruling that paternity proceedings are intended to determine the identity of the biological father of a child. That, the Minnesota court said, was the objective of the mother, the child, and the public. Therefore, mother and the child were in privity.
However, in the present case, the Arizona Court of Appeals reached the opposite conclusion. It noted that a child has significant interests at stake that are different from the mother’s interests.
The Arizona Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals here. It noted that privity is not a result of parties having similar objectives, but of the commonality of their interests. A child’s interest in knowing his father includes financial support but also claims to inheritance, medical support, and other matters. An accurate determination of paternity can bring the child psychological and emotional benefits like familial bonds and cultural heritage.
The state’s interests are largely economic. The state wants to identify the biological father so that he, not the welfare system, pays to financially support the child. Here, the state initiated the 1979 action against Mr. Lalli to establish his support obligation. The child brought his action to establish his familial status. This means that there is not a commonality of interests between him and the state. Thus, they cannot be said to be in privity.
The mother’s interests in the paternity action include obtaining child support. However, she may have other emotional and psychological interests. She also has a relationship with the child’s father and may be subject to pressures from his family. These pressures may affect her decision about whether to proceed with a paternity suit.
The putative father may even offer the mother money to settle the claim without an adjudication on the merits of the case. Therefore, a mother’s and a child’s interests in a paternity determination not only differ but may potentially conflict. The Arizona Supreme Court concluded that a mother and child lack a commonality of interests. Therefore, they are not in privity.
Preventing Multiple Suits over Paternity
The purpose of the doctrine of res judicata is to promote finality and consistency. Mr. Lalli argues that this is lost if the Court does not apply res judicata to bar the child paternity suit here. The Court noted that the development of accurate and rapid blood testing reduced the chance of multiple cases.
A blood test shows quickly and accurately whether the alleged father is the biological father. The availability of this type of testing puts a quick end to paternity cases. Thus, even if a man’s paternity is litigated again for the benefit of the child, testing will resolve it quickly.
The Arizona Supreme Court disapproved of the Bill v. Gossett analysis. It rejected the view that a child is in privity with either the state or its mother in the context of a paternity action. It ruled that the child may bring his own action to establish paternity.
The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeals in this case. It reversed the trial court’s judgment dismissing the child’s claim as barred by the doctrine of res judicata. It remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with its’ opinion.
As Seen on CBS News, ABC News, NBC News, and Fox News
Arizona Estate Planning Attorneys, PC As Seen in the News.