Adoption of Baby Doe

CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
Citation492 So.2d 508
Docket NumberNo. 85-1232,85-1232
Decision Date21 July 1986

Page 508

492 So.2d 508
No. 85-1232.
Court of Appeal of Louisiana,
Third Circuit.
July 21, 1986.
Rehearing Denied Aug. 19, 1986.

Page 509

James E. Beal, Natchitoches, for defendant-appellant.

Poteet and Landry, John G. Poteet, Jr., Lafayette, for plaintiffs-appellees.


H. WARD FONTENOT, Judge pro tem.

Baby Doe, an illegitimate, was born in Iberia General Hospital, Iberia Parish, on June 20, 1985. The unmarried mother of the child had agreed that she would surrender the child to the Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Lafayette, Inc. for adoption. Before a formal surrender was accomplished, however, a notarial act of acknowledgement was recorded in Iberia Parish on July 3, 1985 by the respondent herein asserting that he was the father of the child. The surrender by the mother was executed and, subsequently, a petition by the agency mentioned above was filed on July 15, 1985 seeking an approval to place the child for adoption. The respondent filed an opposition to the petition and reconvened for custody in his own right. After a hearing, the trial court dismissed respondent's opposition. In written reasons, the court said that the respondent had "forfeited his right to object to the adoption because of a judicial determination of unfitness." The court also ruled that the child should be placed for adoption on a finding that it was in the child's best interest.

The first question presented to the court is whether the respondent had standing to object to the petition filed by the agency: In that regard, the controlling statute is L.S.A.-R.S. 9:422.14. It reads in pertinent part:

"A. The father of an illegitimate child may establish his right to oppose the adoption of his child. In order to establish this right, he shall acknowledge the child as his by either signing the child's birth certificate as the father of the child or by executing an authentic act of acknowledgement.

"B. (1) In order for an acknowledgement, as provided in Subsection A of this Section, to secure the father's right to oppose an adoption, such acknowledgement shall be made by recording the acknowledgement on the child's birth certificate

Page 510

prior to an act of surrender executed by the child's mother pursuant to R.S. 9:402 or R.S. 9:422.3, a decree of abandonment of the child pursuant to R.S. 9:403, or a judgment terminating the mother's rights to the child pursuant to R.S. 13:1600 through 1605. If the child is born in Louisiana, and the acknowledgement is by authentic act, it must be recorded in the office of the clerk of court in the parish in which the child is born...."

The two paragraphs quoted above provide for the prerequisite acknowledgement to be made in one of two alternate ways. Either the father can sign the birth certificate as a father or he may execute an authentic act of acknowledgement. If the second method is employed, the act must be recorded in the office of the clerk of court in the parish in which the child is born. In the event that the second method is used, there is no need for the father to sign or otherwise to acknowledge paternity on the birth certificate. The reference to recordation "on the child's birth certificate" made in the first sentence of Subsection B is to the acknowledgement accomplished by signing the certificate. Acknowledgement by authentic act is treated separately in the last sentence of Subsection B. The two methods are independent and are not to be confused. The execution of the authentic act by the respondent herein and its timely recordation in the Parish of Iberia fulfilled the requirements of the cited statute.

Some uncertainty about this interpretation arises because no mention is made of the authentic act method of acknowledgement "to secure the father's right" in the first sentence of Subsection B. However, the sentence should be read to include the alternate method or else the steps regarding the filing of an authentic act detailed in the second sentence of that subsection would be meaningless for the purpose of this statute. A statute should be interpreted so as to give meaning to all of its parts. State v. Williams, 449 So.2d 744 (La.App.3rd Cir.1984) writ denied, 452 So.2d 172. Among other possible reasons, the alternate approach is provided for fathers who are prevented from signing or are not available for signature (as was the respondent herein) at the time that the birth certificate is prepared and filed. See L.S.A.-R.S. 40:43 et seq. Granting the same legal efficacy to both methods is a reasonable construction which gives the entire statute a unified and coherent import. Johnston v. Morehouse Parish Police Jury, 424 So.2d 1053 (La.App. 2nd Cir.1982) writ denied, 427 So.2d 1208.

Having concluded that the respondent established his right to oppose the adoption through compliance with the aforesaid statute, the court must address the questions of whether the trial court employed the correct principles in its determination and whether its findings are correct under the proper standards of review.

Respondent stresses that the use of the "best interest" test for this case is improper. He urges that an acknowledging father should have the parental rights and powers enjoyed by the father of a legitimate child. To support this position, respondent selected language from earlier cases which we find, after close analysis, to be inapposite. Although the cited cases speak of the rights of natural parents, a review of the facts in those cases disclose that the children involved were of legitimate status. Cantrell v. Talley, 291 So.2d 462 (La.App. 3rd Cir.1974); In Interest of Street, 463 So.2d 1373 (La.App. 1st Cir.1984), writ denied, 466 So.2d 1300 (La.1985). If the language of those cases was meant to encompass all parent-child relationships, legitimate and illegitimate, then the statements were dicta.

Respondent also relies upon the case of Cawthorne v. Williams, 313 So.2d 915 (La.App. 2nd Cir.1975). In that case the mother of an illegitimate child was competing with non-parents for the rights of custody. That case cannot be authority for respondent's position. First, the language is dictum because the mother was unsuccessful in obtaining custody of the child on the facts. Second, a significant difference is

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recognized between the rights of a mother relating to an illegitimate child and the rights of a male whose acknowledgement is not concurred in by the natural mother. La.C.C. Art. 256. Collins v. Division of Foster Care, Jefferson Parish, Family Division, 377 So.2d 1266 (La.App. 4th Cir.1979). It has been held by the United States Supreme Court that a state may accord two biological parents different legal rights without violating the equal protection clause. Lehr v. Robertson, 463 U.S. 248, 103 S.Ct. 2985, 77 L.Ed.2d 614 (1983).

This case is also distinguishable from Deville v. LaGrange, 388 So.2d 696 (La. 1980). In that case, the mother of the illegitimate was deceased and the contest was between a natural father and grandparents. In this case, the mother has surrendered the child for adoption and has not concurred in the father's acknowledgement. In fact, she aligns herself in opposition to the respondent.

There is no statutory basis for finding that the "right to oppose" an adoption found in R.S. 9:422.14 should grant to a natural father the rights of the father of a legitimate child. The statute should be read to mean what it says; it does not purport to have the sweeping effect urged by respondent. If the legislature had desired such a change, it would have used a more direct approach. The statute simply allows a natural father to be heard on the issue of adoption if he has fulfilled certain requirements.

An analogy illustrating that the right to oppose an adoption is not equated with the right to veto through the withholding of consent is seen in the related statutes R.S. 9:422.10 and 422.11. These latter provisions deal with the right of a parent, who has executed a formal act of surrender, to oppose an adoption after the surrender has been revoked. It is explicit that, in the event of opposition by a parent who has...

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3 cases
  • Adoption of B.G.S., In re, s. 89-CA-2522
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Louisiana
    • February 5, 1990
    ...So.2d 1151 (La.1982) (recognizing possibility of mother proving child's filiation to a man other than her husband); Adoption of Baby Doe, 492 So.2d 508, 512 (La.App. 3rd Cir.), writ denied, 496 So.2d 353 (1986) (LaBorde, J., concurring); Comment, Child Custody Disputes between Parents and N......
  • Baby Girl Eason, In re, 44709
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • July 23, 1987
    ...(1984); In the Matter of Karen A.B., 513 A.2d 770 (1986); In re Adoption of Mullenix, 359 So.2d 65 (Fla.App.1978); Adoption of Baby Doe, 492 So.2d 508 (La.App. 3 Cir.1986); Durr v. Blue, 454 So.2d 315 (La.App. 3 Cir.1984); In re Riggs, 612 S.W.2d 461 (Tenn.App.1980); In the Interest of Unna......
  • Adoption of Baby Doe, 86-C-1857
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Louisiana
    • November 7, 1986 the Court of Appeal, Third Circuit, No. 85-1232; Parish of Lafayette, 15th Judicial District Court, Div. "H". Prior report: La.App., 492 So.2d 508. CALOGERO and LEMMON, JJ., would grant the writ. ...

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