In re K.M.H.

Citation169 P.3d 1025
Decision Date26 October 2007
Docket NumberNo. 96,102.,96,102.
PartiesIn the Interest of K.M.H., a child under age eighteen, and K.C.H., a child under age eighteen. In the Matter of the Paternity of K.C.H. and K.M.H., by and through their next friend, D.H., Appellant, and S.H., Appellee.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Kansas

Kurt L. James, of Topeka, argued the cause and was on the briefs for appellant.

Susan Barker Andrews, of Topeka, argued the cause and was on the briefs for appellee.

Linda Henry Elrod, Distinguished Professor of Law and Director, of Topeka, was on the brief for amicus curiae Washburn University School of Law Children and Family Law Center.

Timothy M. O'Brien, of Shook Hardy & Bacon. L.L.P., of Overland Park, was on the brief for amicus curiae Family Law Professors.

The opinion of the court was delivered by BEIER, J.:

This appeal from a consolidated child in need of care (CINC) case and a paternity action arises out of an artificial insemination leading to the birth of twins K.M.H. and K.C.H. We are called upon to decide the existence and extent of the parental rights of the known sperm donor, who alleges he had an agreement with the children's mother to act as the twins' father.

The twins' mother filed a CINC petition to establish that the donor had no parental rights under Kansas law. The donor sued for determination of his paternity. The district court sustained the mother's motion to dismiss, ruling that K.S.A. 38-1114(f) was controlling and constitutional. That statute provides:

"The donor of semen provided to a licensed physician for use in artificial insemination of a woman other than the donor's wife is treated in law as if he were not the birth father of a child thereby conceived, unless agreed to in writing by the donor and the woman." K.S.A. 38-1114(f).

Factual and Procedural Background

Many of the underlying facts are undisputed. The mother, S.H., is an unmarried female lawyer who wanted to become a parent through artificial insemination from a known donor. She was a friend of the donor, D.H., an unmarried male nonlawyer, who agreed to provide sperm for the insemination. Both S.H. and D.H. are Kansas residents, and their oral arrangements for the donation occurred in Kansas, but S.H. underwent two inseminations with D.H.'s sperm in Missouri.

D.H. accompanied S.H. to a Missouri clinic for the first procedure and provided the necessary sperm to medical personnel. The first procedure did not result in a pregnancy. D.H. did not accompany S.H. to Missouri for the second procedure. Instead, he provided the sperm to S.H., and she delivered it to the Missouri physician responsible for the insemination. The second procedure resulted in S.H.'s pregnancy and the birth of the twins.

There was no formal written contract between S.H. and D.H. concerning the donation of sperm, the artificial insemination, or the expectations of the parties with regard to D.H.'s parental rights or lack thereof.

The twins were born on May 18, 2005. The day after their birth, S.H. filed a CINC petition concerning the twins, seeking a determination that D.H. would have no parental rights. The petition identified D.H. as "[t]he minor children's father" and alleged that the twins were in need of care "as it relates to the father" and that "the [f]ather should be found unfit and his rights terminated." The petition continued to refer to D.H. throughout as the twins' father.

On May 31, 2005, D.H. filed an answer to the CINC petition and filed a separate paternity action acknowledging his financial responsibility for the children and claiming parental rights, including joint custody and visitation. The CINC and paternity actions were consolidated. S.H. filed a motion to dismiss the paternity action, invoking K.S.A. 38-1114(f). After the motion was filed, the district judge raised questions concerning choice of law and the constitutionality of the statute and ordered the parties to brief these issues along with the other issues arising out of the motion to dismiss.

In her brief, S.H. argued Kansas law should apply because her original oral agreement with D.H. took place in Kansas; the parties reside in Kansas; the sperm resulting in the pregnancy was given to her by D.H. in Kansas; and the children reside in Kansas. In her view, the single fact that the procedure was performed by a doctor in Missouri did not constitute a significant contact with that state, and Missouri did not have a sufficient ongoing interest in the parties or in the subject matter of their dispute.

On the merits, S.H. principally relied upon K.S.A. 38-1114(f). S.H. argued that her CINC petition did not constitute her written assent to D.H.'s parental rights under K.S.A. 38-1114(f). She also asserted that the mutual preinsemination intent of the parties—as a single mother-to-be and a sperm donor only, not as co-parents—was clear from their actions during the pregnancy. According to S.H., she sought out fertility tests and treatments on her own; D.H. did not attend the second procedure or sonograms or other prenatal medical appointments; and he did not provide emotional support or financial assistance during the pregnancy or after the twins' birth. She also argued that D.H. was morally, financially, and emotionally unfit to be a father.

In his arguments in the district court, D.H. maintained that he had standing to file his paternity action as the biological father of K.M.H. and K.C.H. On choice of law, D.H. argued that Kansas conflict principles required the court to look to the place of either contract formation or contract performance. He asserted that the "more sensible" approach in this case would be to apply the law of the state where performance occurred, which was, according to him, where the artificial insemination was performed. D.H. said Missouri has no statute barring a presumption of paternity for a known sperm donor for an unmarried woman; paternity is proved by "consanguinity or genetic test." D.H. also asserted that no doctor would perform an insemination on an unmarried woman in Topeka, Lawrence, or Kansas City, Kansas, and suggested a Kansas doctor could have had a duty to discuss the legal implications of the procedure under Kansas law while a Missouri doctor would not.

In the event the court held that Kansas law governed, D.H. argued that K.S.A. 38-1114(f) unconstitutionally deprived him of his right to care, custody, and control of his children and violated public policy "support[ing] the concept of legitimacy and the concomitant rights of a child to support and inheritance." If the statute is constitutional, he asserted, its dictate of nonpaternity of a sperm donor should not apply to him because he had provided his sperm to S.H. rather than to a licensed physician. He also cited the CINC petition's identification of him as the twins' "father" and its faulting of him for failing to do things consistent with parenthood. D.H. asserted the wording of the CINC petition was evidence of the parties' mutual intent to take themselves out from under the statutory provision for nonpaternity. He also contended that he had offered financial assistance and attempted to visit the children in the hospital after their birth and on subsequent occasions, but that he was prevented from doing so by S.H.

The district judge ruled that Kansas law governed, that K.S.A. 38-1114(f) was constitutional and applicable, and that the CINC petition did not constitute a written agreement departing from the provision for nonpaternity set forth in the statute. The judge therefore granted S.H.'s motion, concluding as a matter of law that D.H. had no legal rights or responsibilities regarding K.M.H. and K.C.H.

Issues on Appeal

On appeal, both parties reiterate the arguments they made to the district court, and D.H. alleges for the first time that another statutory provision and equity favor his side of the case. We therefore address six issues: (1) Did the district judge err in ruling that Kansas law would govern? (2) Did the district judge err in holding K.S.A. 38-1114(f) constitutional under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Kansas and the federal Constitutions? (3) Did the district judge err in interpreting and applying the "provided to a licensed physician" language of K.S.A. 38-1114(f)? (4) Did the district judge err in determining that the CINC petition did not satisfy the requirement of a writing in K.S.A. 38-1114(f)? (5) Did K.S.A. 38-1114(a)(4) grant D.H. parental rights? and (6) Does equity demand reversal of the district court?

On this appeal, we also have the benefit of briefs from two amici curiae—one from the Washburn University School of Law's Children and Family Law Center (Center), which argues that K.S.A. 38-1114(f) is unconstitutional as applied to known sperm donors, and one from family law professors Joan Heifetz Hollinger, et al., who argue that K.S.A. 38-1114(f) is constitutional and that it should be applied consistently with its plain language to bar D.H.'s assertion of paternity.

Standing and Standard of Review

The parties do not appear to dispute D.H.'s standing to bring a paternity action at this stage in the proceedings, but we note briefly as a preliminary matter that his standing is not in serious doubt. K.S.A. 38-1115(a)(1) permits a child "or any person on behalf of such a child" to bring a paternity action "to determine the existence of a father and child relationship presumed under K.S.A. 38-1114." It is D.H.'s position that his fatherhood of the twins should be presumed under the statute.

Regarding standard of review, each of the issues raised on appeal presents a pure question of law reviewable de novo by this court. Kluin v. American Suzuki Motor Corp., 274 Kan. 888, 893, 56 P.3d 829 (2002). Although S.H.'s motion was titled "Motion to Dismiss," the district judge considered materials beyond the pleadings, essentially treating the motion as one for summary judgment. We are therefore mindful of our often stated standard...

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