Gibbs v. Ernst

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBefore NIX; MONTEMURO; MONTEMURO
Citation647 A.2d 882,538 Pa. 193
PartiesFrank A. GIBBS, Jayne C. Gibbs and Michael Gibbs, a Minor v. Paul ERNST, Marsha A. Hiester, Concern Professional Services for Children and R. Nancy Haley, Brenda Messa, Northampton County Children and Youth Division. Appeal of CONCERN PROFESSIONAL SERVICES FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH, Paul Ernst and Marsha S. Hiester. Frank A. GIBBS, Jayne C. Gibbs and Michael J. Gibbs, a Minor v. Paul ERNST, Marsha A. Hiester, Concern Professional Services for Children and Youth and R. Nancy Haley, Brenda Messa, Northampton County Children & Youth Division. Appeal of NORTHAMPTON COUNTY CHILDREN AND YOUTH, R. Nancy Haley and Brenda Messa.
Decision Date13 September 1994

Page 882

647 A.2d 882
538 Pa. 193
Frank A. GIBBS, Jayne C. Gibbs and Michael Gibbs, a Minor
v.
Paul ERNST, Marsha A. Hiester, Concern Professional Services
for Children and R. Nancy Haley, Brenda Messa,
Northampton County Children and Youth Division.
Appeal of CONCERN PROFESSIONAL SERVICES FOR CHILDREN AND
YOUTH, Paul Ernst and Marsha S. Hiester.
Frank A. GIBBS, Jayne C. Gibbs and Michael J. Gibbs, a Minor
v.
Paul ERNST, Marsha A. Hiester, Concern Professional Services
for Children and Youth and R. Nancy Haley, Brenda
Messa, Northampton County Children &
Youth Division.
Appeal of NORTHAMPTON COUNTY CHILDREN AND YOUTH, R. Nancy
Haley and Brenda Messa.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Argued April 5, 1994.
Decided Sept. 13, 1994.

Page 883

[538 Pa. 197] Edwin L. Scherlis, B. Alan Dash, and Donald M. Davis, Philadelphia, for Concerned Professional Services for Children & Youth, et al.

Page 884

Roseann B. Joseph, Easton and Preston W. Moritz, Nazareth, for Northampton County Children & Youth, et al.

Maura K. Quinlan, Harrisburg, for Pa. Catholic Conf.

Samuel C. Totaro, Jr., Bensalem, for F., J. & M. Gibbs.

Roseann Joseph, Easton, for D.H.S.

Preston W. Moritz, Nazareth, for Northampton Co. Sol.

Samuel C. Totaro, Jr., Bensalem, for F., J. & M. Gibbs.

Edwin L. Scherlis, B. Alan Dash, and Donald M. Davis, Philadelphia, for Concerned Prof. Services for Children and Youth.

Craig B. Bluestein, Jenkintown, for Amicus, American Academy of Adoption Attys.

Before NIX, C.J., and FLAHERTY, ZAPPALA, PAPADAKOS, CAPPY, CASTILLE, and MONTEMURO, JJ.

OPINION

MONTEMURO, Justice.

This is an appeal by Concern Professional Services for Children and Youth; Concern's Director, Paul Ernst; Concern Adoption Specialist, Marsha S. Hiester (hereinafter collectively[538 Pa. 198] Concern); and Northampton County Children and Youth; its Executive Director, R. Nancy Haley; and its Caseworker, Brenda Messa (hereinafter collectively Children and Youth) from an Order of the Commonwealth Court reversing the trial court's grant of demurrers to counts of Wrongful Adoption and Negligent Placement of Adoptive Child in the complaint filed by appellees Frank A. and Jayne Gibbs, and Michael J. Gibbs.

Appellees initiated this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County against Concern and Children and Youth arising out of the adoption of Michael J. Gibbs on October 21, 1985. Children and Youth is an agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and, pursuant to law, is responsible for placing children who are wards of the Commonwealth with agencies for the purposes of adoption. Concern is a private child placement agency, licensed by the Commonwealth.

The sole issue presented before this Court is whether the law of the Commonwealth recognizes as causes of action Wrongful Adoption and Negligent Placement of Adoptive Child. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm in part the decision of the Commonwealth Court and hold that traditional common law causes of action sounding in fraud and negligence apply in the adoption context.

The Complaint alleges the following facts: in early 1983, appellees Jayne and Frank Gibbs, who were already foster parents, inquired of Concern about the availability of a healthy Caucasian infant for adoption, (Complaint at p 10) and were informed that there was a two year waiting list for healthy Caucasian infants. Appellees were actively encouraged by agency representatives to apply for the adoption of an older child, (Complaint at p 11) and were told that it would be easier to adopt a "hard to adopt due to age" child, and that if the child had been physically or sexually abused, Concern would disclose fully the history of these occurrences. (Complaint at p 12). Appellees were invited to look through a book containing photographs of older children available for adoption, along with brief positive descriptions of the children. (Complaint at p 13).

[538 Pa. 199] In May of 1983, appellees submitted a dual application for adoption of a healthy Caucasian infant and a "hard to adopt due to age" child. (Complaint at p 14). After a home-study by Marsha Hiester, Concern's adoption specialist, appellees reviewed the book of waiting children approximately twice a month at Concern's offices. On each occasion they completed a form for the child they wanted to adopt, and on each occasion they specifically requested a child who was "hard to place due to age," but who had no history of sexual or physical abuse or any mental or emotional problems. (Complaint at p 17).

In late August or early September 1984, appellees were informed by Concern that they had been chosen to adopt Michael, a five year old boy from Northampton County. (Complaint at p 18). 1 In addition to his age,

Page 885

appellees were told by Concern that Michael was presently repeating kindergarten, that he was Caucasian, and that he had been in foster care, but for only two years and only with one family. (Complaint at p 19). Appellees were further informed by Concern that Michael was hyperactive, behind in his school work, had been verbally abused by his mother and that the major problem was neglect by his mother. Concern specifically denied any history of physical or sexual abuse. (Complaint at p 20). In October of 1984, appellees were introduced to Michael and his caseworkers at Concern. They were given information about Michael's foster family, and were once again informed by Concern that there was no history of sexual or physical abuse. (Complaint at p 22). Later that same afternoon, appellees met with Brenda Messa, a caseworker at Children and Youth's offices in Easton, Pennsylvania where they requested a more detailed social and medical history of Michael. (Complaint at p 25).

During the first weekend of November, 1984, Michael was placed for adoption with appellees who filed a Report of Intention to Adopt with the Orphan's Court of Berks County. [538 Pa. 200] (Complaint at pp 27-28). Shortly thereafter, Concern forwarded certain documents identified as Michael's medical file, consisting of records of Michael's birth and the medical history of his natural mother. Appellees once again requested more information about Michael's psychological and emotional history. (Complaint at p 29).

Concern supervised Michael's placement with appellees and, although he had educational problems, Michael seemed much calmer and passed first grade. (Complaint at p 30). In September of 1985, Concern consented to the finalization of the adoption. Prior to finalization, appellees met with Concern and specifically asked whether there was anything in Concern's file that had not been disclosed to them. They were assured by Concern that they had been given everything Children and Youth had provided to Concern; but were told that Children and Youth had "promised additional information," and that there was a "communication problem" with Children and Youth. Concern agreed to check all records to make sure everything was made available to appellees prior to the finalization of the adoption. (Complaint at p 31).

On October 21, 1985, a final order was entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County granting the adoption of Michael J. Gibbs. (Complaint at p 32). Immediately thereafter, Michael began experiencing severe emotional problems. (Complaint at p 33). He became violent and aggressive toward younger children, attempting to amputate the arm of a five year old (Complaint at p 34); attempting to suffocate his younger cousin (Complaint at p 35); attempting to kill another cousin by hitting him over the head with a lead pipe (Complaint at p 36); deliberately placing Clorox in a cleaning solution causing Ms. Gibbs to burn her hands badly (Complaint at p 38); and starting a fire which seriously injured a younger cousin (Complaint at p 40).

After Michael's admission and evaluation at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center, appellees were advised that little chance existed of any change in his violent behavior. (Complaint at p 32). Michael's conduct deteriorated further, and he was admitted to a special program for adopted children at the [538 Pa. 201] Northwestern Institute where he remained until he was transferred by court order to the Eastern State School and Hospital. (Complaint at pp 42-44). On or about September 15, 1989, Michael was declared dependent by the Family Division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, and was placed in the custody of the Department of Human Services. (Complaint at p 45).

In September of 1989, a caseworker from the Department of Human Services informed appellees for the first time that Michael had been severely abused, both physically and sexually as a young child. (Complaint at p 46). Records in the possession of Northwestern Institute revealed that Michael had been in ten different foster placements before he was freed for adoption; that during his first six years Michael's mother repeatedly placed him in and then removed him from

Page 886

foster care; that there was a long, serious history of abuse, both physical and sexual, by his biological parents; that Michael had been neglected by his biological mother; that Michael had an extensive history of aggressiveness and hostility towards other children; and that Michael's mother at one time attempted to cut off his penis. (Complaint at 47). At no time prior to the finalization of the adoption did Concern or Children and Youth disclose this information although it was in their possession and had been requested. (Complaint at p 48).

In April of 1990, appellees commenced this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, setting forth in Count I of their complaint a cause of action for Wrongful Adoption and in Count II a cause of action for Negligent Placement of Adoptive Child. Appellants, Concern and Children and Youth, filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer to these counts which the trial court granted. The Commonwealth Court reversed, Gibbs v. Concern...

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447 practice notes
  • Trinity Indus., Inc. v. Greenlease Holding Co., Civil Action No. 2:08–1498.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • August 5, 2014
    ...596 (2012). Every cause of action for negligence “is premised on the existence of a duty owed by one party to another.”Gibbs v. Ernst, 538 Pa. 193, 647 A.2d 882, 890 (1994). The “duty of care” owed by the defendant to the plaintiff is often rooted in “amorphous public policy considerations.......
  • In re Libor-Based Fin. Instruments Antitrust Litig., 11 MDL 2262 (NRB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • August 4, 2015
    ...misrepresentation is actionable as to omissions, so long as a defendant had a special duty to communicate information. See Gibbs v. Ernst, 538 Pa. 193, 213-15, 647 A.2d 882, 892-93 (1994) (negligent failure to disclose child's history of physical and sexual abuse before placing child for ad......
  • Puchalski v. School Dist. of Springfield, No. CIV. A. 99-1068.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • March 30, 2001
    ...reliance on the misrepresentation. See Weisblatt v. Minnesota Mut. Life Ins. Co., 4 F.Supp.2d 371, 377 (E.D.Pa.1998); Gibbs v. Ernst, 538 Pa. 193, 647 A.2d 882, 890 (1994). To sustain an intentional misrepresentation claim, a plaintiff must show a misrepresentation; a fraudulent utterance; ......
  • Rosemont Taxicab Co. v. Phila. Parking Auth., CIVIL ACTION NO. 16-3601
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • June 26, 2018
    ...reliance on the misrepresentation; and (6) the resulting injury 327 F.Supp.3d 830 was proximately caused by the reliance. Gibbs v. Ernst, 538 Pa. 193, 647 A.2d 882, 889 (1994) ; Porreco v. Porreco, 571 Pa. 61, 811 A.2d 566, 570-571 (2002) (citing Bortz v. Noon, 556 Pa. 489, 729 A.2d 555, 56......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
447 cases
  • Trinity Indus., Inc. v. Greenlease Holding Co., Civil Action No. 2:08–1498.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • August 5, 2014
    ...596 (2012). Every cause of action for negligence “is premised on the existence of a duty owed by one party to another.”Gibbs v. Ernst, 538 Pa. 193, 647 A.2d 882, 890 (1994). The “duty of care” owed by the defendant to the plaintiff is often rooted in “amorphous public policy considerations.......
  • In re Libor-Based Fin. Instruments Antitrust Litig., 11 MDL 2262 (NRB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • August 4, 2015
    ...misrepresentation is actionable as to omissions, so long as a defendant had a special duty to communicate information. See Gibbs v. Ernst, 538 Pa. 193, 213-15, 647 A.2d 882, 892-93 (1994) (negligent failure to disclose child's history of physical and sexual abuse before placing child for ad......
  • Puchalski v. School Dist. of Springfield, No. CIV. A. 99-1068.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • March 30, 2001
    ...reliance on the misrepresentation. See Weisblatt v. Minnesota Mut. Life Ins. Co., 4 F.Supp.2d 371, 377 (E.D.Pa.1998); Gibbs v. Ernst, 538 Pa. 193, 647 A.2d 882, 890 (1994). To sustain an intentional misrepresentation claim, a plaintiff must show a misrepresentation; a fraudulent utterance; ......
  • Rosemont Taxicab Co. v. Phila. Parking Auth., CIVIL ACTION NO. 16-3601
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • June 26, 2018
    ...reliance on the misrepresentation; and (6) the resulting injury 327 F.Supp.3d 830 was proximately caused by the reliance. Gibbs v. Ernst, 538 Pa. 193, 647 A.2d 882, 889 (1994) ; Porreco v. Porreco, 571 Pa. 61, 811 A.2d 566, 570-571 (2002) (citing Bortz v. Noon, 556 Pa. 489, 729 A.2d 555, 56......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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